A bright future ahead

The trip to Kosovo has come to an end. We have had a week of mixed emotions. Sometimes we felt inadequate, because when we were visiting Artan’s family in Gjakova we immediately wanted to do something. We felt that we should give something to them, but we could not. Then we were thinking further and realized that temporary efforts are not the way to go when you want a sustainable change. A sustainable change is what the IKEA Foundation and Save the Children in Kosovo are working for. With their work, and Artan’s spirit, his dream of becoming a doctor might come true one day. They don’t do the work for Artan, they give him the prerequisites to do the work for himself.

Photo: Johan Petersson, Illustration: Adam Younes

We also felt hopeful during Wednesday afternoon. We were visiting the child-led municipality assembly in Peja and they were very impressive. It is clear that the next generation will contribute to positive changes in Kosovo. In spite of their young age, they were very wise in their reasoning. They talked about the importance of education and inclusion of minority groups. They also let us know that environmental issues are among their main concerns.

Save the Children in Kosovo is actively working for inclusive education, which means that every child is included in regular classrooms—minority children, children with disabilities and other children. Inclusive education is benefiting all children, teachers and society. The sense of togetherness increases and discrimination decreases. This week we have seen a lot of examples of this. On the picture below you can see Olisa and her friends. She has Down’s syndrome. Her peers told us that Olisa is very lively and contributes a lot to creating a good atmosphere in the classroom, and that they miss her when she is not in school.

Photo: Linn Pettersson, Illustration: Adam Younes

The week has been very intense and the time for reflections has been limited so far. But one thing is for sure; we leave with a lot of new impressions. We have seen in real life how this work makes positive changes for people in Kosovo. That gives us a lot of energy and motivation to continue the work we do back home and try to do it even better tomorrow.

We are very grateful that we got the opportunity to do this IWitness journey. Below you can see a short summary from each one of us.

All the best!

Linn Eriksson
My experience has been both difficult and heavy, but also hopeful. We have seen that there is a strong will to create a better future. I can see that the projects that are funded by the IKEA Foundation and run by Save the Children in Kosovo, and several other amazing organisations, are making a difference both for the individuals but also in society. Big changes take time—but we can see that the process is constantly ongoing and the long-term impact will be great. The programmes are already making a big difference in people’s lives. We have a bright future ahead of us.

Johan Petersson
I have had a lot of different feelings during this week. Both sad moments, but also moments that gave me hope for a bright future. I am so impressed with all the people we met this week. All of them put so much energy to make a positive change here. I also got a better understanding of how the work the IKEA Foundation does together with Save the Children contributes to a better everyday life for children in Kosovo. I take a lot of new impressions with me back home and I am so grateful I got the chance to experience this.

Kristoffer Persson
It’s been an intensive week with many impressions and feelings. It was really exciting and fun to see the difference we are making with the IKEA Foundation’s donations, together with the work of Save the Children in Kosovo. I see the will of learning sparkling in the children’s eyes and I can see that Kosovo will have a good and evolving future ahead.

Adam Younes
All the people I met and the new impressions have created memories for life. I am totally fascinated and moved by the work that is carried out within the partnership between the IKEA Foundation and Save the Children; it’s really making a big difference in many lives. My own experience of having been a refugee, along with what I have seen during this trip, has made me more convinced that life isn’t fair. But there are always good people who bring the sun to the dark side of the world, because everyone has the right to live in the light.

Jean Augustsson
This trip has been very inspiring, exciting and educational. There were many engaged people and hopeful children, who gives hope about the future. I will spread everything I have heard and seen because I want my friends and co-workers to learn about this too. With more knowledge about the work, I really see the meaning with continuing to support Save the Children.

Jenny Eskelinen
I leave this journey with a lot of emotions. You feel proud of the great work we are doing in the stores that makes it possible for Save the Children to reach out. I feel sad that resources and materials are still not enough. But seeing such joy and confidence in the children gives me hope. It’s very clear that the work they’re doing is to achieve equal rights for all children, no matter where you come from. With small funds you get a long-term and sustainable future. “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Linn Pettersson
This trip has been incredibly educational for me, even though some things have been hard to hear and see. I am pleased with the help we from the stores, the IKEA Foundation, Save the Children and other organisations give to this work. We may not think that €1 is a lot but it is. I have now seen what the money we donate does for others and that it really makes a difference! I am an experience richer and that’s something I will bring with me for the rest of my life.

Learning and playing together in Gjakova

Today, Thursday, we visited Ganimete Terbeshi pre-school in Gjakova. When we arrived, we were greeted by Gazmend Hoxha, the pre-school director, and Yllka Komoni, who works as a support teacher. They gave us an introduction and then we got to meet three different groups of children.

Kristoffer from IKEA and Valid from Save the Children in Kosovo drawing with the children, who had lots of question about what life is like in Sweden. Photo: Linn Pettersson.

We painted together with the kids, sang songs and played. The school works with inclusive education, including children with disabilities, children from minority groups and other children in the same groups. The institution works with more than 1,000 children in its seven buildings across the Municipality of Gjakova. We visited the main building where 120 children attend daily; 12 of them have some sort of disability.

Yllka is telling Linn E about how the institution works. Yllka works as a support teacher, assisting both teachers and children in their day-to-day work. Photo: Linn Pettersson.

The children invited us to play games. When playing together, it doesn’t matter that you speak different languages. Photo: Valid Zhubi.

In the afternoon, we visited the community based rehabilitation centre Handikos, which is supported by Save the Children in Kosovo. We joined a supplementary lesson and got to see how they combine practical and theoretical methods to facilitate learning.

When we visited the community based rehabilitation centre, they were having a maths lesson. They were counting balls and practising colours. An example of how the centre combines theory and practice in the lessons. Photo: Linn Pettersson.

Artan’s dream for a better future

This is Artan, picture by Johan Petersson.

This is Artan. He is 13 years old and lives in Gjakova. He has four siblings and they all live together with their mother Hidajete. We met them outside their house. Even though we don’t enter the house we can see that it is in bad condition and can imagine there’s not a lot of space in there.

The family’s financial situation is tough. Hidajete is working as a cleaner at a restaurant and she earns only €3 per day. During the time she works, Artan takes care of his younger sisters. When we first meet Artan and his sisters they answer our questions very politely and with a lot of patience.

Artan wants to become a doctor when he grows up. His sister Agnesa wants to be a teacher. Maybe their dreams will come true with the help they are getting from the IKEA Foundation, Save the Children in Kosovo and the Network of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian Women’s Organisations of Kosovo (RROGRAEK).

Artan’s sister. Picture by Johan Petersson

RROGRAEK is a non-governmental organisation that strives to strengthen the rights of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian (RAE) children. Save the Children in Kosovo is partnering with RROGRAEK to raise awareness about the discrimination that these children and their parents face when accessing educational institutions. Thanks to their work, Artan has daily access to school with supplementary lessons in maths and literacy. His favourite subject is maths, he says and smiles. He also says how much he appreciates his teachers and tells us that every child is included and gets good support.

Two years ago, Artan’s family migrated to Austria. When they came back to Gjakova three months later, he was lagging behind in school. Thanks to the supplementary lessons and, with the help of the other students, he was able to catch up with his studies.

What moves us the most is when Artan’s mother talks about her children. She says that her whole life is about giving her children better possibilities than she had. Everything she does is for her children. She also shows her appreciation for the IKEA Foundation, Save the Children and RROGRAEK for making it possible for Artan to go to school and have a chance for a better life.

Picture by Johan Petersson

We left this meeting with a lot of feelings; sad about the whole situation but happy there is hope. The work that Save the Children is doing, together with RROGRAEK, is making it possible for Artan and his siblings to have better opportunities in life. One day we hope that Artan ends up as a doctor and that also he can look forward to a glorious future, where most things remain to be done.

Illustration of future Artan as a doctor, by Adam Younes.

Kosovo day 1 – Handikos in Mitrovica

Today we got to visit Handikos community based rehabilitation (CBR) centre in Mitrovica. Handikos is a non-governmental organisation that runs rehabilitation centres in several locations in Kosovo, giving children with disabilities physiotherapy and psychosocial support and supporting them to develop and learn, outside school.

In Kosovo there aren’t the same possibilities to get special help and extra resources as there are in Sweden, but they are working to integrate children with disabilities in regular school classes. Therefore, the children can come to the centre after school to get extra support. It is very clear that there is a difference between Kosovo and Sweden when it comes to resources and Save the Children is making a very big difference for these children.

The centre we visited today is in northern Kosovo, in Mitrovica. Since the conflict ended in 1999, the city has been divided into two parts along the river Ibar. Mitrovica South is populated mainly by Kosovo Albanians and Mitrovica North by Kosovo Serbs. Relations between the two areas are still very strained. Valid Zhubi, Programme Implementation Co-ordinator for Save the Children in Kosovo, explained to us that it’s not advised to go to Mitrovica North with Kosovo registration plates on the car. It can be perceived as an offence by the Kosovo Serbs and can cause irritation. Due to this, our minivan stopped a short distance from the bridge that divides the city as a precaution and we got picked up by a different minivan, with Serbian registration plates, that took us all the way to the centre.

On our way!

We arrived safe and sound but, outside the centre, a different kind of nervousness replaced the first one. Even though we had talked about the centre on our way there, and prepared ourselves mentally, we did still not know what to expect. We were super excited to finally meet some of the children who benefit from the IKEA Foundation’s donations—but how would the experience be?

When we entered the centre we were met with a lot of joy and movement. We were greeted by Mirjana Spiric, the manager of the centre, along with two co-workers and lots of children. There were also some psychology students who had been volunteering at the centre for some time and now seemed to be having a little farewell party, since they were finishing their internship. We said hello to the employees at the centre. It didn’t take many seconds before a boy came out from the room next door and, with excitement, ran up to us and greeted and welcomed us with eager handshakes. We later learned that the child has Down’s syndrome.

Handikos CBR Center Manager, Mirjana Spiric. Photo by Linn Petersson.

There are four people working at the centre—one manager, one psychologist, one informal educator and one driver who takes the children to the centre and drives them home afterwards, so that the children who can’t get there by themselves can still visit and benefit. The manager Mirjana is now working as a volunteer; there is simply not enough money for her to have a salary. You can really tell that she is dedicated to these children.

Mirjana takes us on a little tour through the small centre. There is a room for educational play (like puzzles and games) and a “toy library”, which is a room full of toys that everybody can play with. There is also one office corner, a kitchen and two small rooms where the children have physiotherapy.

The centre is pretty narrow, considering 30 children come here every day. But the kids are happy and greeted us with open arms. At first, we were a bit shy but we got more relaxed after a while and, after the tour, we started playing with the children, who were more than willing to let us join in on their activities. I noticed that the cultural and language barriers between us and different types of disabilities are easy to overcome. For the record, we had two Save the Children staff members Artan Bllaca, Programme Implementation Manager, and Jovan Vladisavljevic, Geographical Co-ordinator for Mitrovica North, who could translate for us. But high fives, thumbs ups and body language are just as good a form of communicating as anything.

Adam Younes from IKEA Sweden engages with children at the Handikos CBR Center. Picture by Linn Petersson.

We did puzzles, built things with blocks and played dominoes and Ludo. In the toy library we were drawing, playing with all kinds of toys and playing basketball. The children wanted to learn counting in Swedish and they also wanted to teach us to count in Serbian—we weren’t learning nearly as fast as them! There were two children without any disabilities at the centre, which didn’t keep them from having fun with all the other kids. Every child is welcomed, something that is increasing inclusiveness and friendship between children with and without disabilities.

Engaging with the children at Handikos CBR Center.

What made the biggest impact on us during the day is something that is close to our hearts—both as IKEA co-workers and as people—togetherness. The focus of the centre is on Inclusive Education, and the sense of togetherness in the centre was visible even though we only played with the kids for a short while. The warmth and the thoughtfulness between the children was strong. One example that made a strong impression on us was while we were having cake. I was sitting amongst several children, and one of the children called out that somebody needs to help Ana to eat her cake, as she can’t eat by herself.

Naturally it causes pain in our hearts to see that the needs are so great and, of course, we wish that there were endless resources, materials and better premises. But what balances that feeling is that there are people who are helping these children to have a better life every day. They give them way better conditions than they would have had if the centre wasn’t there.

Four people welcome and take care of an average 30 children every day. The children develop and reach results that they wouldn’t have if they hadn’t had the help and the support they get at the centre, and they are having more fun—together!

In the video above, taken by IKEA Sweden, you see co-worker Kristoffer getting a ‘hair cut’with a lot of attention and care by one of the pupils.

We feel that there is so much dedication and such a will to make a difference, both for each individual child and for society. Experiences like this give us energy and a will to pass the experience and the knowledge on to our colleagues and customers, to make an even bigger impact. We see that there is room for improvement, and the conditions should be better, but we also see the huge difference that the IKEA Foundation and Save the Children are making in the lives of these children and their families. They are giving them possibilities for the future—most things are still to come.

After today, we are even more excited and thrilled to see and learn more and we are looking forward to the rest of the week.


IWitness Global Citizenship IKEA Foundation

How the IKEA Foundation is helping Save the Children in Kosovo push for inclusive education

We are thrilled to have the next group of IWitness global citizens travelling to Kosovo to visit an incredible project the IKEA Foundation funds through the Soft Toys for Education campaign. Liron Kafexholli, Communications Officer at Save the Children, highlights some of the challenges and improvements that have happened through 2016.

Kosovo not only is the youngest country in Europe but it also has the youngest population, with 53% being under 25 years of age. This is a positive element for Kosovo as it can bring forward positive changes and contributions to the country. Investing in education can yield significant development benefits as well as ensuring the country works towards providing a quality education, without discrimination, for all.

Children with disabilities and children from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian (RAE) community are the most discriminated groups of children in Kosovo. It is estimated that about 150,000 people in Kosovo have some sort of disability, around half of whom are thought to be school-aged children. The figure for the number of children with disabilities in the school system ranges from 5,000 to 5,500 (6.6-7.3%). Children from the RAE community have the lowest school attendance rate in Kosovo.

Thanks to the support of the IKEA Foundation, Save the Children in Kosovo works in nine municipalities and supports 16 schools, to ensure the right to education for the most deprived children. During 2016, 156 children with disabilities and 338 RAE children have enrolled for the first time into pre-primary and primary education.

One of the children benefiting from the project is Erion Buqinca, a nine-year-old boy with Down Syndrome. Erion enrolled in the first grade during 2016, in one of the schools supported by the IKEA Foundation.

Erion has been going to the Handikos Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) centre for five yearsand is now able to do many things that earlier seemed out of reach for him. During this time, he has received both physiotherapy and psychosocial therapy, which has helped him immeasurably.

Erion learning in Handikos CBR centre in Gjakova during his psychosocial therapy with teacher Iliriana Luzha

I have personally had the opportunity to see the progress Erion has made in the last year, when he started writing his first letters. His mother Teuta said: “I will never forget the moment Erion started walking for the first time and it happened here, in the CBR centre.  As a result of continuous work Erion can now walk, pronounce words and distinguish shapes, colours, quantities and letters. He attends school in an inclusive classroom—something I thought was impossible just a couple of years ago.”

There are countless stories like Erion’s, where children are accomplishing great things and changing perceptions in Kosovar society.

Thanks to this project, it’s possible for children like Erion to have the chance of a quality education. We are looking forward to having the IWitness team see for themselves how their work is having an impact in reaching the most marginalised children and providing access to mainstream education for children in Kosovo.


The Power of Talent and Music

The days here are so long and so full of stories and people that it is impossible to tell them in a few lines. We had the opportunity to live a moment too important not to be told. We were invited to Defi’s home and we had the opportunity to take a closer look at the reality that parents of children and teens with disabilities are facing every day.

Together with Defi’s family. Picture by Sonia D’Andrea

Defi’s parents told us that she started to talk only after she was four years old; she had difficulties interacting with other children. Indonesian culture doesn’t help the acceptance and the sharing of disabilities but her parents haven’t lost faith. With courage and willingness they tried to understand what could help their child.

The school system is organised in two types of school: regular and special. The special school is divided into three classes—one for deaf children, one for blind children and the last one for all  intellectual disabilities, without distinction. Defi’s family has decided to enrol her in a special class, thinking that it would be more suitable. It wasn’t an easy choice because this meant a lower chance of inclusion and also accepting that their daughter has a disability.

Singing award. Picture by Sonia D’Andrea.

Day by day Defi grew up, showing a talent for singing. She has a gift. It’s easy for her to learn any song and interpret it with great passion. We had the lucky chance to listen to her singing and it was a kind of magic; there was just her voice in the room, the light in her eyes and the emotion we felt in listening. It’s as if her talent was fighting all her problems/difficulties’. It was like the music could clear all the difficulties for a few minutes.

Obviously, it cannot be that simple but I think the family was able to look with the eyes of those who can see beyond the surface. It’s thanks to this that Defi can have the opportunity to follow her dreams and to build her future.

We came out of that house with the great desire Defi will find, on her way, people able to help and accompany her, like the volunteers of Save the Children. Despite our optimism, we remain painfully aware that there is still a lot work to do; that many children are still far from being included and that families are not adequately supported. We come back home with the hope of listening again to Defi’s beautiful voice.

Born in the right place of the world

Garut district is organised in 421 sub-districts. Every sub-district is composed by many villages. Save the Children is present in 21 of them with the IDEAL project that supports children with disabilities and their families.

These villages are sometimes very poor. At this time of year it rains a lot; water enters the houses and streets turn into rivers. In these communities, the presence of Save the Children is critical to the lives of children with disabilities and their families.

Happiness is contagious, picture by Riccardo D’Ottavio

We leave the city and move forward on dirt roads, which run through green meadows, crossed by fast motorbikes. The sky becomes grey but the rain still does not come.

We get out of the car and it is an explosion of enthusiasm. We’re met by children with disarming smiles and women in colourful dresses, who seem to have been waiting for us for a long time. They happily take pictures, because for them it is a special day as it is for us. It’s difficult to control our emotions. We stop for a second looking at each other and then we start playing and singing together.

Let’s Play! Picture by Riccardo D’Ottavio.

Laughter, shouts and off-key songs are in the air. We sing in Italian for them and they sing in Indonesian, trying to teach us their words, with little success but so much fun.
They are many and their happiness is contagious: for us it is hard to imagine that they can be happy with so little. However, there is no sadness today and it’s a small miracle. The afternoon ends with a noisy parade among the muddy streets. Now it starts to rain. We say goodbye thanking, singing and holding back a few tears.

Normally this child finds it challenging to play with other kids but today, for the first time, he had fun playing and singing with us. Picture by Riccardo D’Ottavio.

The car door closes and I do not know how I feel. But I do know that today there were no children with disabilities and “normal” children: there was only the joy of being together, each one with its own uniqueness and talent. It is wonderful what Save the Children are doing, creating a better future for those who are born with less than we are.”

A good start is half the battle

I was sure that the trip to Indonesia would be full of surprises, but I certainly did not expect a start so exciting.

Official dinner with STC and vice-regent of Garut in the Regent House by Chiara Longhin

After a short stop in Bandung for a first introduction on the projects carried out by Save the Children, we received a dinner invitation by the vice-regent of Garut. Waiting for us there was a “court” of photographers, cameramen and local authorities. After an initial moment of panic, mixed with embarrassment, we sat down to eat and chat as if we were in our living room.

Tea in the Regent House by Chiara Longhin

The informal atmosphere did not prevent us talking about issues as important for the governor as for the IKEA Foundation and Save the Children. After dealing with several topics, we focused on the main theme of this trip: the policies of inclusion of children with disabilities within the educational path.

In Indonesia, 14% of children with disabilities live in West Java and one in 15 children with disabilities is abused, neglected or subject to violence or exploitation by their family or community. We learned with pleasure that Italy is, for them, a reference point in inclusion policies and we shared our experiences of this.

Starting like this gives us the right energy to carry on with this amazing journey!

Greetings and goodnight from our new friends by Lavinia della Croce.


Radit’s smile – Welcome to IKEA Italy from UNICEF Indonesia

Radit lives in Manggungjaya village, Tasikmalaya, Indonesia District. He’s a boy with disabilities who can’t talk and walk and used to hide his face in shame. But with a help from therapist and local health centre’s cadre, he has begun to change. Radit’s health condition has improved, as well as his self-confidence. He now gets up by himself, moves his hands, and is willing to interact with his friends.

Radit, by Save the Children Indonesia

The number of children in Indonesia with disabilities, like Radit, is underrated and potentially increasing. The Human Development Report 2013 (UNICEF, 2014) estimates that as much as 10-15% of Indonesia’s population is disabled, 4.2 million of whom are children. Children with disabilities are more likely to experience poor health, with limited access to adequate nutrition, clean water and health services. Their lives become even more miserable with discrimination and exclusion from society.

Picture of Radit, by Save the Children Indonesia

The Inclusive Community Development and School for All (IDEAL) project is funded by the IKEA Foundation and implemented by Save the Children in Indonesia. It helps children with disabilities to attain their right to education and protection by developing standards on inclusive education for West Java Province. This includes raising awareness and reducing stigma and discrimination.

Children engaged in a workshop building inclusive education, by Save the Children Indonesia

Radit is one of the children directly benefiting from the programme, which also provides therapy for children with disabilities. When the IWitness team from IKEA Italy visits Indonesia in April 2017, we bet there will be a smile on Radit’s face. For his is a changed life.