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Teachers in Kosovo Confront Challenges in the Classroom

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by Amy Lynn O'Toole, press officer
Nebahate Ibrahimi has been teaching in primary-schools for 32 years."

Never have the challenges been so great for primary-school teachers in Kosovo. Since schools reopened in September, thousands of teachers have been striving to help children work through the trauma and pain they've endured this past year.

"The children have suffered so much, and seen so many terrible things," explains Nebahate Ibrahimi, who has 42 students between the ages of 7 and 11. "One of my students lost his father during the war. Many more children live in destroyed houses."

Though the conflict ended in June, teachers still face a shortage of books and teaching materials, not to mention a strained classroom environment due to the trauma experienced by many Kosovars.

"Children are more aggressive and they find it harder to concentrate," observes Nebahate, who has taught in primary schools for 32 years.

Adile Salihu, who teaches at "Gjon Sereci" in the war-torn region of Ferizaj, is facing similar challenges in her class of 28 students, who are the same age as Nebahate's students.

She notes, "Many of the children are silent, some are aggressive and disrupt the rest of the class, and others would like to talk about their experiences during the war. The war is over now but the nightmares for many of these children remain with them.

"One young girl," Adile adds, "witnessed the murder of her uncle in front of her entire family. The picture of this horrific incident is in her mind the whole time, and she can't forget it. Every time she sees it again she starts to cry. It's hard for us to deal with this but the teacher is always there to help with this kind of problem."

Despite these difficult working conditions, the teachers remain dedicated to their jobs and are determined to provide their students with the best education possible.

"These children are our future," Nebahata concludes simply.

To help them create a supportive, nurturing classroom environment, Nebahata and Adile participated in psycho-social workshops being sponsored by CARE. Hundreds of teachers have taken part in the on-going training and support program, designed to help teachers recognize the signs of trauma, associated behavioral problems and strategies for recovery. Through lectures, group discussions and role-playing, participants of this month's workshop not only learned to recognize their own symptoms - be they emotional, behavioral, physical or cognitive - but were trained in how to help students and other community members recover from their ordeals as well.

"Through understanding their own trauma," explains Ksenija Kontak, one of the psychologists running the workshop, "teachers are better able to deal with child trauma."

Since it can be difficult for women to open up and discuss their feelings in public, CARE organized a separate women's group within the psycho-social workshop. In this group, women felt free to share their sufferings and lingering symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

"Some of us talked about our experiences during the war for the first time," admitted Nebahate.

Many participants admitted that it was difficult for them to find ways to express their thoughts about, and reactions to, their ordeals. Even so, they found the workshop valuable and cathartic.

Typically, people who suffer from post-traumatic stress symptoms such as nightmares, increased aggressiveness or a desire to isolate themselves often feel that they can't talk about them and assume their reactions are unusual. "We say to these people, don't worry - these are normal reactions to abnormal experiences," explained Ksenija.

Adile affirmed the workshop's success. "The trainers gave us a new set of tools for meeting classroom challenges - tools we will share with our colleagues in schools throughout the region."

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