More Than a School

The first time I met Elizabeth Gowing was in March 2011 on my second trip to Kosovo. I was conducting field research for my thesis which assessed the education system for girls in the country after the end of the war (post-1999). In 2009, Elizabeth had identified a gap in the public education system which did not support minority children, especially those from the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities.

To help increase enrollment and attendance of minority children in schools, she co-founded The Ideas Partnership, a non-profit with a mission to support the marginalized communities in Kosovo. The first supplementary weekend school was opened in Fushë Kosovë in 2010, a municipality just twenty minutes outside of Prishtina, where there is a sizeable Roma enclave. Enrollment in Elizabeth‘s classes grew from 30 to 50 students in just the first week of its inception. The ages of the students range from seven to fifteen years old; some are uncertain of their age because they do not possess birth certificates.

The school runs two sessions every Saturday, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The school is mainly run and operated by volunteers. Each session has over 50 children enrolled. These makeup sessions help the children review reading and math skills, but more importantly—learn how to behave in a traditional classroom. Many of the children had never attended school before or attended sporadically.

When I visited the school in March 2011, the classes were held on the 2nd floor of a newly constructed building that was not quite finished. The staircases did not have banisters and there was no heating source. I explicitly recall how on that particular day, the weather was sunny and mild, but inside the building it was very cold. The children sat on the concrete floors which were covered with sheets.

I recently returned to the school in September. Elizabeth promised me that the school had made quite a few changes, but I barely recognized the building. The front of the building is now gated for security. There are now banisters on the staircases. The school has taken over the ground floor as a part of its expansion. The walls are covered with decorations, photos, and children’s artwork. The classrooms are fully furnished with chairs, tables, bookcases, and toys. Every room has wall-to-wall carpeting. The school didn’t only feel like a school—it felt like a home.

Since 2011, The Ideas Partnership has launched additional initiatives focusing on tourism and the environment. It had also started Sa Punë, a subsidiary program that provides jobs for women in Fushë Kosovë and Janjeva. Currently, there are eight women in the program and participation is contingent upon their children’s school enrollment and attendance. The very first items in The Bazaar are supplied by Sa Punë. With each purchase, you are helping to support the women’s livelihood, their children’s education, and subsequently their communities.

If you would like to learn more about The Ideas Partnership and how to get involved, please contact us.