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Character building in war torn areas of Kosovo and Serbia

Anna Wormus

Most of us cannot even imagine the psychological toll that would be taken on a small child whose country had just passed through a decade of continual war. Loved ones lost, schools destroyed or in a state of extreme disrepair, and parents, siblings, and peers traumatized. With local government and school districts doing their best to recover, a sense of “normalcy” is often the best healing balm for the impressionable young mind. Just getting back into a set routine such as going to school each day can do wonders in driving those distressing memories deeper into the forgotten past.

Seeing this need and knowing that we could help, our Healing Hearts Balkans charity selected the target group KG - 2nd grade when requesting sponsorship from Activated Ministries for the free distribution of our Prvi Korak (“First Step”) character-building curriculum here in Serbia and Kosovo.

Even though the 3 R’s of “Reading, ‘Riting, & ‘Rithmatic” are taught effectively here, not much attention is given to a child’s more subtle needs such as the development of his or her character. Regrettably, in a post-war environment, parents’ thoughts and mindsets are more often than not focused on lingering negative emotions such as anger, regret, revenge, poverty, and desperation. This is why we designed Prvi Korak to teach such positive values as: forgiveness, courage, teamwork, a positive outlook on life. In addition to the student’s book, the Prvi Korak set also includes a parenting/teacher’s manual, a coloring book that reinforces each section and lesson learned, and an audio CD of dramatized stories that the children find written in their student book. Thanks to the very generous grant towards this project from Activated Ministries, we were able to print 800 Prvi Korak sets!

Our desire was to get this life-changing material into the hands of children living in isolated areas where foreigners never go -- areas where people have suffered terribly, but have for the most part been left by government and international aid organizations to deal with their situation on their own. With that goal in mind, we began in Kosovo. We had a list of kindergartens and primary schools, and wanted to reach as many of the poorer villages as we could. We especially wanted to visit the small, out-of-the-way places where the people are suffering most, and where the children need the most help.

The first village we visited has only 600 residents and 23 school aged children. We wanted to begin there since this enclave had suffered a terrible atrocity during the Kosovo conflict. We “adopted” this village in 2000 and have been helping them in many different ways ever since. From there we continued from village to village, ending up in the hilly region of eastern Kosovo. To get to one village we had to drive for miles up a single lane dirt/gravel road. The "school" was in a partially finished house, and had only two classrooms for the 12 or so students. Electricity to this village had been cut for over two weeks, as unemployment is nearly 100%, and the people are so poor they are not able to pay their electricity bills. We were graciously received by the teachers, as they expressed their thanks for our visit and contribution, and explained the many hardships they endure, especially in winter.

From Kosovo our next target area was the flood-affected area of northeastern Serbia. Our initial visit to this area was in conjunction with the distribution of Christmas “shoe box” presents, and we were happy to also present our program for the children while distributing Prvi Korak sets. Impressed with the need in this area, we obtained a list of more villages and schools, and proceeded to visit each one. It was amazing to us to see the bright, happy smiles of these sweet children that live in such difficult conditions, and experience their sincere thanks and appreciation for us and the material we had brought them.

Other areas where we distributed sets of Prvi Korak included all the schools for handicapped and special needs children in north and central Serbia, and the earthquake-affected city of Kraljevo in central Serbia. We have had an overwhelming positive reaction to the content of Prvi Korak, and want to pass on to Activated Ministries the heart-felt thanks of children and teachers alike who have benefited. You helped make it all possible!