My wife has been asking me for a couple of days to look at this new blog written by a former colleague of hers (and a friend of both of ours), Elizabeth. Apparently (so my wife said) Elizabeth’s set up some kind of school or other in some part of the former Yugoslavia and it’s really interesting and the blog’s lovely, and…
And blah blah blah, leave me alone will you, there’s a Youtube video to watch.
So today I took some time out of my incredibly busy and important schedule (Facebook doesn’t update itself, you know), and looked at this so-called amazing blog, called Getting Gjelane To School, and….
And wow. And oof. And Jesus Christ….
You know when someone you know does something amazing. I mean really amazing. And there’s something different about them after they’ve done it, or at least something different in how you perceive them. Call it a halo, call it an aura, call it a swagger. But the next time I see Elizabeth? She’s going to look very different.
Here’s the pitch, from Elizabeth herself:
Have you ever had that feeling when everything clicks into place? Looking back over your life you think you see a pattern: apparently unconnected activities like having been a deputy headteacher in a Hackney primary school, learning Albanian, the film I watched on holiday, the end of a consultancy contract coming up â€“ these have all come together quietly, just waiting for me to notice them. They were waiting for this conversation with the 9 year old Ashkali girl in Kosovo who explains that she would like to go to school. It seems a simple request â€“ this is Europe, itâ€™s the 21st century. So I promise I will get Gjelane to school. However long it takesâ€¦
And you know what it takes? It takes setting up a school, is what it takes, because if you can’t read or write, you can’t take the test to get into school, and if you can’t get into school, you can’t learn to read or write, and by now I’m starting to think Joseph Heller must have had some Kosovan in him.
So what Elizabeth has done is set up a school, in a flat, with her teaching alongside some volunteers, and suddenly she’s got 30 kids desperate to learn and you can almost feel their lives starting to change before your eyes. And here’s the thing: this has all happened in the last fortnight?
What did you do in the last fortnight?
Elizabeth’s a writer as well as a teacher, so she describes what’s happening with wonder and humour. Here’s what happened on day two:
It was a great moment.Â But my best moment of day two? Today was the letter M.Â Itâ€™s the beginning of the Albanian word â€˜merkureâ€™ for Wednesday, so it was written on the board.Â Some kids knew â€˜Mâ€™ already and were able to copy â€˜merkureâ€™ or even improvise their own words beginning with M.Â Other kids stared with something like fear at the little white board they each had in front of them. Theyâ€™d written the letter with their â€˜magic fingerâ€™ in the air, and on each otherâ€™s backs, and watched me write it and now I asked them to have a go with a pen on their little board. Cima continued to stare at her white board and attempted nothing. I went to sit with her and guided her hand through the unfamiliar discipline.Â Then she had a go on her own, and the pen slipped and wobbled out of control. We tried again together, and then she attempted another time without me.Â What she produced was recognisably an M.Â â€˜Bravo!â€™ I said and her normally rather frightened little face suddenly beamed.Â â€˜And thatâ€™s the beginning of Wednesday.â€™ I told her in Albanian.Â In fact itâ€™s the beginning of a lot more than that.
Ooh, that last sentence just makes me shiver. Go and read, and meanwhile I’ll try and persuade Elizabeth to get some facility together whereby we can help her. Even if it’s just a Justgiving page. But go and have a read and a wonder.