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Healing Hearts’ Distribution of Character-Building Curriculum in Serbia and Kosovo

Anna Wormus

What better reward could anyone want than to see the smiling face on a thankful child? This was the overwhelming emotion we felt throughout the implementation of our latest Healing Hearts Balkans book distribution project.

Living in a war-torn part of the world, surrounded by poverty, suffering, and people with little or no hope, one can sometimes be hit with the thought “Am I doing enough?” The oft-used adage “Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life” encouraged us to press in to the production and free distribution of our “Bonton za Decu” (Manners for Children) character-building curriculum for children ages KG – 2nd Grade, graciously sponsored by a generous grant from Activated Ministries.

When discussing how we could best serve this needy area of Serbia/Kosovo where we have lived since 1995, it became obvious that helping to build the character of future generations would have the greatest impact on a country that has suffered through political turmoil and war for over 20 years. With vice and corruption running rampant in such an environment, the need to teach children such extremely important life-virtues as honesty, faithfulness, kindness, unselfishness, and teamwork became a strikingly obvious conclusion.

After our successful project distributing our first character-building curriculum called “Prvi Korak” (First Step) – also sponsored by Activated Ministries in 2010-2011, we set out to produce an improved, follow-up curriculum. Distribution of Bonton za Decu began before Christmas, 2011 in Kosovo and southern Serbia, a summary of which was included in our interim report entitled “Healing Hearts Preliminary Trip to Kosovo”.

With the warmer spring weather came our opportunity to continue the distribution of Bonton za Decu throughout many towns and villages of northern Serbia. This area, called “Vojvodina”, is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural autonomous province of Serbia that boasts 26 ethnic groups and 6 official languages. Since Bonton za Decu was printed in the Serbian Cyrillic script, which is the national script of Serbia, it guaranteed the widest possible acceptance and understanding in all areas that we were hoping to visit, including many needy villages in both the ethnic majority Hungarian and Slovak areas, as well as in the ethnic Serbian part of northeast Bosnia. This was a huge process, and would not have been possible without the help of our Serbian colleague, Ema, who did all the translations, adapting the original English version in some places to make it more relatable to the Slavic mentality. She runs her own small publishing company, and so recommended the layout artist and print shop that she knew would be reliable and economical at the same time in order to ensure the final products would be the highest quality possible. Having a young 4-year old boy herself, Ema put her heart into this project, knowing how important teaching good morals and character is in the overall development of young children.

We were amazed by the overwhelming acceptance of our curriculum by teachers, pedagogues, and directors alike. Everywhere we went, people agreed that teaching children good character traits from a young age was vitally important, and most confessed that neither the schools, nor the parents, are doing this job properly. For this reason, the attractive design and organized structure of the 18 lessons contained in Bonton za Decu was heartily welcomed by all.

All told, 500 sets of books were freely given to some 450 school groups, kindergarten classes, hospitals, and institutions, with the remaining 50 sets being given to needy individual families, serving an estimated total of 13,600 children.

We wish to once again thank Activated Ministries for their kind contribution towards our effort to mold young children’s lives in a positive way. It is our hope that this initiative to start these children’s lives on a strong, firm foundation of good character and moral behavior will help to build a brighter future for this war-affected part of Eastern Europe. Below are some reactions from teachers and parents we delivered books to:

From the director of a kindergarten in the Serbian part of eastern Bosnia:

I have looked over your beautiful “Bonton za Decu” character-building books along with the teachers, and we all agree that they are very well done indeed. The illustrations are beautiful, and the stories, which are tailored perfectly for children represent an excellent didactic tool for the socio - emotional aspects of child develop-ment. We thank you for your concern to support early-learning and development of the pre-school children here in our city.

From our Serbian co-worker who worked tirelessly on getting Bonton za Decu ready for the printer. She is also the mother of a 4-year old boy:

Such a character-building curriculum is very needed in the Balkans, as children of all ages need a totally new mind set following the war and all the atrocities that were committed. In school they learn to read and write, but there are no teachings of values, so these books are very important for forming a strong foundation for their young lives!

From the mother of a 4-year old girl:

My child is only 4 years old, but these books are an excellent method of forming the right motivation in her. She is learning so many important things for her life at such an early age. The stories keep her attention, and the activities reinforce the lessons learned.

From a poor couple from Kosovo:

We cannot afford to put our (4-year old) daughter into kindergarten, but these books are an excellent teaching method and a great help. Thank you for thinking of us and our needs. Our daughter has excellent behavior, due in part to the fact that she is not going to school, and so is not influenced by the bad sample of other children. She gets private tutoring in these important life-values, and is very calm and peaceful as a result.

From the teacher at the kindergarten for Roma children made of stacked shipping containers:

Since this is a new kindergarten for Roma children, we are starting from scratch. Bonton za Decu character-building curriculum is just perfect for our situation. We have had to teach these children how to stay clean, brush their teeth, wash their hands, have good manners while eating, respect for each other and their elders, etc., and have seen excellent results in a very short time! Someone commented to us that our Roma children are more well-behaving than the Serbian children! Soon they will be teaching their parents and siblings at home these good manners and principles!

From one of the teachers at a school for Roma children in Kosovo:

We have had to teach the parents the importance of sending their children to school, and these books are a wonderful tool to teach both children and the parents these important values that are generally missing in the Roma society. Soon the kids will be smarter than their parents, thanks largely to Bonton za Decu. They are becoming so sweet, loving, and understanding because of this curriculum, and are going to make a huge difference in society at large!