Four hours in Fushe Kosove

31948964_10205110584841654_2377719755063689216_o.jpgPhoto credit: Mirjeta Shatri

It’s hard to convey all the things that go on at The Ideas Partnership’s centre in Fushe Kosove so it was suggested that I should keep a diary one day that I’m at the centre, just noting each of the people who I meet or the conversations I have to try to give a flavor of the work we do. This is my account of the morning of Saturday 5 May…

9am I leave home in Pejton to meet up with other volunteers and the bright green kombi van that will take us from Prishtina to Fushe Kosove. I’m carrying a big bag of donations of sheets and towels from a Kosovan neighbor. I’ll give them to Bajramsha, our community health assistant, to share out to the mothers of newborn babies whom we support. On the way to the meeting point I see another friend in the street. She asks what’s in the bag and when she hears about the baby project she offers some of her own children’s clothes for us. The day is off to a great start.

At the meeting point I discover I’m one of 13 volunteers who’ll be attending activities today. I’m the only foreigner and am more than twice the age of most – the others are all young Kosovar women, mainly high school or university students. The van arrives and we pile in.

On the way, one of the volunteers, Gresa, tells me about the robotics group she’s been running for children attending our centre. They’ve learned programming (in English) and this week will be taking part in the first round of a national robotics competition.

As we enter Neighbourhood 29 we start to see people in the streets whom I recognize – there’s Jashar walking from his house to the centre, attending as a volunteer today in addition to his Monday-Friday job managing our kindergarten. People start waving at the kombi as we pass – the grandmother of one of the children who is sponsored through The Ideas Partnership, a young boy being brought up by his grandma and her own mother; the two elderly women going out with their wheelbarrows to collect scrap metal in order to keep the family going after the boy’s father went to prison, and his mother left. A couple who live outside Kosovo give money to the family every month through TIP and it goes straight to the family in the form of whatever food or other needs they identify as priorities.

Others who wave as the minivan goes by are children, on their way to the centre for today’s academic support activities, but we also pass in the street and wave to a man who last month received a second-hand stove donated by Alisa and Burim to The Ideas Partnership, and a lad who I recognize as one of the beneficiaries of our bursary scheme a few years ago – we paid his transport to get to vocational training courses.

Once we’re at the centre we head upstairs, amid a stream of children and two of our ‘Little Teacher’ teenage volunteers from the community who are being supported to become teachers or other community leaders in the future. Vlora and Qendresa are bouncing down the stairs on their way to prepare the class for the first grade children they teach every Saturday.

We reach the office and the volunteers are distributed between the classes to teach the approximately 50 children who’ll attend this shift. One of the volunteers stays behind, and soon a 16 year-old girl from the neighbourhood arrives. She wears a headscarf so can’t attend school but will be taking her Test Kombetar national test this summer and is being given 1:1 support by our volunteer to help her with the test.

Another volunteer Lirije sits down to discuss with staff the possibility of a psychologist colleague coming to offer 1:1 support to children with particular needs as I unpack the donations I brought in that big bag, and as well as the baby stuff I give out some notebooks we’ve been donated to our Learning Co-ordinator Valentina. She’s busy distributing other learning resources between the classes (I recognize the materials in the box she’s taking round, donated by Julie one of our UK-based volunteers).

I get a phone call from a widow who’s supported by a group in the UK. I visit her at least twice a month to pass on money from the British supporters which they give on condition that her children go to school. She wants to know what time I’ll come to the house today. But first I want to go round the 6 classes and give a bit of support to the Little Teachers who are teaching a phonics class.

Another treat on my Saturdays in Fushe Kosove is to visit the ‘This Week I Helped’ board where the kindergarten team of teachers and assistants note particular cases each week where they know they’ve made a difference. One assistant has helped a guy in the community accessing the procedure for his German test as he is waiting to get married in Germany, one teacher mentions settling in a child who’s newly returned to classes.

Back in the office we discuss the need for storage for the new Montessori resources that we’ve been donated for our kindergarten classes. Valentina is writing out the names for a treat for children attending our intensive classes (additional support for the municipal intensive classes which are the only way into school for children who drop out or who didn’t register in time). We’ve had a bundle of small toys and plastic gadgets donated by a family in the UK, with enough for one for each child attending the intensive classes, and have decided that the children’s names will be pulled out at random for them to choose the toy they want. But there’s nothing more for me to do here so I set out on a home visit.

Before I can get to the family I’m stopped in the street by a man asking for help. His wife has cancer and I have to tell him that this isn’t the kind of medical need we can support since our funds are very limited and are prioritized for pregnant women and children.

As I turn into the road where the family I’m off to visit live, I pass their dad on his motokultivator going off rubbish-picking. We have a quick chat before I go on to see the rest of the family who were returned from Germany last month. They have 6 children and I visited shortly after they came back. They were forcibly returned, meaning the German police came in the middle of the night and handcuffed the family and deported them. These procedures give no time for families to get documentation from German schools to prove the (in this case 4 years of) education the children have had there so I want to see whether they’ve had any success in getting their documentation through and registering the children in the Kosovan system. There’s no change. I remind them about registering their youngest (aged 6) in the normal way for the school as registration for this September is now open. I remind their 16 year-old twins about our Girls Club for teenagers, which is a strategy to give girls the knowledge and aspiration to prevent early marriage, which seems quite a risk for girls like these right now, and suggest that their 12 year-old daughter attends our Saturday activities this afternoon. I leave and they all call ‘tschüss!’ after me. I don’t think they’ve really returned to Kosovo yet.

Off to visit the widow’s family I’m stopped by another woman in the street. We found her some temporary work as a cleaner after she, too, was returned from Germany. She says she’s doing OK now.

It would be a twenty-five minute walk to the widow’s house even without stops, but on the way there are always people to greet, updates to be given, help to be asked, thanks to be passed on. The streets here are always full of life – adults chatting, children playing, an old guy smashing up old computer hardware to get at the metal inside, a young man fixing a motorbike. There’s the man whose name I can’t remember but whom I visited last year when his baby was born, taking a bundle of baby clothes and blankets for his newborn; there’s the husband of one of the women who used to be in our soap-making project, a boy whom I know we registered for intensive classes and who assures me he’s attending, though I want to check that with our co-ordinator Hysni when I’m back from my visit. A boy probably aged 6 has an acrylic sack on his back, out to collect scrap metal. He waves at me and holds out his hand to shake mine. He’s gritty to the touch. A little girl rushes up and gives me a hug though I have no idea who she is. There’s another woman to whom we gave baby clothes. Her husband is the middleman for scrap metal collection and her yard always looks like a carcrash, aggressive with twisted aluminium, jutting rust at you as soon as you push open the flattened oil-drum door. It’s here that the children like that 6 year-old come to bring their wheelbarrows of loot, as the registered scrap metal businesses out of the mahalla won’t deal with children. Now she’s asking whether we have any baby clothes for her 1 year-old and I promise to have a look.

Then there are the more inspiring stories – I bump into Emine who is one of our bursary recipients, studying at university and paying back her bursary with a session each week at our kindergarten. She’s recently been taken on as an administrative assistant at one of Kosovo’s ministries and proudly tells me about the new job.

Finally I make it to the widow’s house and check that all her children have been in school this week, especially pleasing after last week when two of the boys skipped school by leaving unobserved during the breaktime. Their mum has also sewn some patchwork as part of a project being run by a supporter in the UK and I’m able to pay her for her sewing.

I start walking back and am stopped by their neighbour, another young lad whom we registered for intensive classes. I ask whether he’s attending and he says he isn’t because the other children beat him up. I don’t believe him.

On the way back to our centre I stop to chat to the mum of one of the severely disabled boys who attends physiotherapy at our centre and whom we were able to help with a wheelchair.

Further on another woman stops me – she’s the mother of a new baby to whom we took baby clothes a month or so ago. I took a photograph of her and her baby and she wanted to be sure that we’ll be passing it on to her. I know it’s on my list for next week and promise her she’ll be receiving it.

And then a conversation with a man whose daughter received sponsorship from a family in the UK. Their money covers the cost of food as well as prescribed medicine that helps to manage his mental state so that he can look after the children after their mother left.

A little girl runs up to me to tell me what she won in the draw that Valentina had been organizing when I left the centre. She reminds me that we did the same thing two years ago and tells me exactly what she won that time too – it seems extraordinary that she can remember and makes me realize just how valued those little donations from England are.

And I have a quick exchange with Burhan, who used to attend activities at our centre as a child but now has his own NGO – an inspiring example of how change can really happen for this community. And our driver, Elvir, is stopped at the centre to take back home some of the children who have physiotherapy sessions each week. One of the girls who has physiotherapy following a stroke which affected the use of her arm on one side of her body is walking home. She’s just restarted mainstream school after a failed attempt to include her in the special school, so I stop for a chat with her and her sister too.
When I get back to the centre I’m just in time to see our British volunteers Mabel and Jack who are off to visit a family where the mother has recently died, to give the son a football strip as a donation from their football club in the UK. They’re with Hysni, who’s supposed to be on sick leave but has turned up anyway today.

I manage to have a quick conversation with our physiotherapist, Erlehta, who gives me the good news that a child who had stopped coming to the weekly sessions has now resumed.

And then I’m told that a TV crew is here to interview Jashar and me about The Ideas Partnership’s work tackling early marriage. We step outside to do the interview against a street scene.

A motorbike roars past and I recognize the guy who was working on it earlier. I look at my watch; it’s 1pm. A lot of change can happen in four hours.

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It’s not just one. A day in the life of The Ideas Partnership, Saturday 14 January 2017

jwg_7948It’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.

__________

There’s more about the work of The Ideas Partnership at http://www.theideaspartnership.org/wp or on Facebook

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In their shoes!

little boy having his foot measured

Blog by Ideas Partnership volunteer Kaltrina Kusari

If you enter any store towards the end of August, you immediately see “Back to School” displays. All those colorful notebooks and backpacks lure kids in, making them believe that they really need those items. For the parents who can afford to spend, trips to such stores are fun because their kids are happy. Seeing such families shop for school materials is also fun because it is nice to see kids excited about school.

At the same time, you cannot help but wonder about those kids who cannot afford to buy a new backpack, or a new set of pens and pencils.

I grew up in a family that could afford to buy me all the things that I liked. I never wanted too much, but it was nice to have that one red backpack that was so popular. I did not even feel the weight of the books in my way to school – I was too happy to notice! I was so caught up in my own happiness that I barely noticed my peers who entered the class holding their heads down.

It was not until last summer that I put myself in the shoes of my less fortunate peers, working with kids who could barely afford to eat.  The faces of my students made me aware of my ignorance as a 7 year old. These kids did not want fancy backpacks, or the latest pencil set – they wanted something much more essential – they wanted an education.  And to get an education, they needed shoes and clothing.

So I got involved with TIP to try and make a difference in these kids’ lives. Unfortunately, I left Kosova to finish my university studies. I was sad to leave because there was so much I could help with there. Again, I was ignorant to the possibilities that globalization has brought about.
I kept in touch with TIP and helped with small tasks.

One of my tasks earlier this summer was to find a foot-measuring device, so we could spend less time trying to guess shoe sizes to match up the children’s feet with shoes we’d been donated. We 18 boxes of shoes arriving from tireless supporters abroad (thanks particularly to Margy Grosswendt and friends in the US, Barbara Hawkins and the people of Port Isaac, and David and Sarah Whetham, as well as others), and children in two project communities – Fushe Kosove and Janjeve – to try to match with the shoes. TIP volunteers  spent many hours trying to find the appropriate shoes for these kids, and all that time could have been spend on other activities that would assure these kids a better school year.

So, early this summer, I e-mailed a few shoe companies asking them to donate a kid’s foot-measuring device. Many companies replied, getting my hopes up, but then saying that they only ship within their countries. None of the companies that I contacted had a foot measuring device to donate. When I had almost given up, I received an e-mail from a research team from Austria. The Stomp Kids shoe company, which I had contacted earlier, forwarded my e-mail to a team that develops foot-measuring devices. The “chidren’s feet – children’s shoes” research team (www.kidsfeet.info) sent the device as soon as I sent them our mailing address.

Now, measuring feet size has turned into a new type of amusement for the new students. And I’ve realised this is one of the benefits of globalization – from a town in Canada, I can contact people in Austria who will help kids in Kosova.This results in happy kids with shoes ready for another wonderful school year…and a happy Kaltrina who feels that she has done something to help her society!

A huge thank you, faleminderit and hvala to the Children’s Feet-Children’s Shoes team, from a bunch of children who will be walking proudly to school next week to join their peers.

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Gjelane revisited. How have we spent the last year?

Hello! How have you been? It’s been more than a year since we’ve updated this blog (though people who’ve followed us on Facebook, where we are Theideaspartner Ship, have read about how our story’s continued). But today I bumped into Gjelane as I often do in the course of our work in Fushe Kosove, and it made me think that we should fill in what she and her friends (and we and our friends) have been doing in the past year.

You’ll remember how last year 9-year-old Gjelane wanted to go to school, how she was told she was too late to register, how we started classes for her, and discovered that she wasn’t alone and that there were at least sixty other kids in her community on the edge of Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, who also wanted to go to school and had also been told that they were too late. With the help of lots of people in and beyond Kosovo, over the course of six months we got these children registered for school.

So what happened then?

Well, we had a tear-jerking day as Gjelane and her 61 schoolmates set off for school with their brand-new rucksacks on 1 September.

a group of girls in pink backpacks walk along a road, overseen by a teacher

We had a tear-jerking (for different reasons) few days during the first week of September as eleven children were sent home from school by teachers facing over-crowded classrooms and pedagogical challenges. ‘Come back when we have our extension built’, ‘you’re too big for these chairs’,’you have fleas’ (the two children in question didn’t – we had a doctor check them) they were told. And it’s hard to convince a child back into class after the teacher has sent them home for fictional fleas in front of all their classmates.

So some of our children dropped out. Others wavered – and were convinced, cajoled and supported to keep going to school by our Family Advocate and father of seven, Hysni.

As the year went on we discovered how small economic disadvantage can open up huge gaps. If you were my daughter and you lost your schoolbag and the teacher won’t let you in class without your books then I’d pop out and buy you a new schoolbag. If the 20 euro it would cost has to be taken from an income of 75 euro a month for a family, then you’d better stay at home. When Kosovo had the harshest winter for a generation and 7am starts for school were dark and icy, my daughter would be taken the 2km to school in a car, but otherwise only the most committed kid will battle that every day on foot. When the school introduced a mandatory 6 euro uniform for every child, at 2 weeks notice, it was prohibitive for some families (especially those with more than one child at school). We helped with schoolbags, a kombi van and uniform costs.

four boys look out from the seats of a van

By February there were 11 of the children whose attendance was so patchy that the school said they wouldn’t be able to be considered to have passed the year. The only option for them was intensive catch-up classes where they could make up what they’d missed. By law, it is the municipality’s responsibility to run such classes. The municipality said that space was a problem, but then space was identified by one of the international agencies working in Kosovo. Then the municipality said that transport would be a problem, so the agency organised buses. Then the municipality said that security would be a problem, but that they would find a way to arrange the classes in the school by the end of March.

They didn’t. We wrote a formal request, signed by ourselves and other NGOs working in Fushe Kosove, for the classes to start in June. And although they didn’t start then, with us all continuing pressure on the municipality,  on 4 July the classes finally began. So now, those 11 children, and about 20 others are attending catch-up classes which should make them eligible to return to the mainstream system at the beginning of September.

We’ve had a go (with thanks to the Dutch Embassy) at transferring what we achieved in Fushe Kosove to another Roma community, in Janjevo, where we have run summer classes to prepare children for school in September too.

sitting at a table, a group of children with the giggles

Meanwhile, we’ve been seeing Gjelane most weekends, as all year long we have been running Saturday activities (art, maths, English, reading, and the occasional museum trip or sports day) open to all children in the neighbourhood – whether in school or not. We now have 120 children attending those classes, and a great group of a dozen local volunteers from the community helping us to run them. We’ve also started a smaller quiet play drop-in every weekday afternoon where children like Gjelane can come to draw, read or play with lego and other resources that they don’t have at home.

a row of children in the middle of singing a song

a young man shows the pages of a book to a group of children

Finally, while we haven’t been blogging, we’ve been developing our support to the children’s families in the ways that we believe will help keep their kids in school. This has included a soapmaking microfinance initiative (thanks to the Austrian Development Agency, the Kindness of Strangers and KFOS) for five of the children’s mothers (including Gjelane’s). The soaps are handmade with olive oil and essential oil and all the profit goes to the five women who make them. Gjelane’s mother, who used to sit with her hand out, outside the mosque on Fridays, has now run a stall at craft fairs, spoken on the radio about her new source of income and presented at a round table to women’s groups in the area.

two women stand by a radio station's sign

a woman smiles at the camera, surrounded by her soapmaking equipment

Meanwhile, Gjelane’s father is one of 5 men for whom we’ve run training and given equipment to become a shoeshiner, giving him another source of income alongside what he makes from collecting recyclable garbage. Gjelane’s uncle is one of the 12 men we’ve supported with a bicycle and trailer in another project to enable these men to travel further and more efficiently in their mini recycling enterprise. We’ve also linked the men with organisations in Pristina who are wanting to recycle their plastic bottles and cans, to give the men one small guaranteed source of income.

a man with a bike in front of a heap of rubbish

on a central city pedestrian street a man has his shoes shinedAnd we’ve offered English classes and adult literacy (Gjelane’s other uncle has been one of those who’ve started bravely at A and almost got to Zh) and IT classes to offer skills for the adults of Gjelane’s community to become more employable and have choices about their lives. We’ve also continued our clothing transfer project so that now 170 families in need have received sacks of secondhand clothes.

rails of clothes
And now we’re getting ready for our biggest logistical challenge yet – making sure that more than 100 children have a schoolbag and a pair of shoes to start the new school year. That means measuring more than 200 feet this week and matching them up with the varied range of shoes we’ve been donated. Gjelane’s younger brothers are due to start school this year and I saw them today too – a serious 6- and 7-year old nodding enthusiastically at me when I tell them that it’s only 10 days to go. Here’s hoping that they have a wonderful start, and that not only Gjelane, but all of us, and all of those at her school, have learned something in the last year.

a group of children with their parents holding their first school exercise books

Gjelane’s brothers, with others of the 27 children whose families we supported to register them for school so they can start with their peers in the first grade in September

A boy has his foot measured

If you want to learn more about our work, or you want to help, or buy some of Gjelane’s mother’s soap then do get in touch at theideaspartnership@gmail.com.
And Gjelane’s story is now told in a book published as
The Rubbish-Picker’s Wife; an unlikely friendship in Kosovo (Elbow Publishing, 2015) and available on Amazon

Posted in Adults, Families, registration | 1 Comment

Finding the words and images to say

three children working on drawingGuest blogger: Elisabetta Iberni

I still cannot say whether my first encounter with Elizabeth, in the Roma Mahalla of Mitrovica, happened by accident or by destiny. I have been working there for almost two years with Danish Refugee Council, in my capacity as clinical psychologist, on educational and health issues with the RAE community returned since 2007 from lead-polluted camps. So, when I found out that she was running catch-up classes for those children in Fushe Kosova, I realized how difficult and challenging her mission was. But her enthusiasm and energy proved instantly contagious and I was honoured to accept the invitation to offer psychosocial workshops in Fushe Kosova. So, I tiptoed into the atmosphere of this homemade school, where children are eager to learn new things and to improve their writing and reading skills so to decode the surrounding world. In the beginning, I just came to silently observe their classes, watching a vivid kaleidoscope of numbers, letters, colourful paintings and listening to the jingly alphabet repeated in chorus with the teacher Avdil for dozens of times. I am sure that I was more impressed than they were, looking at my notebook and wondering what I was writing on it. I can now tell you: from my notes on …July 2011 “in general, the majority of children tend to cooperate and support each other: especially the most skilled with the ones needing more time…they demand attention and constant feedback with an overwhelming rate…it is remarkable their capacity to accept constructive criticism about their performances”.

To participate in the psychosocial workshops, children are invited to fill an application and explain their motivation: Elizabeth proposes it as a proper task where children have to exercise their writing skills.   The most popular reason they mention is to learn, immediately followed by to read and to write. There are also some enthusiastic of visual arts who say that they like to draw, putting beside original paintings as if it was a competition for the best artists. And finally, the introspective ones (or maybe those who had a more precise understanding the aim of this exercise) tell that they would participate to talk and to express their feelings and emotions and someone said also because there won’t be noise so they can have a peaceful afternoon. To dedicate to everyone an adequate span of space and time, each workshop will host a maximum of eight children, so all of them will have chance to participate in rotation.

I have been sincerely surprised by the curiosity and spontaneity that children shown for exploring the immaterial dimension of their feelings and thoughts. Even the unleashed triad composed by Avdush, Gazmend and Afir, (which together resemble balls in a pinball machine), were sitting composedly at the working table holding in their hands a sharp pencil. They listen carefully the main objective, oriented to develop their creativity and imagination to better understand both the external and internal world and to learn how to know themselves. Presentations start and everybody says his/her name, age and name of brothers and sisters, so that I propose to draw their family. Feebly a tender protest rises up: they have too many people to draw if they want to represent realistically their family members. But they are already absorbed in their work; the most industrious complete the family portrait with names and ages.

Children’s drawings have a great power of unveiling emotional movements of their internal world, adaptations and responses to critical events such as the loss of an important caregiver or abandonment and terror instilled all day by the evil eyes of some adult living in a domestic environment deeply contaminated by violence. Sometimes the details revealing the unsaid may be the characters’ dimension, or their spatial distance, colours’ use, omissions and pressure on the sheet.

Florinda, 12 years didn’t draw her mother, who died a few months ago, and she neither wants to talk about it, though in a corner she drew and then cancelled the profile of two human figures closed and confused in a hug: it is a powerful symbol which can give off the deep meaning of a relationship that can’t be forgotten but also remembered to not feel pain for that place left empty. Children take a breath when finished to draw and some of them express a wish to talk about their fears and the future. And if the future is (almost) always bringing positive things, the present is often marked by death and roughness. Ajsha finds space to tell us a detailed and precise story where two boys had a fight and one died. I feel that there are many things that need being worked through, and probably it is not necessary to touch upon everything.

What matters more is to find words (and images) to tell them. The workshop came to its end and Erhan, 10 years old, approaches us smiling and sits, making himself well comfortable, on a chair in front of me, and says: “I want you to ask me questions, about who I am, what I like and what I don’t like, what I want and what I’m afraid of”. In my mind an insight pops up: this is a good stating point, the talking cure conquered the children of Fushe Kosova.

Posted in extra-curricular activities, General, guest blog | Leave a comment

Registered! Gjelane’s going to school :-)

So Friday was a great day, the Hollywood shot, as the children stepped out en masse across the mahalla to claim the education that was theirs by right.

But what was done at the ‘big school’ on Friday was only the assessment. The plan agreed with the municipality and ministry was that by yesterday we would receive the assessment conclusions for each child and that at some point before 20 July the children would then be officially registered.  The best movie director would be hard pressed to make a compelling scene out of such a process, but as time passed following our jubilant assessment day at the end of last week, even without a Hans Zimmer soundtrack I found I was on the edge of my seat.

When the end of the working day passed yesterday, without any assessment data sent through to us, and then midnight passed too, I started fearing conspiracy theories and doubting that we were going to keep to the timetable before all education staff went on holiday on 20 July.  This morning, however, I got a call from the school director.  The assessment data was ready and I should go and collect it.

In his office he handed me the list of names with a recommended entry class for each child.  It was signed by all members of the commission, and had a reassuring big school stamp on it. Great.

‘And when might the children be registered?’ I asked politely.

‘They are! This is the official confirmation.’

Hans Zimmer’s orchestra crescendoed and the camera whirled around the room, my grinning face, panned to Gjelane out in her yard playing with their new puppy and looking up with a small confident smile, wiped to Ajnur saying ‘ueh!’ which is Fushe Kosove speak (now adopted by me) for ‘wow’, and then went wobbly round the edges so we know that this is an image of the future showing Besmire, who always wanted to be a doctor, all qualified and standing in the door of her surgery in 2030 welcoming a different generation of children for their vaccinations.

All this while I was quietly, jubilantly shaking the director’s hand.   It was a milestone moment – the end of an extremely long and sometimes wearying process.  But it’s not really the end – for those 52 children this is just the beginning.

Gjelane’s story is now told in a book published as The Rubbish-Picker’s Wife; an unlikely friendship in Kosovo (Elbow Publishing, 2015) and available on Amazon

Posted in changing policy, General, registration | 8 Comments

Virtual volunteering

Guest blog by Su Jones

By day I’m a senior design manager for a high street retailer, and in my evenings and weekends I am a virtual volunteer for The Ideas Partnership, working from the UK to remotely support the fantastic work the team in Kosovo are doing. Having worked with Elizabeth in a more hands-on capacity for the last 2 summers where my partner Paddy and I have used annual leave to be voluntourists, and having loved both experiences I was keen to support any further work and keep involved even if we weren’t able to afford the time to visit Kosovo this year. So, I became a virtual-volunteer, offering my support with planning and admin wherever I could, in particular helping to co-ordinate the volunteers for the forthcoming summer programme where we plan to teach English in the Fushe Kosove community to anyone who wants to learn (those who are registered for school and those who are hoping to get registered).

My role has been fairly small compared to the teaching commitments made by others, but I hope in some way the regular skype meetings, emails to volunteers, application form processing and information packs, along with the newsletters and campaign flyers that I have been able to use my design background to create, have helped to ease the pressure of those at the chalk-face (or should I say whiteboard) doing the real hard work, and it has been a real privilege to be involved and be asked to create guest blog to talk about the part I have played.

There have been times where my demanding day-job has eaten into my time, and when I have hastily driven back from work to jump straight onto another computer for a 2 hour skype meeting, whilst Paddy has placed food and drink in front of me with a look of patient understanding. And I’ll admit that once or twice during my skyping and scoffing I had questioned whether I was over-complicating my life, but then I’d read the emails and this blog and be humbled by how much Elizabeth and the team were pushing themselves to achieve their mission and my busy day would pale into insignificance. I also have a great reality check from the school stuck onto my fridge; it’s an early faleminderit poster from Selime (one of the first letters sent out in response to a donation I made to the project and probably some of the first letters of the alphabet Selime ever wrote). As a virtual volunteer it was lovely to receive something that was actually from the school, something tangible to have in our house and it’s a great advert for the project for our friends and family to see. Every time I go into our kitchen it reminds me of the progress that has been made since those letters were carefully scribed out back in the early days, to last Friday’s big day before the commission, and, after a long day at work it helps put things into perspective: I am really lucky to have had an education, to have been able pursue my career aspirations and I should never take that for granted.

I guess the moral of my blog is that volunteering is good for you and good for your stress levels, so no matter what time you have and what capacity you can work in (virtual or real) you should offer up some of your time for good causes like this because it makes you feel good too. And before I get too Jerry Springer on everyone, I would like to take this chance to plug the summer programme which starts on 18th July through to the end of August, I can highly recommend the tourist experience Kosovo provides and doing something worthwhile whilst you’re there. You don’t have to be a student, a teacher or have to take a sabbatical from work to do anything like this; it is possible to have a mini gap adventure with a 1-2 week break from any job. So if anyone fancies taking time out to do something different as well as getting a tan then please get in touch, it’s not too late to do something amazing with your summer break.

Posted in guest blog, Summer Programme | 2 Comments