Stories and reports

Children return to their desks

Matejce, November 6, 2001

Long time since the school bell called the students to return to their desks in most of the schools in the country. In some it started with one-month delay, in some two, while in some it still has not been started. The reasons are numerous. In the crisis areas some schools, and there are many, are more or less damaged and lack of minimal conditions for the courses. Some lack of students, because they have not returned in their homes yet.

The Macedonian Center for International Cooperation (MCIC) with its Return of Displaced Persons Programme, besides house repairs, works also on rehabilitation of infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools, by which the process of return of displaced persons would be more stimulated. At this time, MCIC performs 172 house repairs from first category damage in the village of Matejce, near Kumanovo, and local school rehabilitation.

On our way to Matejce we could notice the police and army checkpoints removed and the people could move freely. The number of displaced persons returning to their homes in the villages of Lopate and Opae was apparently increased. Several days in Opae there are mixed police patrols that should return the confidence in the security forces. Passing on through the villages, one could see numerous vehicles of international agencies operating on the field, either through damaged house repairs, demining teams or aid distribution.

I visited Matejce for the first time. There were traces of military actions everywhere. On almost every house people were working hard to repair their homes because the winter is close. In the center of the village several trucks were parked, those of MCIC and Children's Aid Direct, the two agencies working on house repairs in the village. The inhabitants come and collect the aid.

I went to the school to talk with the director. Around hundred students divided by classes were gathered in the schoolyard waiting something to be announced. Demining experts were also there. One teacher told me that the day before the new school year symbolically began and the children should enter their classrooms today. First time after two months. While we talked, an expert of the demining team addressed the students and told them to be cautious of unfamiliar objects and landmines. Couple of minutes later, the school director let the students enter the school.

MCIC in Matejce, together with Cooperazione Italiana should conduct the school repair. Six classrooms have been rehabilitated during the week so the courses could start. The inhabitants cleaned up the classrooms and MCIC (with UNHCR funds) replaced the window glasses through local proprietor.

"You have no idea about the pressure I had from the parents. They were constantly asking when will the course start", said Sami Sakiri, the school director. "This means a lot to us. The children stayed out the whole day long, so there was much greater danger of something to happen to them. They were eager to return to their desks and to learn something. This way they will think less of what happened."

In Kultura Primary School there are 940 students, ethnic Albanians. The course has been conducted in three shifts until all classrooms are repaired. In ten days the kidnergarten should also start its work with 140 children. Last year, before the conflict there were also 12 students, ethnic Macedonians, but they have not returned to their homes yet.

"Some international organizations already made lists of necessary school materials, but they are still not yet sent, so the students have nothing to learn from. Also, because of electric power shortage the courses should end sooner. We must not forget that the winter is close and we do not have provided yet heating woods", said the director.

I greeted the director and wished him successful school year, although in a very hard conditions. We hope some organization will soon provide books for the students. They know how it was to those who had not books, but had desire to learn.

The night has fallen over Matejce and because there is no electric power, the village seemed as one is in the middle of graveyard. The fifth month thus far. This view may soon be changed and the livelihood in the village will be back.

Gramoz Shabani, MCIC

One of the reconstructed schoolrooms
The teachers take the registry books
First time in the schoolroom
The pupils get informed about the dangers of explosive devices
Pupils enter the school
(hold cursor over photos for detailed description)

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