It’s common in the Balkans for modern blocks of flats to be built with a shop space at the bottom. Sometimes these units are sitting empty; sometimes there’s a little grocery store; often a private medical clinic. But the OM Kosovo team is full of imagination, and in one major town, they have transformed an empty unit into a vocational training centre. For youth at risk of dropping out of school, this could be an educational lifeline.
OM team member Peter* took me on a visit, driving through grey, dingy backstreets. At our destination we picked our way across a rubbish-strewn car park towards a block, towering above. I noticed the typical shop unit at ground-floor level, then I noticed how the windows and the entrance were cleaner than many.
Peter motioned me to silence, as opening the door, we found ourselves at the back of a sewing class. Twelve or so teenage girls were huddled over their desks, learning the basics of making a skirt. Peter introduced me to Fatmira*, the experienced local teacher of needlework who has invaluable skills to pass on both here, and at OM’s associated “House of Joy” project for adult female survivors of abuse. Not to disturb the sewing class, we passed through into the back room of the former shop.
Here I met another teacher, Lulzim*, who previously worked for years in local schools as a technical skills instructor. Lulzim didn’t have a welding class today but was doing some maintenance work on the engineering and welding equipment mounted on work benches, and arrays of tools hanging on the walls.It’s a mark of the quality of this education scheme that top-grade local teaching professionals have come on board.
Peter stays busy recruiting potential students, like the youth he knows from the local Roma settlement (a large minority group in Kosovo). “If they can commit to attending regularly, those young guys could learn some really useful skills,” Peter observed. “Being able to weld and do light engineering could help them overcome the discrimination they face in a very narrow jobs market.”
The girls were still busy sewing as we made our way back past them and left the building. It was a brief visit, but the potential of this scheme is clear, and there’s nowhere else in town like it.