I woke up when I started my education again: A success story in Kosovo*

teacher sitting at table
Mirsade Salihu is not only teaching her community, she's advocating for them (Photos: Sarah P. Murphy)

  

It’s a rare sunny day here in the Roma/Ashkali/Egyptian (RAE) quarter of Fushë Kosovë/Kosovo Polje, Kosovo; a welcome respite from a long spell of chilly, overcast winter weather.


It’s also the perfect day to skip school. Or, if you’re not enrolled in school – as is the case for nearly 15 percent of school-aged children in this impoverished neighbourhood – it’s the perfect day to skip your two-hour literacy and numeracy class run by The Ideas Partnership.


But here inside this sunlit classroom, ten young teenaged girls sit among four rows of old wooden tables. Pens in hand and eyes on the blackboard, the girls are oblivious to the laughter and chatter coming from the street outside.


Their teacher is Mirsade Salihu. A 36-year-old mother of three and active member of her local RAE community, Salihu is one of only four women among the 20-member “Community Changemakers” group that comprises one aspect of this United Nations Volunteers-supported project being implemented by The Ideas Partnership in two municipalities.


Where the other parts of this project focus on directly delivering basic literacy and mathematics courses, the changemakers element targets a carefully selected group of individuals from these marginalised communities for special trainings in advocacy, project design, and entrepreneurial skills.


Salihu didn't just devise the curriculum, she went out and recruited the students herself.


Donning a zebra-striped headscarf, Salihu easily charms her students and colleagues alike with her warm smile and frequent outbreaks into giggles and outright laughter. And indeed, she seems effortlessly comfortable in front of her classroom of transfixed young students, only two of whom have any previous formal education.


As she patiently reviews the fundamentals of simple addition, Salihu variously calls upon her students to join her at the blackboard, weaving interaction into the instruction process while carefully maintaining her students’ focus. It’s as though she’s been a teacher all her life.


But in fact, Salihu has been teaching for barely two months, and moreover is herself in the process of completing her own high school education.


Jumping at the opportunity


Described by colleagues and longtime neighbours as a passionate and especially sharp student in her younger days, Salihu’s high school education was cut short in the 1990s when conflict and, correspondingly, barriers in access to education prevented her from completing her formal studies in law. But last year, she caught word of The Idea Partnership's bursary scheme for local RAE individuals wanting to continue their education.


“I took the opportunity without thinking twice,” Salihu says.


She jumped back into formal studies in November, and by January she had initiated her literacy and numeracy classes for girls as well as joined the community changemakers group.


Her twice-weekly literacy and numeracy class for girls – which she devised herself – has rapidly become among the most popular and consistently attended at the Fushë Kosovë/Kosovo Polje centre.


As Salihu describes it, her passion for education and learning never left, but she was dismayed upon being forced to abruptly halt her studies in the 1990s and, in the years since, let the once fiery student inside her wane on the backburner.


“I woke up when I started my education again,” she says.


And her excitement to jump back into learning seems to translate into her teaching, for which she clearly has a natural aptitude.


A model changemaker


“These classes really hit the target of what is very much needed here, since all these girls are really interested and really wanted to learn,” says project manager Samir Statovci “When last week we had to tell the students she couldn’t make it because she was sick, they didn’t want to leave the centre because they were too excited for class”.


Already making an impact in her community through her effective teaching, Salihu’s enthusiasm seems to further fuel her evermore active role as a community advocate and changemaker.


“Mirsade was chosen to join the changemakers group due to her noticeable passion and ability to advocate for her community,” continues Statovci. “She is determined to help enable those in her community to gain the basic skills required to empower them in the world beyond their marginalised neighbourhood.”


“In a way, Mirsade is a model changemaker,” says Statovci.


Not only does she motivate her fellow changemakers but she’s also already making strides in her own community.


“In the future, these women will be young mothers, and they will be able to assist their children with schooling,” says Statovci. “And this will help in our overall cause to lower illiteracy rates in the community.”


And what’s next for Salihu?


“I don’t know, but I’m dreaming!” she says. “I hope to achieve something good that was until now impossible, but we’ll have to wait and see for it.”


This success story was written by Sarah P. Murphy and is a UNDP / UNV component within the United Nations Joint project in Kosovo, funded by United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security and implemented by The Ideas Partnership.


* - All references to Kosovo in this article are in the context of UNSCR 1244 (1999).