We started our morning with a visit to the Save the Children office in Kosovo to understand more about the partnerships that have been created.
The IKEA Foundation and Save the Children work together to provide children with a safe and secure childhood with a focus on inclusive education.
We were excited to learn and see that the relationship between Save the Children and IKEA goes way back, beginning in 2000. IKEA at that time supported the establishment of the pre-primary classes through the refurbishment of more than 280 pre-primary classes throughout Kosovo. We got to see a wonderful short video on this.
It was great to also know that since the beginning of the IKEA Foundation-funded project in 2013, Save the Children has been instrumental in the development of didactic materials for the prevention of violence in schools, designed to support primary school teachers on an interactive teaching session on violence against children, including the establishment of a code of conduct containing information about children’s rights.
After our briefing at the office, we were so excited to finally go and meet the children and educators.
We arrived in the municipality of Gracanica, with an ethnic Serb majority, to witness the work being done in partnership with local grassroots organization Putevima Sunca at the Djurdjevak preschool (9 months to 6 year olds) and Krajl Milutin pre-primary (6-7 year olds). We were greeted by the children singing an Easter Orthodox song for us, as this was their first day back from their Easter Orthodox holiday.
Kosovo is a young state with only 1.8 million inhabitants, more than half of them under the age of 25, and youth unemployment of 55%. You can see why it is so important to invest in and support access to a quality education for all children in order to ensure a better future for them.
Around 90% of the population in Kosovo is Albanian with the remaining 10% being Serbian, Roma, Askali, Egyptian, Turk, Bosniak, and Gorani minorities. The municipality of Gracanica is made up of Serbian and Roma families, and it is important that they grow up in an inclusive environment. Many of the Roma children grow up in families that only speak Romani at home, and when they start school they need to learn to speak Serbian, which adds to the difficulty they have assimilating to a school environment.
Many of the Roma children also come from poorer families with parents having little or no education, and having one of the lowest school attainment and highest rates of school dropouts.
While at the preschool, it was easy to see that—although there are many differences in the cultures—there are so many things that are the same. The girls were just as spunky as my six-year-old granddaughter and, although we spoke different languages, they understood Hello Kitty and Elsa and Anna from Frozen! The boys were drawing cars and acting like typical boys.
As the preschool institution, the educators explained the challenges they face to make sure all children receive an inclusive and quality education. You would expect them to be frustrated, but they are not. They make the best of what they have and are always looking for ways to improve the situation for the children. They work weekends and purchase needed items with their own money to make sure the children have what they need. You could look at the pride on their faces to see how much they care about the children.
The IKEA Foundation funds a project through Save the Children that promotes the right to education for marginalized children in Kosovo, in particular children with disabilities and from ethnic minorities. Through role playing and other activities, they learn how to work together and how to interact with each other in a positive manner.
Furthermore, through various training sessions carried out for parents, teachers and children, they provide an understanding on reducing barriers to education and support in reducing the dropout rate among Roma children in Gracanica municipality.
After the 1999 war, the schools in Serb-majority municipalities continued to run under the curriculum of the Republic of Serbia, and the Serbian school systems has refused to allow any International support into the schools. It was only because of the Save the Children policies and approach to assist the schools without trying to change their culture that they agreed to allow assistance into their programs. Hence through the partnerships that have been formed everyone, including the parents work together with the children’s best interest in mind, Save the Children, with the support from the IKEA Foundation funded project is now the first international organization to begin working in the schools here (in 2013), implementing and promoting inclusive education for all children, especially Roma children, working continuously to build partnership with all relevant partners such as local NGO Putevima Sunce, the school directors, the teachers, parents, municipal education departments and children. Through the establishment of these partnerships at community level, Save the Children, through the Ikea Foundation, ensures to have the children’s best interest in mind, regardless of the setting.
All of the didactic materials that are being used by the children are provided by the Save the Children through our partnership with the IKEA Foundation, and the community is so very grateful.
The older kids are very in tune with our culture. You can see from the look on these boys faces they were very excited to meet DaShawn and spoke about Rasta and treated him like a superstar. The older girls giggled when they heard us use the term “selfie” and repeated it over and over again. When we tried to take a selfie with them they covered their faces and ran away just as young teen girls would do at home, being embarrassed by the older generation.
We were so touched by the outpouring of love from the children, the caring educators and the wonderful hosts with Save the Children. This is a generation of hope for Kosovo with no better investment than education!