Learning amid war zone horror;Briefing;International

30th April 1999 at 01:00
ALBANIA. Kevin Weaver reports on how teachers in an Albanian refugee camp are struggling to help children who have been traumatised by the violence in Kosovo

For Andy Durakei, 40, teaching is the only way to forget the hell he has just been through.

Headteacher of the makeshift open-air school in a Kosovan refugee camp in Albania, he is lucky to be alive - unlike his 17-year-old son and 70 people in his village, including three of his pupils, who were killed by Serbian forces in one of the worst massacres documented so far in the Balkan war.

Now he concentrates on running the school for 1500 children in this camp in the grounds of the national park in Tirana, which houses 3,500 refugees in tents and mobile homes.

"I have been driving through the activities we do with the children to keep me busy. I love my job as a head so much that I've forgotten all my problems," he says, smiling weakly.

Andy was a maths teacher in the small town of Krusa e Madhe, in the Drenica region of Kosovo, heartland of the Kosovo Liberation Army. When Serbs shelled his village on March 26, he and his family were forced to flee into the mountains on foot without any possessions. The Serbs surrounded 8,000 of them near a river and shot his son dead because he was wearing the emblem of the KLA on his shirt.

Andy, whose two other sons are still fighting for the KLA in his homeland, whispers: "I won't cry, because my son gave his life for Kosovo."

Shocking video pictures of gruesome killings in his village were revealed to the world in footage smuggled out earlier this month. Of 19 bodies shown, many had been shot in the backof the neck. Two hundred of the 2,000 inhabitants were wounded.

Across the muddy football pitch next to the camp, 150 children are taking their morning lesson. Albulina Begaj has just drawn a picture of 10 houses from his home town of Bamja. Every one has a black bomb falling on it. He is one of a class of 15 11-year-olds being encouraged to drawpictures of their experiences in Kosovo in a teaching scheme developed by the Albanian Centre for Human Rights.

Violeta Gjanari, 50, an Albanian headteacher who helped to set up this school programme, says: "The first phase involves playing with the children to make them feel free using jokes and games. The second phase uses toys and books to show the children their human rights, which were repressed by the Serbs."

Respect for other cultures traditions and dialects is emphasised. Pupils aged seven to 11 are taught Albanian culture and those aged from 11 to 15 are given lessons in international culture.

On a small raised platform, a group of 10 teenagers talk quietly to an art therapy teacher. "Many don't want to talk about what they have experienced, they are too traumatised," says Violeta.

This week teachers from Croatia, with experience in supporting war-traumatised children in their own country, were flown in to work in the camps, but basic teaching materials are still lacking.

Across Albania up to 3,000 volunteer undergraduate students are working to help refugees. Armelo Bega, 21, a sociology student, says volunteers are taking teenagers to a discos to integrate them with their Albanian peers. But it is not always easy to help the girls.

"Kosovan families are patriarchal and close-knit, made up of up to 30 family members who won't be separated. Many girls are engaged by the age of 14 and it is difficult to reach them as their parents are very protective," she says. "Many have been rapedand their culture forbids them to talk freely about it."

The United Nations Children's Fund has set up art therapy classes and will run a summer school in this camp. Please send donations (cheques payable to UNICEF) to the TES Kosovo Appeal, UNICEF, Room TES, Freepost, Chelmsford, CMT 8BR.

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