Albania brings guns into class

14th April 2000 at 01:00
ALBANIA is attempting to tackle the country's slide into lawlessness by putting education about guns and gangsters on the curriculum.

Run by an international voluntary organisation called Balkan Sunflower and the Albanian Youth Council, the mines and weapons awareness training is teaching children that guns are dangerous both to themselves and society.

The scheme, which is funded by the United Nations Children's Fund UNICEF, was originally conceived for refugees returning to Kosovo. But it was soon realised that Albanians themselves faced tremendous problems because almost everyone in the country has access to weapons.

The country has been in turmoil since the end of communism. The problems were compounded by the virtual collapse of the economy in 1997, following an ill-fated government-backed pyramid-selling scheme.

Some 1.5 million weapons have been looted from government arsenals - half of which have never been recovered - and with most of the economy now controlled by local mafias, guns are often the final arbiter of disputes.

"We need to challenge the normality of having weapons," said project leader Maarten Voors, who works with several other foreign nationals training local volunteers in ways of deglamorising guns.

After a successful pilot project with secondry schools in Tirana, they are now working in primary schools in the south of the country.

There is an emphasis on fun, and activities at odds with traditional schooling, such as group discussions, parachute games and role play. Using art, drama and video the volunteers try to encourage visions of a future Albania, and then identify what is currently going wrong.

"We have trained a core of 40 local trainers and are now expanding through the education system," Mr Voors said. "We hope that weapons awareness becomes a key element of the school curriculum."

The work of the students and trainers will be showcased at a gala weapons awareness performance in Tirana stadium next week, attended by the education minister and other top officials. If all goes well, they hope to be able to expand the scheme to Kosovo.

The project advocates the creation of child-friendly environments free from guns. "Kids need a place where they can exchange ideas and challenge some of the destructive patterns that have recently evolved in Albanian society," Mr Voors said.

Sonja Gogu, a 22-year-old volunteer from Tirana University, said: "Weapons have become a real problem for our society. If children are to have a future we must show them there is another way: using words rather than guns."

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