On Friday evening a gathering of nearly 30 ex-pats danced and played games and ate extremely well at the house of American couple, Eleanor and Chris Rowan. Eleanor and Chris had invited friends to come to a fundraising dinner for our school, and by the end of the evening they had gathered 555 Euro. They handed the envelope of euros over to me and I knew exactly what I would do with the money.
With this sum we could pay a Kosovan teacher to come every day between now and the end of August to take classes in the afternoons. So far our classes have been held only in the mornings, because I felt I couldn’t teach all day and also have time to do the lobbying work which will hopefully change the policy which is keeping our children out of school. But far better than me taking afternoon classes is for them to be taken by Teacher Avdyl, an experienced Kosovan teacher, preparing the children more accurately for the style of teaching that awaits them in a Kosovan classroom.
I called him over the weekend, with the envelope of euros bulging in my pocket, and asked whether he’d be willing to do this, with one group (about 20 children) at a time so that over the course of the afternoon each child has an extra lesson. He said he would. And when could the afternoon classes start? On Monday.
This morning we told the children – that from today, if they wanted to, they could come back after lunch for an extra literacy lesson. For these afternoon sessions we pared down what we offer to the bare minimum – unlike the morning routines, there would be no fruit and yoghurt, no 1:1 work on our donated laptop, no morning song or closing circle awarding of stars. What we offered these children was the opportunity to come back after two hours of school and sit for another 30 minutes in rows, each with a copy of the approved Kosovan primer, chanting its Dr Seuss-style nonsense whose only merit lies in the repetition of newly-learned letters.
In the face of such an offer, d’you know what they did? They cheered! And clapped! And then at 1pm, of the 20 kids on the register for the first group we scheduled, 18 turned up – to sit on the benches and murmur their way dutifully through ‘Eni, Ani afer mi/ me mire shkolla se shtepi.’ These are brilliant kids.
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