Much remains to be done

Involving parents in their projects is an essential part of the work of Save the Children and HANDIKOS. Photo by Marina Aschkenasi.

Today we drove up to the Northern part of Kosovo, to Mitrovica South municipality, one of the poorest cities in Kosovo. We visited a community-based rehabilitation centre run by the national NGO HANDIKOS. The Centre Manager Myrvete told us that one of the goals of the organisation is to get children with disabilities and learning difficulties enrolled into mainstream education in kindergartens, preschools and primary and lower secondary schools.

Elsa benefits a lot from the support of the non-formal educator. Photo by Marina Aschkenasi.

The two pillars of the project are physiotherapy and non-formal education. Behxhet, the manager of the project supported by the IKEA Foundation funds, emphasised that the money raised by the Soft Toys for Education campaign was used to employ a non-formal educator and a driver who makes sure that the kids can get to the project locations. Almost all the other staff, including Myrvete, the Director of the centre in Mitrovica, field co-ordinators and physiotherapists work on a voluntary basis.

Visiting this project, we experienced exactly what our briefing had prepared us for: the centre only consists of two improvised small rooms in the basement of a medical centre. Seeing the very poor conditions in which this project operates brought tears to all our eyes. On the one hand we were able to observe a very fascinating dedication by the staff and the children’s parents, on the other hand a seemingly insurmountable struggle for resources and a future for the project beyond the funding of the IKEA Foundation. All that remains is the hope that the local government will take on the responsibility for supporting HANDIKOS after the IKEA Foundation funding runs out. The visit left us all very upset.

Even though the staff are doing their very best, it is nearly impossible to carry out the work with the facilities they have. Photo by Rike Dittgen.

After a short coffee break to let our impressions sink in, we were invited to the local child-led assembly of Mitrovica. Save the Children supports eight of these throughout Kosovo. This assembly, consisting of 32 elected representatives of the local primary and lower secondary schools, was established three years ago to empower children to be part of the decision-making processes in Mitrovica South. Their activities mainly focus on raising awareness among children about their rights as well as encouraging others to speak up for themselves.

Rinesa, the 15-year old Vice President of the assembly, told us that her favourite activities of the past months were those with children with Down’s Syndrome. We could really feel how being a member of the child-led assembly empowers children, and especially girls, to pursue their dreams and reach their full professional potential in the future. Why not become a journalist, lawyer, architect or teacher?

I see that I can do more by being part of the assembly.” Photo by Marina Aschkenasi.

In Mitrovica we also got a sense of the lasting conflict in the country. The northern part of the city is mainly inhabited by the Serbian minority in Kosovo, while the southern part is home to the Albanian majority. The river Iber divides the city. The bridge was rehabilitated with EU funding just recently—let’s hope that crossing this bridge in both directions is going to become everyday normality in the near future.

The bridge crossing the river Iber between Mitrovica North and South. Photo by Rike Dittgen.