Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Friendships from Ceples

There are no words that can capture the impressions of the participants in the IIEP activity, held at the Mountain Lodge Ceples, in which 32 students took part: 16 from PS “Lirija” v. Gorno Jabolciste with Albanian language of instruction and 16 from PS “Todor Janev”, Caska, with Macedonian language of instruction. Frankly, at the beginning, we arrived with a dose of scepticism: we were not certain if everything will run smoothly. Although coexistence is part of our municipality, we are dealing with kids after all, and that requires great responsibility.

At the beginning, the children received identical T-shirts – all of them! And you could not tell them apart anymore in terms of their background. The day began with icebreakers: activities that do not require many words, but require mutual help: they gave eachother a hand, they helped each other stand up, pass the ball and the like. We explained each activity in both languages, but believe me, the children started to understand each other communicating merely with their eyes.

The days were full of activities. Besides the packed agenda, we, the teachers, had to come up with additional activities. The first day was spent playing sports and games- football, volleyball, folk dances and listening to music all day long, cheerful voices were heard on the meadow in front of the mountain lodge. The second day, we went hiking all together, guided by a professional mountaineer, which lasted around 4 hours. All of the 32 students jointly sang “Makedonsko devojce” and “Roka mandolinen” which echoed through the forest. During the very first day, they memorized these songs on their own initiative and we agreed these two songs to be our hymns.

We started the afternoon by making joint drawings on a topic of their own choice. In mixed groups, students drew and wrote poetry. As I’m writing this letter, I have a smile on my face reminiscing on how wonderful they looked. They “quarrelled”, but their quarrels were about what colour the flowers should be, whether they use coals or just pencils, markers or coloured pencils.

The next day, they drew individual drawings on the topic of “Friendship” inspired by these three days. And as they were drawing, the children gathered on a circle with all materials in one place and cooperated as if they have known each other their whole lives, as if they were sitting with their best friends. A group of students who expressed interest made a herbarium from the collected herbs.

During the evenings, we organized parties with different kinds of music – it seems to me, in all languages ​​that exist. We danced and sang… The students sang and so did the teachers and the parents. I cannot describe how many happy and satisfied faces I saw around me. Together, we watched the football match of the Champions League. At this point, the children were divided, but not whether one is Albanian, Macedonian, Turkish… they were divided into Barcelona or Bayern Munich fans.

The students were tireless. On the third night they impersonated us, the teachers, inspired by events from the three-day visit. I think Jakupica was shaking from our laughter from the personifications. During the last day, the teachers, no longer had to divide them into mixed groups. They organized themselves on their own, whereas their groups consisted of everyone with everyone. We didn’t know which students came from which school.

Good news travel fast, hence the Mayor of Caska – Goranco Panovski treated us to a lunch at the Nezilovo fish pond for the successful implementation and genuine friendship. The children parted in the village of Teovo. Everybody got off the minibuses to say our goodbyes and play our last joint folk dance. The eyes of the students were full of tears: they required us to promise them that we will organize this sort of activity next year also. They hugged each other and promised to keep in touch. Tears appeared in the eyes of the teachers also. Our tears were tears of joy because the kids overcame all the barriers, prejudices and stereotypes that the grown ups still tend to have. And we have a lot to learn from these pure children’s souls.

We have not felt this satisfied and filled with happiness from a work obligation in a long time. Although there are many events that are casting a shadow on our happiness these days, we are still smiling when we remember how much joy we brought to these kids with your help – USAID’s Interethnic Integration in Education Project. And the students? They continue to keep in touch through their Facebook group. I cannot stop laughing when I read their cheerful conversations and evoking of memories.

Verica Todorovska

PS “Lirija”, v. Jabolciste, Caska