Monday, May 1, 2017

Field Trip to Vratnica: My "Democracy and Civil Society" class meets with the NGO Happy Life, Sreken Zhivot and tours Center for Children with Special Needs at Simce Nastoski elementary school

At the State University in Tetovo I am teaching a course "Democracy and Civil Society."  As a part of the course, we have been meeting with NGOs and community leaders who have identified community needs -- and then worked to address them. (See, for example, this blog post field trip to Forumi Gruas)

My hope is that students will leave the course more invigorated and hopeful that they can make positive change in their community -- regardless (or, in spite of) the political deadlock/crisis in Skopje.

A colleague in the International Women's Association of Skopje (thank you Zora!) connected me with the NGO Happy Life - Sreken Zhivot, when I explained that I was looking to work with NGOs in Tetovo.

As a "field trip" I traveled with my class to the village of Vratnica, where we visited with the Director of the NGO Happy Life (which is based in Tetovo) Branka - and also got to see her work at the Creatiave Center for Students with Special Needs at the Simce Nastovski elementary school.

Branka, the Director of the NGO Happy Life took time to meet with us to tell us more about the work of Happy Life and to take us on a tour of the school and center for children with special needs. We even had a chance to interact with the students, which was fun. (I can be entertaining when trying to demonstrate how to use a hackeysack)

The NGO Happy Life (based in Tetovo) was founded after the conflict in 2001. Its mission is to "improve the mental health of children, youth and women, promote multicultural understanding, respect, tolerance and communication among members of different ethnic groups, organize seminars, workshops, and educational activities related to the specific daily needs of the target groups."

We had the opportunity to see the most recent project completed by Happy Life -- the cinema that was recently opened on the property of the school with the purpose of providing cultural activities for young people in the 5 surrounding villages.

We also learned about the work that has been done by Happy Life to provide training for teachers, "Strengthening Capacities of Future Teachers in a Multiethnic Society" (funded by OSCE) and other efforts to modernize education and teacher trainings that were funded by the World Bank and others.

Indeed this very meeting and tour was the result of inter-ethnic cooperation - as I had Macedonian and Albanian participants in the group working together to translate for me the Macedonian presentation into English.

 Happy Life also is involved with the Creative Center for Children with Special Needs. And we had the pleasure of visiting with some of the students there.

Here is the Happy Life Facebook page

my students with some of the students that Branka works with

Thanks to USFSP and to the Rowdies for these hackeysacks!
Go Bulls! Go Rowdies!

I try to demonstrate how to play with a hackeysack (!?) - maybe I should have practiced before our visit
 Maybe they would have been better off seeing this video:  hackeysack video on YouTube

with Branka and the Director of the School

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The Sreken Zhivot logo -- Happy Life

learning more about the work of  Sreken Zhivot in the sunshine, and the fresh mountain air

the new cinema

I try to demonstrate how to play with the hackeysack

I am glad there was no video of my attempt to teach the kids how to hackeysack

Some pictures of our tour of the Simce Nastovski Elementary school in Vratnica:

I was glad to learn more about the school's namesake on this "English Wallpaper"
on our our of the Simce Nastovski Elementary School

I didn't have a chance to ask the school director about this Donald Trump artwork - but it is not what I expected to see when we arrived in the parking lot

on the drive back to Tetovo ... stunning mountain scenery

on the drive back - work on our next project - here translating signs from English to Albanian for use at an event we are working on to raise awareness of the need to stop violence against women

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