A series of workshops has just started in Pristina on ‘recycling from anything to everything’. It’s run by GAIA NGO and supported by Unicef’s Innovation Lab and PEN. They invited 5 kids from our classes to take part.
The blurb for the event reads ‘do you think that rubbish belongs on a rubbish heap? Think again.’ But the children in this part of Fushe Kosove already know quite a lot about what you can do with things you take off a rubbish heap. I couldn’t decide whether this was the perfect workshop for them or whether it was just crass to take them to a comfortable room filled with multicoloured bean bags to learn to make vases by painting old juice cartons.
So I asked them. When all the children were gathered together at the end of lessons I told them about the workshop and asked anyone who was interested to put their hand up. There were about 30 hands. We wrote down the names and drew from a hat for the 5 children who would get to go to the Innovation Lab.
On Saturday we took a taxi into Pristina with the lucky five. At the Innovations Lab they were shown papier mache techniques and together with other young people from Pristina they each made something. Erhan made a pot for pens which he says he’s going to give to us to use in school. Florinda shrugs when I ask her what her pot’s for. ‘Walnuts?’ Ersen has a shallow tray and he knows exactly what he’ll use it for – sharpening pencils over. It’s true that I am always finding pencil sharpenings on the floor of the classroom; this is someone who sees a design problem and has found a design solution.
The children had a fabulous time. They were looked after by patient, gentle staff from the Innovations Lab and they produced attractive, carefully-decorated, and still slightly sticky objects. But I now realise they learned a lot more than I had expected from their day trip:
What I thought they’d learn:
- To make a papier mache pot
What they actually learned:
- that putting your hand up to volunteer for an opportunity is the first step towards being chosen for good things
- that you shouldn’t drive faster than the speed limit (the children made instant friends with the taxi driver and it was shortly after that that they asked, ‘O Axhi [that’s the term of respect for an older man; our closest translation would be ‘uncle’], please drive faster.’ Axhi was a good man and a good driver and a great teacher. His answer to them was ‘do you see that number there?’ – the children obediently read out the number 60 on a speed limit sign. ‘And do you see this number here?’ – the children read out the number on his speedometer. ‘This number can’t be bigger than that number. Otherwise you run people over.’ That’s a pretty important lesson)
- about multi-cultural Kosovo. In the taxi we passed Pristina’s newly-built cathedral. The taxi driver pointed it out to them. ‘It’s a mosque,’ they shouted. ‘No, it’s a cathedral. Like a church, ‘ he corrected them. ‘Hmm. It would have been better if it was a mosque,’ they said. Axhi was gentle, ‘well, we have mosques and we have churches in Pristina.’
- how to use their hard-won English. The classes were run by a woman from Serbia who spoke in English with a translator for the Albanian-speakers. ‘I am Milica,’ she introduced herself. I think she had been planning to carry on with an introduction to the class, but Florinda didn’t miss a beat. She’s learned this routine in Rob’s classes and she knows she’s good. ‘And I am Florinda’ she chirped. The others echoed her, all presenting themselves in English. Later, as they painted, the children asked for the colours they wanted by name in English too, without any prompting. Rob should be very proud.
- Oh yes, and they also learned how to make a papier mache pot
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