Some great and timely organisation with the British Embassy in Skopje saw TACC reps Gordon and Jim whisked away to the Snezana Day Centre, located in the eastern and old part of the rapidly developing city to see where the TACC donation of £5000 will be spent. On the previous day, a “tourist” walk through the city centre witnesed the emergence of a culture of new mega and ornate buildings, (museums, theatres, administrative, car parks, shopping malls etc) each of which was festooned with monuments, some huge. This was in stark contrast to the viscinity of the Centre which had seen little development since goodness knows when.
Like TACC, Snezana was founded in 2006, and we had made material contributions to the day centre in 2008 and again in 2011 and it was to be interesting to see the impact of the contributions .
The centre which looks after children aged 4-16 or so, is run by a group of 5, managed by Irena (second right above) and is rented from the municipal authorities who provide financial support for 5 months of the year, but which costs 200 euro per month otherwise. The British embassy have continued their support for the project since the first TACC initiative and it is equipped by some old/second hand basic furniture/desks, white furniture and some very basic computing equipment.
Like the 5 support staff, the centre is multi-functional, providing some basic education (reading & writing, nutritional, hygiene, sexual support etc.). The staff try to ensure that the children get to school, but their lowly status often results in discrimination, bullying and segregation. Children of the Roma community are often regarded as commodities – bought, sold or rented between adults for whatever gain they may be able to provide – begging, prostitution, whatever additional degradation or depravity might prevail. It’s common in the tourist areas to see malnourished children begging persistently. If you hand over a few coins, the begging continues, if you dont the children are beaten for not raising enough – Lose - lose all round.
Throughout the wider community it’s difficult to establish parentage (no one owns or takes responsibility for the children). Without a family lineage it’s near impossible to gain the necessary identity documentation and without that it’s impossible to gain any regulatory support such as school, medical etc. Staff at the Centre work with their appropriate contacts to use DNA profiles to establish lineage. Children born at home are simply “lost” in the system. A single DNA sample is useless if nothing to compare it to!
The Centre provides a place of refuge, support and hope for such children. The 5 staff at the Centre go out into the street to identify children who might benefit – not very easy though to identify any parent to help, assist, educate to take responsibility.
The Centre has three reasonable sized “class-rooms” with chalk boards and on our visit each class was filled with about 20-25 pupils. The school caters for about 100-120 children. Not quite knowing what to expect, the children were super. Most were sitting at their desks and it was clear that they were transcribing, from the blackboards, letters from their local language – no sophisticated teaching techniques – basic but effective. Irena indicated that many of the “jotters” and pencils/crayons the children we using were thanks to TACC.
In the next classroom, the children had been doing some artwork, especially for our visit and presented to us - Saltire flags, Macedonian flags and footballs. Again thanks to earlier TACC donations, the children were all clean and well dressed – not expensively, just practically and clean.
In the next classroom the children, again doing their basic 3 Rs, stopped to entertain us with a rendition of “Lazy Mary”. We were tempted to reciprocate with “Ye Canny Shove Yer Granny Aff a Bus” but thought it might have required some substantial translation.
Attempting to explain the significance of the pheasant feathers in Jim’s hat was made more difficult by the fact that many of the children had probably never seen a large bird, never mind a pheasant.
The children, in spite of all the deprivation in their lives, were CHILDREN. Irena and her staff had managed to rekindle some spirit and hope. There was a glint in their eyes, they were inquisitive, they had energy and, while at the Centre, they were safe and secure.
There was no doubt this wasn’t an easy job for Irena or her staff, with little municipal or regulatory support, so we asked her what motivated her day after day. She replied that each day she woke up she thought that she could make a difference and bring a bit of hope and opportunity to these children. Like most children, they often just need a little hug. So we did.
Well done TACC.