A police record with two stars
Astrit: A police record with two stars
Astrit is 15 years old and lives in Pristina, the capital of the UN Administered Province of Kosovo, with his parents, brother and sister. He used to live in Switzerland with his family for four years before they came back in 2000, after the end of the conflict in Kosovo.
"It was very difficult for me to get used to the new school in Pristina. Everything was so much different than in Switzerland. I was new in the classroom and curious about so many things, I used to ask many questions and the teachers didn’t like that. I would ask and they wouldn’t be interested to answer to me. I started to run away and miss most of the school classes. I would not take my books at school. I became hot-tempered, I would shout at my parents and teachers. The teachers used to tell me to take my bag and go home! I used to keep most of the problems for myself and never discussed them with anyone. I met a group of children with knives around my school, I found them quite interesting. I felt like doing something I had never done before. Besides, I had a lot of spare time to hang around the school yard with the other kids."
Astrit may have missed many school classes but he never misses any of the activities of the “Prevention of Delinquency” Project. Astrit joined the group, consisting of a total of 14 children, in February 2005. The programme, which is supported by UNICEF and implemented in partnership with the Swiss NGO Terre des Hommes (Tdh), is in part a great success thanks to the enthusiastic local staff in Pristina and their ability to connect with the youth.
“One day the teacher came into the classroom and said: We need two problematic children, to be taken somewhere where they will make them improve, to a psychologist or something…they told me to go, I was scared and confused, I refused to go with these people. Then, Naim approached me, he started to explain to me about his association and that they organise some education and sports activities. He explained to me about every single detail of his association with a lot of patience.” Asked why did he trust Naim Bilalli, the Terre des Hommes social worker, Astrit plainly said “He treated me with respect, I can judge people very quickly.”
Astrit will continue with these activities until October 2005. The aim of the project is to stimulate change in behaviour and prevent delinquency with children who express aggressiveness towards their peers or teachers, low attainment at school, tendency to drop out of school, or children who belong to groups with risky behaviour. The project is being piloted at the moment in Pristina region. So far, there has been three rounds of eight-month sessions, with four parallel groups of children. Each group has 10 to 15 regular participants. A total of 101 children have or are still benefiting from the project.
The sessions seek to stimulate the child to regain self-esteem, give them skills for conflict resolution, help them improve the relations with their school and family, develop a sense of respect and tolerance and mainstream their inner energy into positive action. The learning process is organised in a very creative way, using local resources such as psychologists, educators, sports celebrities, well known actors, police officers and others influential people. Children are given the opportunity to express themselves and learn how to prevent delinquent behaviour through culture, sports and real life situations.
“I liked most the camping organised in Batlava lake, first I thought it can’t be true that someone is going to make such an effort especially for us, but they kept their promise and I loved it, " says Astrit.
Most of the time relations between these children and their parents are very tense and there is no communication. Astrit’s parents say “He used to be very difficult, it was simply impossible to talk to him any more. It’s so surprising how much he has changed since he got engaged in these activities, he is much more responsible about his acts, and he thinks twice before he acts.”
Apart from the work with children, Terre des Hommes’ social workers are working very closely with the Community Police in Pristina, the Centre for Social Work, teachers and parents. The aim is not only to ask them to refer children to the project but also to actively involve them in their activities.
Many things had to change since the beginning of the project in 2004. Naim, the social worker explains “We realised that in order to be successful with each and every child, the crucial point is cooperation with the family and the teachers and try to rebuild mutual trust. We talk to parents and we talk to teachers. They are much more positive about it now. We also do follow-up visits with children and their families after they finish with the sessions. Sometimes we continue to engage the same children even longer than eight months, in order to make sure that they don’t face the same problems again”.
“It’s also very important to make different agencies cooperate between each other.” Therefore, Terre des Hommes organises rounds of discussions between teachers, parents and community police officers. “They are more sensitised now,” says Naim, “There is a very good cooperation especially with the community police. They are involved in all the activities we do. They are the ones who are directly faced with juvenile criminal offenders and therefore they realise the best how important it is to prevent it before it happens.”
In Kosovo there is a growing concern over juvenile crime. Unemployment is very high. Recent data shows that the unemployment rate is 63% for the group aged 15-24 years. These unemployment rates are the highest in the region, and certainly in Europe. Even though no specific data are available, there is growing concern that due to the economical situation, the number of offences committed by youngsters might be increasing.
The participation of young people in the violent events of March 2004 has stressed the vulnerability of youth. Yet, prevention is not seen as a priority, due mainly to institutional weakness.
Astrit himself is convinced that things have gone better for him, he says, “I have changed, I notice it myself and the way I behave with my parents and teachers has changed. I’m not aggressive and I never run away from school anymore.” Proudly he continues “I have helped an old foreign man once to find the police station and I have reported a case of a robbery in the streets. The police officers told me that now I had a record with two stars because I did something very positive for the community."
While Astrit is dreaming to become “a painter, an engineer, but most of all a judge” a lot remains to be done in Kosovo to convince Astrit’s teachers and the others that he is not “problematic” he is just a kid who needs a lot of attention and opportunities and all efforts must be made to keep him in school. Otherwise he might lose the stars in his record.