Imaginatorium - is the name of an informal educational center that aims to provide artistic, cultural and educational activities to children and youth from the Roma and Ashkali community living Gracanica region. It operates under the auspices of the NGO GAIA, and is consisted by local and foreign volunteers. More opportunities and broadening horizons - that would be their mission in a nutshell.
"We believe that, through play, art, handcrafts, we are able to provide children with a positive vision and to improve their social inclinations to respect each other. Promoting equal treatment among them, and especially the value of gender equality, can have a positive impact on their behavior and future development," said Mirjeta Shatri, one of the members of the Imaginatorium team, with whom we spoke.
Toddlers from the age of 5, all the way to teenagers over the age of 18 - are the target group with which the Imaginatorium team works through the following activities:
"Handcrafts, DIY activities, dancing, film/movie screenings, cooking and formal topics such as English, math, literacy, geography by learning through playing."
"We also suggest outdoor games, and sometimes even specific tasks, such as woodwork," explains Mirjeta.
Activities that are organized outside, are conducted in the yard where the Imaginatorium center is located, while classes are realized in the premises of the Imaginatorium (‘school’, as the children call it), but also in the Roma neighborhood near Gracanica.
According to Mirjeta, the work is harmonized with the school obligations of the children, so they work with the youngest when the school classes are over, and with the older ones during the weekend.
"We believe that children are able to learn a lot through art, games and fun activities and gain more self-confidence, which can positively affect their motivation to learn in school and on more formal topics," she points out.
She adds that working camps are an important part of their work with children during the summer.
"They were a great experience and memory for the children of the Imaginatorium. Since 2017, we organize various work camps with volunteers from around the world. Together with the work camps, we organized trips with children and teenagers, in order to give them the opportunity to explore and be exposed to life outside the Roma neighborhood, which is not such a common opportunity for children," she says.
According to our data, the number of those who are involved in the work of this center has been increasing since 2016, and they recorded a special growth of attendees last year, when they were located almost in the center of the Roma neighborhood.
Although the majority of Imaginatorium users speak Roma and Serbian, and only a few Albanian and English - this is not an obstacle for volunteers to do be dedicated to work.
How would you describe the work with children and youth in the Roma neighborhood from your personal point of view - we ask Mirjeta.
"Being in the Roma neighborhood and working with children for almost four years had very positive effects on many levels. They gave me a new perspective on life, and even if language is an obstacle in working with children, this experience has taught me with the ability to find a constructive way of communication that leads to great activities with social and psychological benefits for them,” she replies.
Along with good communication, trust is an important prerequisite for quality work. We believe that Mirjeta and her colleagues acquired it.
What does trust mean to her?
"For me, trust is that you can depend on the behavior of others without fear or doubt. Trust is being able to share your feelings and thoughts without receiving any destructive feelings in return. ”
In Roma neighbourhood, as we have already mentioned, in addition to local, foreign volunteers also work in there.
One of them is Mathilde Mallet from France, who came to Kosovo through the French government's Civil Service program last September.
What are her impressions?
"Working in the Imaginatorium is extremely challenging, but also useful. From the first days, I became attached to the children we work with. They are very intelligent and full of energy, so they may be interested in anything you suggest to them. Many face difficulties at school, so it's nice to see how they are progressing, little by little, even when we are 'just' doing handicrafts," she replies.
And she emphasizes the importance of learning, adapting, and questioning oneself as important parts of understanding others. After all, that’s what makes good friendships, too. Write down this recipe from our "kitchen" as an advice for trust building.
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Photo source: Imaginatorium
This project is supported by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and is implemented by the New Social Initiative. Expressed opinions represent the authors’ views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations, UNMIK or New Social Initiative.