Culture shock leaves a desire for more

30.09.2020 - 15:55 | Christian Possa

At first she is overwhelmed, and then she does not want to go home. Yllza visited the Summer Camp at the Children’s Village in 2017 and spent two weeks there that changed her life. Three years later, the 19-year-old returned to Trogen as a minder of a group.

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A participant in 2017, a minder in 2020: Yllza from North Macedonia.

Yllza grew up in Pershefce. The village in the Northwest of North Macedonia is less than ten kilometres as the crow flies from Kosovo. 99 % of the residents there are Albanians. Surrounded by this ethnic uniformity and having been raised by conservative parents, there are precious few opportunities for young people to interact with people of other nationalities. When Yllza attended the Summer Camp in 2017, she was initially overwhelmed by the diversity in the Children’s Village. «When I arrived, I cried and wanted to go home,» she recalls. Her current boss, Metin Muaremi, even describes it as a culture shock. Yet after just a few days – inspired by her interactions with the other youngsters and her trusting relationships with the teachers – she underwent an impressive change. She opened up, was more communicative and learnt a lot about how to avoid conflicts and find solutions. She had completely changed, Metin Muaremi remembers, even her way of thinking had changed. «Before, she was someone who did not worry about anything and simply enjoyed things. Now she is a much more responsible person.» The 19-year-old agrees with this assessment, adding «I have a lot more positive energy and far fewer prejudices against people I do not know.»

Farewells and new beginnings

As the end of the Summer Camp approached, Yllza was dreading going home more and more. Metin Muaremi, the director of our partner organisation, Centre for Education and Development (CED), was not working as a minder in Trogen that year, but understood why Yllza was struggling with the idea of returning home. When the youngster turned to the North Macedonian organisation, he offered her an opportunity as a volunteer. «The Summer Camp will come to an end, but you can find another way of staying involved here in North Macedonia.»

«I want to keep this Pestalozzi spirit close to my heart.»

Yllza is delving in at CED and has risen from volunteer to Youth Coordinator. In this role, she is the point of contact for all the volunteers. As CED also offers camps for children and adolescents, Yllza can bring in her experiences from the Children’s Village to her work. «The time I spent there helped me because I learnt first hand how to interact with children.» When the young adult looks back on her time in Trogen, she always circles back to talking about the people who welcomed her with such unexpected openness. She also raves about the positive energy that inspired her rather childish and naive self at the time. «I want to keep this Pestalozzi spirit close to my heart.»

Passing the practical test

As director of CED, Metin Muaremi experienced Yllza’s personal development from up close – particularly how she organised an entire summer camp with two other volunteers and how she interacted with people. He believes that she now sees the world differently. «She has had an influence on her society through her work with the organisation and her new way of thinking and understanding things.» The shy teenager has become a self-assured young adult who has taken a large step towards her goal of returning to the Children’s Village. «When I went home in 2017, I said to myself: I want to go back to Trogen again and again.» She is over the moon that the time has now come for her to return. She is as excited to meet Daniel and Pascal again as she is to return to the Village. They are the Project Officers who made sure that she felt as welcome as she did.

At 19, Yllza is only just older than the youths who take part in the exchange project in the Children’s Village. She says that she had of course already thought about this, but that she is well accepted by the group. Metin Muaremi explains that there is a conscious effort not simply to show the participants a particular perspective on learning or an approach to dealing with things. «I am perience shows that 60 to 70 per cent become active citizens at home and lead organisations,» according to Metin Muaremi. He points to national, ethnically mixed student organisations, reading clubs and web radios. «It motivates us when we find out that somebody who was part of our project has gone on to achieve things and continued our work in another way.» perhaps slightly more authoritarian, but she is much friendlier and the children are likely to tell her more things than they would me.»

«60 to 70 per cent of the youths become active citizens at home and lead organisations.»

Metin Muaremi – Director of CED

The two are united in their belief that the exchange projects in the Children’s Village can create a lasting impact on the children’s native countries. The projects can change the way we think, says Yllza. «When I returned home, I had lots of ideas about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to work.» CED has been taking 40 youths on an exchange to Trogen for the last ten years. «The experience shows that 60 to 70 per cent become active citizens at home and lead organisations,» according to Metin Muaremi. He points to national, ethnically mixed student organisations, reading clubs and web radios. «It motivates us when we find out that somebody who was part of our project has gone on to achieve things and continued our work in another way.»

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