Forty-eight children – ten new kids today. They crowd into the rather small classroom and sit expectantly on the floor. So this education thing that we’ve heard about? What does it look like?
Some of the newcomers are the bigger boys, up to 15 years old, who stopped me when I was out in the neighbourhood at the weekend, taking shoes to the family who hadn’t sent the girls to school on Friday. The boys asked me then about these classes that they’d been told had started, and asked whether they could come. I told them they’d be welcome, but I never believed that they’d turn up. They have swift movements, sharp chins and hair slicked back; they’re bursting with cool, and with sudden brittle laughter at jokes I don’t understand. And when it comes to doing some writing I discover they don’t even know all the letters of their own names; I think they’re the bravest people in the room.
I try to navigate carefully around their dignity (remembering what I learned from Selamit and Kefaet yesterday about my rap dancing dreams) and they respond conscientiously. Later, when some of the younger kids talk after I’ve asked for quiet, the spiky-haired guy tells them off; I think our school has just found its prefects.
If they come back tomorrow, and if they bring their friends, and even if they don’t but other new kids turn up instead … we are rapidly outgrowing this space and this number of teachers – especially if we really want to achieve accelerated progress for these learners over the next six months. I spend much of the rest of the day, after the kids have gone home and I’m back in town, asking around for anyone who might be interested in helping teach small groups. A coffee with one possible volunteer, a drink with the friend of another, some emails to people who might be able to come to help for an hour, a morning, a full-time job. I’m thinking that we need to consider extending the teaching hours into the afternoon for small groups with a specific focus. I’m wondering whether the kids would come back after lunch for extra?
And most of all I’m wondering about what you could extrapolate from the fact that within a week of opening our doors we have 48 students turning up to learn on a frozen morning. If there are 48 whom we currently know about just from this small neighbourhood who are currently out of school but who want to be registered, and take up their basic human right to education… how many more are there across Kosovo? 48 feels a little overwhelming in this space right now, but thinking of the hundreds and thousands of their peers across the country is dizzying. This responsibility is huge – proving what can be done to move these children forward: proving that they’re ready to learn, and ready to register in the system. I can’t decide if I want even more kids to turn up tomorrow or not.
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