Six-year-old Gulber can’t wait for dawn so she can finally go to the Day Center for street children in Shuto Orizari. There she will receive a meal, care, classes, workshops, and most importantly: lots of attention and love.
She is one of thirty children in the center, who are between three and 16 years old. Most of them are obligated to come to Shutka center, as their parents signed an agreement with the center. Five teachers and two volunteers in Shutka center work hard to take care of the children and teach them in several disciplines. After breakfast, Gulber and her brother Beni are separated into two different classes. For Gulber and all children under 8, the first lesson is graphics training, where they learn how to write letters and numbers and draw shapes like circles, triangles, etc.. In this classroom, children also learn the Macedonian language, because most of them speak Roma. This is important for them if they want to continue their studies and be integrated into society. After that, children can enjoy different activities like drawing, singing, making music or modeling clay. Often, during these activities, Gulber likes to mime the « clown » to have fun with her friends but also to draw the attention of teachers and volunteers on her. She shouts, hides under the table, or sings.
Beni has more complicated lessons like writing in Macedonian and in English. He learns about mathematics and plastic arts. He is always proud of himself, shows us the results of his exercises, and with his big smile, he gets high fives from me as rewards. When I first came to Shutka I was very surprised that many of the children speak foreign languages like French, Italian, Turkish or Albanian. They speak several languages because usually, Roma people live a nomadic way of life. So, sometimes they move from country to country. Every child in Shutka center is very energetic and shows their desire to grow up and learn new things. They are also very expressive and even with the language barrier between them and me, we managed to connect through expression and physical language. As a volunteer sent by French Civile Service, I decided to stay one year in Volunteers Centre Skopje. A big part of my activities is connected to the Day Centre in Shutka. That energy and emotion that you feel when you come there is worth more than anything.
After classes, children have time to play. The center receives donations from private donors or organizations. This gives the center the opportunity to continue taking care of children and to provide them with a lot of things that they wouldn’t have otherwise like toys, clothes, and special foods. I remember the happiness of Gulber when the center received new barbie dolls. She spent her day playing with them, doing their hair, and changing their clothes. She asked me « can I have braids as long as the barbie? », I could see the dream in her brown eyes to look like this barbie. It’s also important to know that the center is financed by the municipality. Thanks to this financing, the teachers can get paid, and without that, the Shutka center wouldn’t exist. Sometimes there are also workshops for children like a musical show, theater, etc.. At the beginning of November, we organized a clean-up in Shutka with VCS. Children helped us to clean around the center and they enjoyed it greatly. The school finishes around 1:00 pm, so their afternoons are free. Lunch is also given to children before they leave, it’s a nice way to finish the day! Gulber and Beni eat a lot to have a full stomach for the rest of the day. Their mouths are decorated with a yogurt mustache, they wait for their parents and bring some food to their house. After school, some parents come and discuss their children with teachers or take some clothes depending on their needs. Older children who go to school sometimes pass by in the center. It’s also a place teenagers can come to and do their homework if they need help. It’s a real landmark for Roma children. Finally, Shutka center is between school and humanitarian help. You can see the smile on the children’s faces when they come to the center and it’s the thing that makes me happy and gives me the motivation to work!
The center also allows children to get off the street every day and gain an education. Andreana, one of the teachers explained to me that « we try to educate them. We try to teach them to be polite, to be clean, and to share their toys because usually, they don’t learn this in their family. The first education comes from the parents, but they don’t receive it. ». Moreover, teachers are an important part of the lives of these children. Usually when children don’t come or if there is a problem, the teachers go to the children’s house to meet them and their family to understand the cause. This work can be hard and tiring but for Andreana, the first motivation is « to teach children and contribute to their education. ». For Roma children, the center is very important because it allows them to have access to education and allows them to continue their studies after and maybe one day find a good job. In Shutka, two centers like this welcome « children of the street » and try to give them a better future!
Photos: Annika Pitkänen