It’s been a long time since I’ve updated this blog, but my experiences in Fushe Kosove this weekend came after having a series of conversations with people where I tried to summarise the range of what The Ideas Partnership now does and how we try to respond to the needs in the communities where we work, and particularly how we try to
- Help people in need
- Help people in need to help themselves, and
- Help people in need to help others in need
It’s nice to place it on the Getting Gjelane to School blog and be reminded how far our activities have developed in the 6 years since the first post here. Hopefully it also shows the fantastic range of support that makes our initiatives work – it comes with a huge thank you to our staff, volunteers, donors and friends.
So this was what I saw of a day in the life of The Ideas Partnership this weekend
9.15: I leave home with a rucksack full of clothes that have been donated by friends in Prishtina and Tirana to be distributed to the families we work with
9.25 I meet in Prishtina with fellow volunteer Medina and our driver Elvir to go to Fushe Kosove. Elvir is one of our bursary recipients from the community and is at university (in exchange for his bursary he offers a free lift each week to hospital to people from his community). He tells us that he has his English exam later this month so during the journey Medina and I try some English coaching
9.45 We arrive at the centre in Fushe Kosove. Many of the team are already there – staff from the community sorting out the fruit juice and boxes of fruit we offer as a healthy snack to the children who attend our Saturday academic support activities. Also busy with compiling attendance lists are the Little Teachers, teenagers from the community who are being supported by our volunteers Rron and Arian with critical thinking and pedagogy skills to have the chance of becoming teachers in the state system one day (since there are currently no teachers or other staff from the community working in the local schools). On Saturdays they use their skills to help the younger children in their community.
10.00 Despite the snow, the children arrive – about 60 of them today. They split into classes to learn English, maths and literacy from our volunteers.
Meanwhile, I chat to the team. Our community health assistant, Bajramsha, and I discuss the case of a woman with a nasty fungal foot infection and the recommendation we had from a UK-based podiatrist for how to manage it.
The team discusses what can be done to support families in particular need in the desperate temperatures of this winter (last week it reached minus 20). It’s agreed that the centre manager, Jashar, and others will identify five families most in need to start an appeal for food or coal to help them through these hard days.
Arijeta, our Girls Club co-ordinator, wants to talk about an idea of getting an older woman from the community to teach the teenage girls at Girls Club how to knit so they could use some donated wool we have from the UK to make blankets for new-born babies.
We also discuss the possibility of a gentle Keep Fit class for older women at our centre. We’ve identified that many women in this community don’t have many opportunities to leave their homes and this would be a way of promoting healthy lifestyles. We agree that we’ll put out a call for a female volunteer willing to do this once a week.
Our discussions are interrupted by a man at the door. He’s a rubbish-picker whose wife attends our women’s literacy classes. He’s heard that we’ve received a donation of glasses and would like a pair. He leaves, able to see.
Our cleaner, Agron, comes to ask whether he might be able to have a pair of glasses. Since starting work with us he’s become interested in improving his literacy skills and is having regular lessons with one of our volunteers. But he’s realised that he can’t see the letters clearly. So that’s one more person who’s able to see by the end of the day, thanks to the kind collection of spectacles from Laure and her friends in the UK. Before I leave another man has come in having heard about the donation. I know him only as the father of a man we helped a while ago when his house had an electrical fire and they lost all their furniture, with the windows blown out by the fire and had nowhere to sleep. Now we’re able to help him with a pair of glasses too.
I discuss with the co-ordinator in Fushe Kosove, Hysni, what we can do about the case of two children forcibly returned from Germany who should therefore be entitled to enter the school system in Kosovo immediately. However, because they and their family had been taken by the police to be sent back to Kosovo with no warning the children have no documents to prove their school attendance so the Kosovo school system won’t accept them. They’ve been told to attend intensive classes – but the municipality say they have no money to run the intensive classes. One of our volunteers translated a request into German and we’ve now had a confirmation from the school in Germany of their attendance. Hysni’s going to forward it to the Ministry.
Outside, it starts to snow again.
Hysni and I also discuss what can be done with the other 60 children awaiting the intensive classes which are their only way into education, but which the municipality in Fushe Kosove say they can’t organize for the children. We want to support these children and make sure they don’t slip away or get cold feet about education while their municipality considers the formal request we’ve made for the classes to restart, as is required by law. We don’t want the children to go back to begging and rubbish-picking – or the girls to get ‘married’ – but we shouldn’t be doing the municipality’s job for them, and nor would classes we run be accredited by the Ministry. We plan the support that’s possible on Saturdays.
While we’re talking, 8 year-old Olti comes in with his grandmother. He doesn’t have a father or mother but his grandmother and great-grandmother look after him, going through the bins for recyclable scrap in order to support themselves and the boy. A family abroad sponsor Olti through us with some money each month for food for the family and while the grandma gets help from Bajramsha today with medication she needs, Olti writes a thank you letter to send to the family who help him.
Hysni and I also discuss the possible support to another particularly vulnerable child who’s out of school and only just surviving under the care of her father who has mental health difficulties. One of our team went to visit the family recently and discovered that they have no running water and are washing with what they bring in buckets straight from the sewage-polluted river. She wants to offer 1:1 support to the girl so Hysni and I discuss the scheduling of these sessions.
12.00 It’s the end of the first shift of activities. Some new volunteers arrive and the children in the older group. Also here now is Erlehta, our physiotherapist, here to run sessions for children with mobility difficulties, and for their parents, to give them help with supporting their children at home.
One of the pupils from the second shift comes to see me. She explains that she doesn’t have a birth certificate. She was born in Bosnia she says but she has no documents and she’d like help with getting registered. I have no idea how she would do this. However, one of our bursary recipients – Bekim – who is volunteering as a teacher this afternoon, used to work for an organization who supported families with civil registration so I’m able to ask him to help the girl.
12.30 I go to visit the Krasniqi family – a widow and her 6 children aged 5 to 14. I take money that was collected for them by supporters in the UK – pocket money for the children on condition that they go to school (and don’t take up their late father’s wheelbarrow to go rubbish-picking instead), and money to support their mum. She gives me her electricity bill which a supporter has offered to pay.
In the road there’s a woman in slippers in the snow, pushing a wheelbarrow. She looks really cold. When she recognizes me she asks if we could give some clothes for her children during this terrible weather. I’m able to refer her to Hysni at the centre, knowing that recently we’ve had some generous donations for distribution.
14.00 It’s the end of the second shift of academic support activities, though not the end of the activities at the centre – there’s still the Girls’ Club that will be held later this afternoon, working with young teenagers to tackle the issue of early marriage. But I leave for Prishtina, together with volunteer Mirjeta who’s been teaching a child his alphabet this afternoon. She’s asking whether it would be possible for her to come a few extra times a week to work 1:1 with him. ‘I know it’s only one child but even if it’s only one then it’s worth it’ she says.
But it’s not just one.