Gjelane is going to school

Gjelane being assessed, watched by her Dad

Back in March I blogged about an extraordinary project established by my friend Elizabeth Gowing in Kosovo – a school, started from scratch, with the single aim of helping poor local kids to learn enough reading and writing to get them into the local schools and out of the horrible Catch-22 situation which had seen them fall so far behind that they couldn’t get back into the system. The blog was called Getting Gjelane to School, because that was what the project was all about – giving a young girl called Gjelane and other kids like her the tools they needed to get moving in life.

Elizabeth moved mountains, hassled parents, raised cash, gathered volunteers and essentially created a school from scratch. And the outcome?


Hans Zimmer’s orchestra crescendoed and the camera whirled around the room, my grinning face, panned to Gjelane out in her yard playing with their new puppy and looking up with a small confident smile, wiped to Ajnur saying ‘ueh!’ which is Fushe Kosove speak (now adopted by me) for ‘wow’, and then went wobbly round the edges so we know that this is an image of the future showing Besmire, who always wanted to be a doctor, all qualified and standing in the door of her surgery in 2030 welcoming a different generation of children for their vaccinations.

While London is recovering from a night of looting by children who have forgotten what it means to be part of a community, I can’t think of a better tonic. Congratulations, Elizabeth and everyone involved. An amazing, amazing achievement.

In other news from Kosovo, Elizabeth’s friend Paddy McEntaggart has established a lovely little photography project which he emailed me about last week. This is what he said:

My girlfriend Su and I are based in Yorkshire and are coordinating from here using the internet. We have sent out some digital cameras that have been donated (most of which are pretty old), the volunteers on the ground give some basic instruction to the children in Elizabeth’s school (there are around 100 taking part). Most days groups of 4 – 5 children in the morning and afternoon go on photographic walkabouts in the community taking pictures. These are then uploaded by the volunteers to an ftp site, that evening they are downloaded by us here in Yorkshire. We organise and sort through them, after which 29 are uploaded to a website.

Personally we have been amazed at some of the images they capture since they have never used cameras before, amidst rubbish and poverty they find beauty, humour and moving moments in the everyday life of the community, rather than me go on and describe it maybe you can visit the site, there already 5 days of 29 images http://www.neighbourhood29.com/ 

The aim of the website is to give their photographs exposure and give a voice to a community that usually has little chance to be heard. So it would be great if you could spread the link around to anyone you think would be interested or suggest contacts of anyone who might wish to run a piece on it.

It’s a lovely and compelling piece of work and well worth spending some time on – again, consider it a tonic from the images of violence and greedy despair spilling out of London.

And finally, can I strongly recommend Elizabeth’s superb book Travels in Blood and Honey, about her adventures in Kosovo. It’s a sane, human account of that blood-stained but defiant region written with all the care and carefully-orchestrated passion of a George Orwell piece. Very, very good.






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