bare feet, bare walls


Fushë Kosovë is perhaps five miles from the centre of Prishtina. On the dual-carriageway, you can get there in five minutes. Five miles and five minutes from the jazz bars and the morning macchiatos of the capital, whole families are trying to live in single rooms on 60 euros a month.

Let's start with a success story: bold Faton. And now the background. We discovered the Ashkali community of Neighbourhood 29 in Fushë Kosovë by accident - and through individual stories: the boy with burn-scarred legs who needed medical attention, and whose family couldn't afford the few euros necessary for ointment; the children who couldn't go to school because they had no shoes; the girl who wanted to go to school but was refused because of a bizarre regulation that required children over 9 to pass a test before registering to school. A community where the main employment is going through bins for scrap metal to sell for a few cents; a community where the money children earn from begging is essential to family income. (To see the local children's view of their own community, have a look at the wonderful This is Neighbourhood 29 photo project. In Balkan Insight there's a suggestion of the challenges for life in the community.)

The Ideas Partnership has been led into a series of inter-related projects in and with the community. We ran catch-up classes to give children remedial teaching and get them ready to start school; and we lobbied the Government and the municipality to ensure that they were able to. In September 2011, and again in 2012, we took a crocodile of children from Neighbourhood 29 to their first day in regular school, where they belong.


We've recruited a community advocate from the district, to be the bridge between the families and the school and to strengthen the relationship between the two. All of our work in Fushë Kosovë depends on volunteers, and many of them have come from the community itself.

We've organized the collection and distribution based on need of clothes and shoes, all donated by generous friends from around Kosovo and around the world. Here's the story of a school in Austria who sent us some socks. Trousers worn by Ambassadors can be seen on the streets of Neighbourhood 29; children are walking to school in shoes collected in Hawaii. When a child turns up in the depth of winter without socks we can give them a pair, donated by someone like you. So thank you.

We continue to run Saturday activity classes for children, to give them skills and a bit of fun and a healthy snack and to get them off the streets for an hour or two. We've run literacy classes and English classes for adults. We continue to run art and dance sessions for children. We help women and children get the basic healthcare they should have. We rent a simple space above a mini-market, and over two years the generosity of our supporters and the enthusiasm of the children has turned its bare concrete walls into a slightly more suitable environment covered with pictures and maps and number-lines and photos. We try to use it as a space for the community.

We've also established a series of micro-finance projects - soap-making, recycling, decorative candle-jars, shoe-shining - to give parents some very basic income and enable them to get their children out of begging and into education. You can read about (and buy) some of the results through this site.

Neighbourhood 29 is far from being our only project. But it's become our most wide-ranging, because we learned that the solutions to such deep challenges only come from an all-round, ground-level engagement with education, health, economics, and community identity. In 2012 we took some of these ideas and developed them for a new project in Janjevo, helping Roma children get to school with the support of all elements of a diverse community.

Here's our latest newsletter. Here (at the 4 hour 15 mark)  is Elizabeth doing a TED talk. The story of the children's journey to school was told in a dedicated blog. Kosovo's Minister for European Integration visited our centre recently, reported in Zëri, and Express and Sot. And here's an earlier visit to some of the children in their new classroom. And here's the story in a series of the children's pictures, on the photophilanthropy website. You can read how our volunteers - from P.E.D.A.L. and UN Volunteers (with a UNV video about the volunteer experience featuring their work with us) - have found the experience. Here's a recent report in Koha Ditore newspaper, here's an article by the UN Mission in Kosovo, and here's a mention in The Independent.

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