Those unintelligible characters spell out “dobar dan”, which means “good day” in Serbo-Croatian. Now that we’ve reached Serbia, we’re in the land of the Cyrillic alphabet, which makes everything infinitely more interesting. Martha and I learned the alphabet yesterday on the bus and have been amusing ourselves ever since with deciphering signs!
Before others tell you more about Serbia, I’m going to summarize the nine days we spent in Kosovo.
Neither of the previous World at Play expeditions went to Kosovo, so this leg of the trip was as much about making connections for the future as it was about playing with kids. Scott met with representatives from organizations dedicated to people with autism and Down syndrome, a school for the blind, the SOS Children’s Village, and the pediatric ward of the main Pristina hospital. We were able to run at least one session with all of these groups except the school for the blind, and we are really excited about the possibilities for future partnerships with these and other groups. They were all very anxious to work with us, and it seems like a future World at Play expedition could spend much more than nine days in Kosovo and still be quite busy.
Our primary partner in Pristina was the Ideas Partnership, which coordinated the afternoon sessions we ran with the Ashkali and Roma children in the community of Fushë Kosova. Those sessions will stick in our memories for a long time to come. We worked on a field in the middle of what is at best a very poor neighborhood and at worst almost a slum. We dedicated the first ten minutes of our second session to picking up all the trash on the field; thanks to the enthusiasm of the children, we were able to fill several large trash bags with all sorts of debris that would have made playing safely a real challenge.
Over the course of our six sessions, we worked with approximately 80 kids ranging in age from two to 18. I think we all enjoyed the additional thought that planning these sessions required. For example, Siôn and I worked with the littlest children, and we found that a bit of creativity and modification of usual games can go a long way in helping two people manage a group of 15-20 kids under the age of five. We decided on several long-term goals for our sessions and broke these down into objectives for each day. For instance, we learned quickly that equipment had to be used in small amounts and in extremely structured ways, so we progressed from a session with no equipment to one involving a blanket and two beanbags to one involving a blanket, four beanbags, and two balls. We played the same general set of games each day but introduced new elements in each session to make things mire interesting and challenging, and I think this scaffolding really helped us to control the kids and lead them to higher-level games. Other instructors had particular success with Chuck the Chicken, What’s the Time Mr. Wolf?, and rugby (which the older boys quite enjoyed).
We started each session in Fushë Kosova with some songs in a large group. “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes” seems to be a hit wherever we go, and Hannah did a fantastic job of leading us in her Tarzan song each day. The kids got really excited and repeated the lyrics with all sorts of hilarious interpretations of the actual English words.
Perhaps most memorable are our departures from the field. We quickly learned that we had to have Will or Siôn standing on the back of the van in order to prevent kids from grabbing on; this led to Will or Siôn eventually sprinting alongside the van and jumping in once we’d reached the main road and could finally go fast enough to escape the crowd of children following us. On our last day, kids were banging on the sides of the bus and doing everything in their power to prevent us leaving; I am still amazed that Scott managed to maneuver us through the tight alleys each time without hitting anyone or anything amidst that chaos!
Other than our sessions with Fushë Kosova, we ran two with the SOS Children’s Village (the counterpart of our hosts here in Serbia), one with the Down syndrome group in the town of Prizren, one with the center for children with Autism, and one with patients in the hospital pediatric ward. Each was a good experience, and I think there’s great promise for future work in Kosovo.
We were also deeply impressed by the hospitality and generosity of the people we met in Kosovo. Fadili, our contact with the Pristina Rotary Club, put us up in his own house for the entire duration of our stay, and his nephew Patrick made sure we experienced some of the best food and nightlife Pristina has to offer. Even the parents of the children we worked with in Fushë Kosova offered us water and sunflower seeds despite having so little to give to their families. It’s clear that Kosovo is a country with much to offer, and I know we’ll all be anxious to see not only how World at Play can become more involved there but also how it will continue to develop as an independent country in years to come.