Forty-eight children

two teenage boys share an ABC book

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

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4 Responses to Forty-eight children

  1. mary says:

    I love your descriptive writing, Elizabeth – and for seeing all the positives and possibilities. 48 children today!!! Wow – the flat must have been full to bursting. x

  2. Dede MacGillivray says:

    Elizabeth, you don’t fail to amaze me, but this has knocked me sideways; procrastination is not something you do (Dr Thomas’ lessons on Hamlet obviously made their mark). How can donations be made? I’m posting your Blog to Facebook and mailing a few people to get the word around on this incredible and worthy venture, and I’d like to tell people how to give if they’d like to. I will continue to follow humbled and in awe, you are doing something quite astonishing.

    • You’re a star, Dede! (and how wonderful to be considered a more effective social entrepreneur than Hamlet ;-)) I’ve actually just this minute uploaded a post flagging up the ‘donate’ tab which has been set up today by our extremely helpful friend for exactly this purpose. Any contribution is really gratefully received (and if you’re tempted to come to do some teaching this summer, there’s always the summer programme we’ll be running mid July-mid August to teach English in this same community. It would be wonderful to have you here!)

  3. Dede MacGillivray says:

    I’ll put word out of donation details and keep plugging this project. I really take my hat off to you. Tempted, hmm yes? Perhaps this is the break away from Skye Joel and I were racking our brains for at the weekend. I’ll show him your blog and put it past him when he comes home from Isle of Harris on Friday – think he’ll be game.

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