I’ve not done much blogging over the last few weeks but please don’t think that not much is happening in Fushe Kosove. It’s probably been the most significant week since we started classes. Here’s what’s been going on since I last wrote:
Saturday, Sunday and Monday: along with Kaltrina, a recently-joined volunteer, I visited every family whose children have attended our classes. We had been given a deadline by the municipality to submit the details of all the children to be assessed for registration by Tuesday. They needed name, date of birth and form of ID so we knocked at doors, called into empty hallways, interrupted weddings and bumped into people in the street until we had a neat spreadsheet showing the details of 70 children who didn’t register in the first two years of school, have since been denied access to school by the Ministry’s policy but whose parents say they want them to go to school. We watched 70 birth certificates being unfolded from careful storage. In most cases the mothers (it was usually mothers who reached for the carrier bag filled with documents hung on a nail on the wall) handed a sheaf of birth certificates over to us and asked whether we could help tell them apart because they didn’t know how to read their children’s names.
In some cases parents, even of those who have attended our classes very regularly, said they wouldn’t allow their children to start at the ‘big’ school. The reasons were varied, mainly unfounded, and we had gentle debates before leaving those houses. Was it really true that the Albanian kids would beat their children up? Were they sure it was too far to walk? Plenty of children manage it every day. Yes, Nerxhivane has an eye infection, but that shouldn’t stop her going to school. If Lume needs to help his dad with scrap metal collection, couldn’t he fit it round a few hours of going to classes every day?
On Monday afternoon Nerxhivane’s mum came to school. She’d brought her daughter’s birth certificate. ‘I’d like her to register on Friday,’ she said. We chalked up one small victory.
By Monday evening we had the 70 children’s details compiled, along with a fiendish bit of Excel work by Young Rob showing the attendance details for each child: we have 37 children who’ve attended on more than half the days we’ve held classes. We sent the details off to the Municipality, and waited to see whether they would stick by the agreement we’d made that we could bring the children to be assessed on Friday.
Tuesday: an email from the Municipality inviting us to bring all 70 children at 10 o’clock on Friday to go before a Commission of three members of staff at the school. The Commission will then decide in which class each child should enter in September.
Wednesday: a phone call from Vlora Citaku, the Minister for European Integration. She had chaired the conference called by the European Commission Liaison Office in Pristina where we had raised the issue of our children’s difficulty in registering at school. ECLO have been pursuing this issue, and Vlora was calling to reiterate her commitment to getting the children into school. What’s more, she said she had just come from a meeting with the Prime Minister where he had said that ‘the children in Fushe Kosove should have their constitutional right’.
Thursday: Fidan buys a pack of tissues. Our Kosovan teacher, Avdil, spoke to all the children yesterday about how they should present themselves when they go to school. ‘Clean faces, clean clothes, nails neatly trimmed,’ he ordered them. ‘And you need to bring a tissue with you so that if you need to blow your nose you don’t use your sleeve.’ This morning Fidan greeted me by patting his pocket ostentatiously. ‘What have you got there, Fidan?’ I asked.
I’d seen Fidan in Pristina at the weekend, cleaning car windscreens at the traffic lights. I guess it’s some of the money he earned there that he used to buy himself a pack of tissues so that when he turns up at school tomorrow no-one can judge him because of the way he wipes his nose. This is a boy on his way to his future; I almost needed to borrow one out of the pack myself.
And Friday… Who knows? I know that not all of the 70 children will make it to the school to be assessed. Friday is mosque (= begging) day, when our numbers are always down. It’s summer and state school holidays, and wedding season has started. Some children will be caught up in family celebrations. And some will be sick and some will discover they’re needed at home or to go and help their dad, and maybe some will get cold feet about this state system that has been readied for them. I really hope that the 37 regular attenders will get there, and I’d love it to be more. We have a squad of volunteers ready to knock on all the children’s doors an hour before we’re due to set off for the commission, to leave them no excuse that they forgot or overslept. And after that it’s in the hands of the kids themselves.
Gjelane’s dad says he’s coming with her. I know Fidan will be there with his newly blown nose; Afir wouldn’t miss an outing; Gazmend can’t wait to tell someone his times tables; Besmire wants to be a doctor when she grows up. Those are the things that get children to school all over the world, and now the system in Kosovo has adapted so that those are the things that tomorrow will get a gaggle of Kosovan children to school for the first time too. I can’t wait!
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