The Soap Project

by tkos on August 17, 2012

Post image for The Soap Project

“What do you mean you’re not allowed to go to school?” Elizabeth Gowing asks Geelane, a seven year old girl from Fusche-Kosove, Kosovo.

It appears that if you do not register for school by the time you are seven, then you are not allowed to go. Ever. I would think that’s going to be a problem for a lot of people in the poorest area of Pristina.

Elizabeth Gowing, founder and head of Kosovan NGO The Ideas Partnership/ part time school teacher, decided to do something about. And like many things in this world, if you want to do something properly, it’s sometimes easier just to do it yourself. “I’ll teach you if you like, and if you have any friends that are in the same situation, let them know and I’ll teach them as well!”

A week later, 56 children, who have never been to school before, show up in a donated room turned school for their first ever lesson. Hmm. Elizabeth decided to get some help.

So with the help of some international students and some locals, The Ideas Partnership had formed a little school for the mornings, and by the afternoons, Elizabeth spent her time campaigning to change the law to allow these children to go to school. I suppose she can’t teach them forever. After a few months and quite a lot of persistence, The Ideas Partnership had achieved success and the law was changed.

A week before we arrived in Pristina, Elizabeth and her team had the honour of marching her 56 children to their first day of school. A huge, amazing, inspirational achievement, but just the start of the battle. How to keep the children going? How to enable the older children to be accepted by the other school children and even the teachers? How to get the parents to keep their children going to school? The work had only just begun.

There are just so many constant battles that most people in the world would just give up, or just put it in the too hard basket, but not Elizabeth. I asked her the same questions that you may be thinking of yourself:

  • Why have the parents not registered them in the first place, and forced their kids to go to school like every other parent in the world?

“The thing is, a lot of the parents never went to school themselves, so do not have a thorough understanding of the benefits and how important it is to go to school to break the cycle of poverty. To struggle everyday to stay alive and scrounge for food, the idea of having children in school learning about maths does not seem relevant or important when they could be searching for scrap metal to sell, to give money to the family to eat.”

  • Why are the children not encouraged to go to school by the teachers and the school themselves? Are they ultimately attending a school that does not want them in the first place?

“The only school in the district is a 40 minute walk away, which is extremely far for a five year old. It only has facilities for 400 students, but accommodates 800 by schooling in two sittings per day, a morning and an afternoon session. As the Roma students have missed so much already, they feel they will hold the other students back.  It is similar to introducing inter-racial schools for the first time. In addition, the teachers believe the students do not want to go in the first place and it is only a matter of time before they drop out, so why should they invest anything into the children in the first place.”

  • If these families are so poor, why on earth do they keep reproducing and having so many children! The average family size in the community is about six or seven, with some families as big as nine!

“Tough to answer, but the only explanation I can give, is that in the in this community, the size of a family is prestigious matter. It is a symbol of stature and a big family represents a strong family, regardless of wealth or lack thereof. So as many Roma families are not in a position to achieve much else, at least this is something that they can accomplish. It certainly doesn’t make it right and to the Western world, seems ludicrous and to an extent, straight out wrong to bring a child into a world of poverty, but may go some way to understanding the thinking behind it.”

It just seems crazy to me. It just seems so hard. Generations of poverty just being recycled over and over again. To break this cycle, it is just hurdle after hurdle with no clear finish line in sight. It is not a push for assimilation, it is not a push for culture change, it is not a push for any particular type of religious values. It is simply a push to give the next generation a choice. A choice of education, a choice of a healthier, longer life. The same choice as the rest of the Kosovars growing up in this country of high unemployment.

Within a few days, some of the parents started to take their children out of school. “We need our children to go through the bins, find and sell scrap metal in order the family to survive.” Elizabeth sighs and ponders the understandable problem.

“OK, so let’s try and find you an income, while keeping your kids at school.”



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