Shkurte is one of the children who attended The Ideas Partnership's daily classes in Fushe Kosove when we started working in the community there in 2011. She was the second of a total of 578 children we have registered at school. I asked her to talk about what that first day at school felt like.
‘It was a surprise for me,’ she said, ‘to be learning and to be having a better life. I was amazed because I didn’t even know what school was. I thought that people who went to school would have a better future and then I managed to get there myself.’
Shkurte is now in the 8th grade and says her favourite subject is art, and chemistry is the one she finds most difficult. She’s a motivated young woman, though, and her plan is to go to high school.
‘My parents have helped me,’ she says, ‘because they’ve given me the will to achieve; they’ve talked about the future.’
But Shkurte knows that to be a sixteen year-old in her community with these opportunities is a privilege. Research carried out by The Ideas Partnership a few years ago found that 23% of the community in Fushe Kosove ‘married’ (in fact such marriages are illegal under Kosovan law) under the age of 16. The proportion of girls marrying under 16 is even higher, and stands at about a third.
The impact of early marriage is huge – on the girls, their education, the children they go on to have, and on their families’ poverty. And Shkurte is passionate about doing something about this. She is one of 8 teenagers who are part of our Little Social Workers programme, funded by the Danish Refugee Council. The programme tackles early marriage and inspires able youngsters from the community to become social workers in the future with the skills and knowledge to defend girls at risk of early marriage. I ask her what she has learned.
She talks about Arijeta, a young woman from the community who is a role model for many, and who leads the project.
‘Arijeta tells us not to get married early. What do you need to get married for? Getting married early is not good for the children you might have. Do it later when you’ll be able to feed them. If you get married early you drop out of school. Early marriages happen because people think it will be a better life, but it’s not. First of all, complete school.’
In the book I wrote about the experience of starting work with the community in Fushe Kosove, The Rubbish-Picker's Wife: an unlikely friendship in Kosovo, I described taking the eight year-old Shkurte to register at school ‘The ledger was opened and the columns had to be filled. We established that Shkurte was right-handed, we passed on her address and her date of birth, and the Deputy Director gave the grunt I was getting used to in place of a welcome to the school. Shkurte was registered. Two down. Could I do this more than sixty times over?’
But it wasn’t to be sixty times over – in fact The Ideas Partnership has registered nearly six hundredchildren since that day that Shkurte’s name was written in the ledger. And it’s not me who’s been doing the work since then. As well as the hard work of our team in the community, we now have a group of young champions like Shkurte who are themselves ensuring that the next generations of children will not only get to school, but will stay there without the threat of early marriage.
The 'Little Social Workers' group at the centre of The Ideas Partnership in Fushe Kosove
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