The kids who came barefoot in slippers through the mud to learn

children focused on a teacher reading from a book

Having set up the teaching space, at 10 o’clock this morning I opened the front door wondering what I’d find waiting for me.  It was a gaggle of kids – shy smiles and slightly grubby faces.  So they’d come! I invited them in and counted as they filed past me: twenty two! All but 6 were girls, and all fell into the group of kids who wanted to learn to read and write but had missed out on school registration in the first two years and now couldn’t be admitted to school without passing a test.  None of them were ready for the test – many can’t write (in some cases can’t even copy) their own name.  All were heartbreakingly willing to try.

People had tried to scare me off about these classes, telling me about the ‘feral’ children I’d be introducing to an activity they were unused to (in one case I was told learning was just something they weren’t able to do).  They’re certainly children who could do with a bit of extra care – plenty of headlice in the room today, and we had to hand out socks to kids who had arrived barefoot in slippers through the mud.  But these children are your dream class.  Calm, desperate to succeed, and most of all smiling – at the name game we played, at the fruit and yoghurt we ate together, at the morning song we sang (even more so at the closing song I improvised with help from Laura to the tune of ‘We will rock you’ – ‘Mir-u… Mir-u… PAFSHIM!’), at Rob Williams’ Head, shoulders, knees and toes English session, all through our numbers game, and in rapt attention at the story Vlora read them to finish off the morning.

Hope took photos for Facebook, and I sat looking at them this evening.  I can’t believe we’ve got to this point.  Eighteen days ago we decided that something had to be set up for these kids, and here we are with not just a classroom but a class.  If we can achieve this in 18 days, I can’t dare to hope where we could be at the end of 6 months.

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

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