A Unique School Project in Macedonia

August 2, 2017, was dedicated to the commemoration of the Roma Holocaust. During World War II, thousands of Roma lost their lives in concentration camps. Against the background of this terrible past, the Conference of European Churches called for a commitment for reconciliation and justice. In a time when new and old prejudices would be invoked and hate speech would often replace reason and reflection, the churches would need to be more active than ever to promote the dignity and human rights of the Roma. An example from Macedonia shows in an impressing way what this might mean.

22 Roma children from Ohrid (Macedonia), split up in three age groups, currently participate in a unique school project of the UMC in Macedonia. It is unique because classes are on Saturdays and on Sundays from 4pm to 8pm (during the summer vacation, the project is implemented as «summer school» with 4 hours classes daily from Monday to Friday). However, it is also unique because the participating children are usually aged 6 to 14 years, but because ways are explored to integrate an older child, as well, if this is considered to be a necessity. One have to take into consideration that not all Macedonian children attend a public school – which means that the importance of this school project for the future of the Roma children is even bigger.

Of course, mathematics, reading and writing are taught. However, the teacher and her helper also particularly work with children challenged by a speech disorder. These children work with great zeal because, thanks to the loving care, they have overcome their fear to pronounce words in a wrong way or to use them in a wrong order. In addition, the classes include, for instance, traffic education and lessons on safety on the streets. When working with those children attending a public school, as well, the focus is on tutoring. «We repeat what the children learn at the public school and help them preparing for exams as well as doing their homework», says Julijana Mileska, the project leader.

Many children are in need of encouragement in order to not give up – and they need learning aid. From their parents, they often receive none of this. The reason? A child that does not attend school does not need special clothes and snack for the breaks. Instead, it can take care of the younger siblings or collect plastic bottles and go begging in order to contribute some money towards the household budget of the family.

The project leaders are over and over confronted with very painful family situations – addiction, domestic violence, neglect. Suddenly, school turns to be a safe haven where children are understood, appreciated, and loved. A place, where children can find hope although difficult life conditions have left their hurtful marks. But there are also parents that are very grateful for the assistance their children get. They have established a trustful relationship to the project leaders, and over the course of time an encouraging cooperation has developed.

The project leaders try to develop a good relationship to the neighbors, as well. Julijana Mileska underlines: «We would like to be a good example – in a variety of aspects. Our children are called not to be noisy when they are outside, they should greet the neighbors, and they should take care of the flowers in the small park in front of our building. The first group has planted a garden, which was an amazing experience for the children. They so much rejoiced in the result of their work.» It’s not only the flowers that blossom – the children flourish, as well. And this is reason to joy and hope for the project leaders.

In the first half of the year, two excursions took place – for the two older groups it included an overnight stay in a hotel. When they were asked what they liked most, the children responded: «The rooms with the beds!» Never before in their lives they had slept in such beds. Some children even did not want to return home. And Julija Mileska added: «One of the children took a bath four times during the evening.» The positive impact of the ministry on the social behavior of the children also became visible when the children were highly praised for their behaving during the meals in the restaurant.

«True love cannot be shown by words alone but by good deeds.» This is the conviction of Julijana Mileska – and that’s the reason why she will continue to commit herself to this school project for Roma children. Her aim is not only to make a contribution towards a better future of these children. By her credible action, she would also like to point to the one who is a source of hope – even in situations where it seems that there’s no reason to hope at all.

Source: Julijana Mileska / Christina Cekov / Urs Schweizer
Date: August 3, 2017