Building new ideas in Gjakova

Today we visited the city of Gjakova, about 1.5 hours’ drive south-west of Pristina. In Gjakova we visited a preschool class, a pre-primary class (ages five and six) and a rehabilitation centre for children with disabilities. The organisation Handikos supports children and adults with disabilities by providing orthopedic equipment, physiotherapists, field visits to advise and assess needs, and cooperating with government agencies to change laws. They have a large focus on integrating children with disabilities by way of teacher training, parental education, individual sessions with the children and supporting the children when they’re in regular classrooms. Prior to Handikos and Save the Children being involved in the community, there was a belief that children with disabilities could not function or have the right to be in regular classrooms, but opinions are changing drastically now.

Alba gets a chair

While we were at the Handikos rehabilitation centre, we visited with Alba, a five-year-old girl with autism who has been attending the centre since age two. Alba receives individual support based upon objective-based recommendations two mornings per week and then is taken across the street to the preschool to join her friends. In the centre, teachers and therapists assess children every six months and revise their individual goals based upon current abilities, needs and successes.


We had the opportunity to see Alba again when she had returned to her integrated classroom and the children played the game of musical chairs. Games play an important role in teaching socialisation and turn-taking. Despite Alba’s limited verbal ability, she clearly has friends in the integrated class. A young boy gave his seat to Alba in order to keep her in the game for a longer time.

Arbnora draws

We also met with a young girl named Arbnora who had significant physical limitations. When she came to Handikos she was unable to open her hands, but with physiotherapy she was happy to help me draw and enjoyed turning the pages of the book we brought from Canada.

Arbnora reads a book

We have been incredibly moved and feel fortunate to visit with the educators, Save the Children hosts and their partners (Handikos, Putevima Sunca & Iniciativa 6). It is very evident that everyone involved has a high level of commitment to successfully changing the ideas around inclusivity in Kosovo, whether it is inclusion of ethnic minorities or children with disabilities.

The ‘Snakes and Ladders’ game for children’s rights

Today we left our hotel to visit the Zekeria Rexha school in the municipality of Gjakova. Zekeria Rexha is an Albanian-speaking school with children from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian minorities. Save the Children and Iniciativa 6—a local civil society organisation that works closely with the school, parents and students—are providing training to teachers and materials for children in supplementary and inclusive classes. They want to ensure all children have access to education by raising awareness and knowledge about inclusive teaching methods.

P1040301 - Copy

Saranda Cena is the teacher responsible for developing an inclusive method in the school. She was trained by Save the Children and is focussed on working with children who have learning challenges. Saranda explained how, by working with the new methods, she was able to help Erion and Aurela to progress in school. Erion is a shy five-year-old boy. At the beginning of the year he was non-verbal, which made his school and home life very difficult. Today, Erion is able to put together words and to communicate and get his message across.


Aurela is a six-year-old girl who had socialisation challenges and her drawings always had very dark colours. Saranda explained how they were able to improve Aurela’s abilities by performing group activities such as dancing together, walking together in the garden, drawing and playing games. In Aurela’s case, socialisation performed a major role in her integration. And the proof lies in one of Aurela’s new drawings: full of bright colours!


Afterwards, we met a classroom of students in between 12 and 16 years old. One of the surprises was their great level of English. We played the Snakes and Ladders game with questions about children’s rights. If you don’t know how it goes, take a look below:

- Roll a Styrofoam dice to know how many houses you should move.
- If you land on a coloured house, you answer a question.
- If you land on a snake, you go back.
- If you land on a ladder, you go forward.

It was fun and it’s a great way to become aware of children’s rights.
But that’s not all. The class also prepared a play about children’s abuse. They are great actors. It is amazing to see how this class is giving voice to children by making them discuss what is important to them and tackling strong subjects such as children’s rights, how can they work together to create a difference and establishing the future leaders of Kosovo!


“Jeta & Re” means new life for children

Our group went to the city of Prizren today to meet Iniciativa 6, one of Save the Children’s local partners. Iniciativa 6 established the community centre Jeta & Re in 2003. The name means “new life” and programmes in the centre are aimed at integrating children from minority groups and those with special needs into the mainstream education system.


The centre started with only five people getting together to create a better life for the local community. When they started, there were no pre-primary classes, and only 24% of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian children went to school. Now, 200 children are in pre-primary classes and around 78% of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian children are integrated in the public school. With the support of Save the Children, who worked with them to establish the project, they are doing an incredible job in overcoming stereotypes about disabled children and minorities and in getting children into classrooms.


Ibrahim Krusha, one of the founding members of Iniciativa 6, explained to us the challenges in getting children from minorities to school. When working as a volunteer, he met a Roma family whose kids were not attending school. He made it his mission to explain how education plays an important role in children’s development. Every day he went to their house, trying to reach them. On the 30th unsuccessful visit, the parents had enough and told him, “If you come back again, you will have problems.” Ibrahim did not give up. He came back on the next day and tried again. Today one of the children from this family is in university studying to become a nurse.


At the end of the day, we visited the Children’s Assembly in Peja, which has 41 members from 27 primary schools with representatives from all minorities. This is a committed group of children from the 6th to 9th grades who want to develop a better education for themselves and their peers and to ensure the respect of children’s fundamental rights through advocacy and awareness raising. They distributed information flyers with the support of Save the Children and Iniciativa 6, spoke in a radio talk show, and met with the school directors and Peja’s mayor to address matters such as abuse and school conditions. It will be exciting to see their next steps.

Education without boundaries

Our first day began with an information session with Save the Children Kosovo; we met the entire staff and got a tour of their Prishtina head offices, which are located about a block from our hotel. We were presented with their program initiatives based entirely on the work promoting children’s rights to a healthy and safe childhood with access to a quality education. Save the Children has partnered with many local organizations—like Handikos, Iniciativa 6, and Putevima Sunca—which contribute positively to the development of programs to get the child, family and community involved in the child’s education.

We then took a short bus ride to the city of Gracanica to see the children enrolled in the primary school Kralj Milutin, where Save the Children works with a local partner organization called Putevima Sunca on inclusive education programs for minority children. The city is heavily populated by the Serbian community, but there is also a visible minority of Roma and Ashkali people. It is important to mention that this is the very first time an international organization like Save the Children has been allowed to go into the city to develop the programs that are currently underway in this minority community.

Student at supplementary class - By Rocio Reyes

Student at supplementary class – By Rocio Reyes

Save the Children, through the support of the IKEA Foundation, provides primary education with a supplementary component that supports the introduction of learning for marginalized children. These lessons allow children to develop at their own pace, integrating them more easily into their own level of learning at the age that they should be. We also visited classrooms that provide extracurricular activities that involve the arts—both visual and dance. We were delighted to see the children participate in a presentation, dancing to their local folklore.

Kralj Milutin School in Gracanica_Thank You message from students - By Rocio Reyes

Kralj Milutin School in Gracanica_Thank You message from students – By Rocio Reyes

Our very first field experience in Kosovo

Today we started the day by visiting the Save the Children headquarters, where we learned how they are working to improve children’s access to education and the challenges they face.

Save the Children is working in 18 schools and 9 municipalities close together with civil society organizations and the whole community, including parents, teachers and children. While Save the Children started working in Kosovo in 1997, the collaboration with the IKEA Foundation began in 2013 as a three-year project that aims to reach 12,000 children in public schools.

After the office visit, we went to Gracanica to visit the Kralj Milutin primary school—our first field trip! This is the first Save the Children project to be implemented inside the schools in the Municipality of Gracanica, predominantly a Serbian-speaking municipality. Up until now, most other organizations have implemented activities outside of the schools.

Lunch at Kralj Milutin Elementary School in Gracanica - By Valid Zhubi

Lunch at Kralj Milutin Elementary School in Gracanica – By Valid Zhubi

When we entered the classroom, the students greeted us with enthusiasm and thanked Save the Children and IKEA for the opportunity to have supplementary classes. We were listening to the children and they explained how important the new supplementary lessons are for them since they started one year ago. Now they are able to read better and to have better grades, becoming better students.

After the first visit, we watched a pre-primary lesson, where the children develop their creativity and artistic expression through learning poems, singing and dancing, and theatre performances. Since it’s almost Easter, children were painting Easter eggs. It was fantastic to see their enthusiasm and happiness. Save the Children was able to provide them with the tools for this class through the funds raised by the Soft Toys for Education campaign. In the end, the children performed a traditional dance, and we danced and clapped hands together.

We are looking forward to seeing the new projects and meeting the children.

Learning about Kosovo’s past to understand its future!

Our IWitness team is visiting Save the Children projects in Kosovo this week. To kick off this series of blog posts, Ylber Kusari from Save the Children Canada talks about the special way the group started their trip.

By Ylber Kusari:

I was beyond thrilled when I received the news I would be accompanying IKEA co-workers on an IWitness trip to my home country of Kosovo.

We started our first day with an introduction to Kosovo by going to Prizren, a historic city in the south. For the IKEA co-workers to understand the contemporary reality of Kosovo and the work Save the Children is doing through the support of IKEA Foundation, it’s essential that they first understand the country’s history.

Prizren Castle Prizren - by Valid Zhubi

Prizren Castle Prizren – by Valid Zhubi

We climbed up a hill carrying our IKEA Foundation backpacks to visit a historic castle from the fifth century, while sharing stories of Kosovo’s evolution as a young country carving an identity in the global arena, and its implications on the education system.

Standing at the top of a hill, surrounded by ancient ruins under a clear blue sky, I realized how committed and passionate the IKEA co-workers are in making a difference through their workplace. Listening to their stories about fundraising for the Soft Toys for Education campaign and their desire to go on the trip was truly inspiring. I realized that the IKEA Foundation is giving its co-workers an opportunity to fulfill their personal legacy by getting involved through their workplace.

Prizren Castle Kosovo - by Laura Cerqueira

Prizren Castle Kosovo – by Laura Cerqueira

As an employee of Save the Children, I felt humbled and grateful that we have the fortune of working with IKEA here in Kosovo. Together we can make the future brighter for the children here in Kosovo and worldwide. I look forward to leading the group on an inspirational and meaningful journey over the next five days!

Introductory Video, IKEA Portugal team

Meet the team from IKEA Portugal, going on an IWitness trip with Save the Children to Kosovo next week. Keep following their blogs to learn more, about where the Soft Toys for Education campaign money goes to.



Hi, my name is Daniela, I’m 28 years old and I’m a sales co-worker in the kitchen department in IKEA. I have worked in IKEA for one year.

Hello, my name is Laura, I’m 38 years old. I work in IKEA as a store manager and I’m working for 10 years in IKEA now.

Hi, my name is Marcos, I’m 47 years old and I’ve been working for IKEA for about two and a half years. I’m a graphic designer.

Hi, my name is Leonor, I’m 33 years old and have been working in IKEA for 10 years now. I’m working in internal communication and sustainability.

Hi, my name is Joana, I’m a sales co-worker at children’s IKEA. I am 25 years old and I work about for about two years.

We come for IKEA Portugal and are really looking forward to learn how Save the Children is developing education projects in Kosovo funded by IKEA Foundation with the Soft Toys Campaign.

The Kosovo connection

When IKEA Canada announced the opportunity to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see the great work being done by the IKEA Foundation and our partners like UNICEF and Save the Children, I immediately envisioned myself taking part in it and contributing to this great cause. After two years of applying to this program, I was privileged to be chosen and given this amazing opportunity. I am looking forward to being your eyes on the ground and connecting with you all through my blogs.

I feel strongly that as individuals we play a significant role in shaping the kinds of societies and environments we want to live in. We can only do so by being an integral part of this process on all levels in life: personal and work. This brings it full circle for me on a personal level because not only am I actively involved in my community, but I can now say that I can be that change factor at work as well. I can make the connection and raise awareness that as IKEA co-workers we are making a difference around the world through the Soft Toys for Education campaign by providing equal, quality education for children, and we all can be very proud of this.

I cannot express the excitement that is building within me surrounding this trip to Kosovo. When I first found out, I shared it with my immediate co-workers in the Accounting Department and eventually the communication was shared throughout Canada. All the positive feedback, encouragement and congratulatory expressions has energized me even more, and I accept the responsibility of being their eyes and ears in Kosovo.

Here we go….Don’t forget your passport!!!

It’s hard to know what to say when things haven’t really started happening yet! We’ve had a couple of conference calls with co-workers I can’t wait to meet in Kosovo. We’ve been prepped with an itinerary in order to get an idea what we’re about to experience and offered the chance to ask questions, but I don’t think many of us know quite what to ask! I’m quite sure everyone else is just as honoured and excited as I am about the chance we’re being given & the responsibility we have to share with our friends at work, our families & hopefully our customers.


By Jennifer Clowes

What we do know is that on April 11th, we will embark upon an incredible, life-changing journey. We’ll visit 12 different schools, community centres and organiziations that support the success of children in an area of ethnic segregation. We’ll meet the families along with the educators and therapists who these children are fortunate to have in their lives. And we’ll meet with children who are going to change the world because of that support.

I’ve been a parent now for 12 years and when my kids were born, I realized that things can be hard. We’re very fortunate to live where we do with the means that we have but things can still be really challenging. Reading doesn’t come naturally for all children, mobility is difficult for some children and some children have difficulties with language, speech and hearing. But every child needs to be given the opportunity to be successful.

So while we’re visiting, taking notes & photos and making video diaries, we’ll be thinking about how the sale of a soft toy can change a child’s life.
Stay posted, I know we’ll soon have lots to share!

Helping marginalised children get an education in Kosovo

IKEA co-workers from Canada and Portugal will visit projects from Save the Children on their IWitness trip next week. Read the blog from Melita Kabashi, Save the Children Kosovo, introducing you to their programme and the challenges disabled children face on a daily basis.  

by Melita Kabashi, Save the Children Communications, Advocacy and Media Coordinator

IWitness Intro blog from SC Kosovo, photo of the writer

Melita Kabashi from Save the Children Kosovo

Today in Kosovo there are an estimated 14,500 children with disabilities. Only 10-11% of them have access to any form of education. The majority who have access to school are separated from other pupils—it is estimated that 1,179 children with disabilities attend special schools.

Moreover, children of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities still have the lowest school attendance and educational attainment in Kosovo.

But we, Save the Children Kosova/o, are changing this! Thanks to the IKEA Foundation’s support, Valdrin, a 10-year-old boy diagnosed with hemiparesis and a learning disability, is now attending primary school while continuing to get support at the community-based rehabilitation centre Handikos.



Valdrin is part of the IKEA Foundation–funded project “Realising the rights of minority and disabled children in Kosova/o”, which promotes the right to education for marginalised children, including children with disabilities and Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian children.

We focus on inclusive education, particularly at pre-primary and primary level. The project also promotes children’s access to a safe and secure school environment. It’s also very important to raise awareness of children’s rights and participation among government officials, as well as in civil society.

The three-year project is being implemented in 18 educational institutions and nine municipalities throughout Kosovo.

Twelve thousand children will benefit by the end of 2015! This includes 1,000 marginalised children, out of whom 600 are children with disabilities and 400 are children of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities.

Change is happening, and I look forward to having the IWitness team see the changes themselves and experience first-hand the positive effects on children as a result of the IKEA Foundation’s support. Welcome to Kosovo!