School was kept a secret

21st May 1999 at 01:00
A fortnight ago, 200 Kosovan refugees arrived in Glasgow with sad tales of how they left their homeland. Gillian Macdonald visited the family of one young girl who started at Dowanhill primary last week

"100,000 feared executed by the Serbs," read Monday's headline in The Herald, as 46 young Kosovans prepared for their first school day in Glasgow's two bilingual units, the primary one in Dowanside, the secondary one in Woodside.

At 9.20am a coach pulled up outside Dowanside primary in Glasgow's leafy west end, and out climbed the first ramshackle little group of seven Kosovan children, accompanied by parents and auntie.

Down they road they walked in single file behind the Glasgow education official into the visitors' entrance. In an adjacent playground a class of older children practised basketball shots, laughing and shouting, their lives until now a world apart.

This was Njomza Iseni's first day at her new school. Like the other primary children, she and her brothers Labillot (eight) and Milot (seven) and her little sister Njolla (four) looked wary of the large Victorian red sandstone building. It is very different from Njomza's old school in Kosovo. In 1991 the Serb government closed all the Kosovan schools, and the Kosovans were forced to set up their own parallel system or organise underground schools. Njomza attended "a private school", secretly set up in an Albanian teacher's home.

There were 23 children in her school, all about the same age, with one teacher and two books between them. Tables and chairs were made by the parents and chalks provided by the children, who learned to read and write, do maths, PE, music and art. Njomza's favourite subjects, she says, were "the Albanian language, reading and Albanian history". Her favourite hobby is drawing and she would like to be a doctor.

School ran from Monday to Friday, 1-3pm. "But we could stay longer sometimes, because the Serb police were throwing bombs and shooting," says Njomza.

If the police found Kosovan children in the private schools, "they would beat them and throw them out," explains her mother. That never happened at Njomza's school, but "her teacher was taken to the police station a couple of times".

None of the Iseni family's friends were Serbs. "Never," says Sala. "They never spoke to us. They said 'you don't need education. Just go to sleep.'

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