Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Dear President Clinton

I teach fourth grade at Prishtina High School in Kosovo. Most Americans I talk with fall into one of two camps. Either they think of Kosovo as a war torn country or they have never heard of the tiny nation in southeastern Europe.

The beautiful capital city of Prishtina with its cosmopolitan feel doesn’t look like a war torn city, but the hearts of the Albanian Kosovars whose roots run deep in this region bear the scars of war. The war is part of their family history.

Despite its tone, this story isn’t about the sacrifices of the past. It is about the leaders of the future. My class.

The children in my class amaze me. They are industrious and smart. They love to learn. They are nine and ten-year-olds who can speak, read and write in at least two languages. They are deep thinkers.

And they care.

Every afternoon I read aloud to my students. I started the school year reading Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. My fifteen fourth graders listened intently each day to the events surrounding a young girl (Karana) left alone to survive on the island shortly after a battle with the Aleuts leaves the islanders devastated.

When the Aleuts return several years later, a girl with them wants to befriend Karana. As we finished the chapter, my students started talking about trust. They also started talking about fighting and wars. The class discussion turned to differences between the Albanians and Serbians.

The conclusion was that “not all Serbians were bad people.” They asked me to reread the opening chapter of the book to determine exactly what was said and who started the fight on the island beach. In the end, they decided Karana should take a chance and trust the Aleut girl. Only then were we able to move on with our reading and eventually finish the book.

Now we are reading a book called Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. This book takes place in Denmark during WWII when Nazi Germany occupied the small Scandinavian country. My students knew little about World War II and Adolf Hitler. I gave them a brief introduction but on their own they researched more about the time period. 

I told you they are amazing.

“Miss?” they asked. “What is ethnic cleansing?”
“Miss? Isn’t that kind of what happened here?”
“Miss? Why didn’t people stop Hitler sooner?”

They all had questions. It was Thursday so I worked hard to prepare my lesson for the next day to address some of their questions. December 7th. Pearl Harbor Day.

After a discussion of WWII and Hitler and Kosovo and Serbia, my students thanked me for being an American. While I appreciate their love, I suggested it might be more appropriate to thank those responsible for making the decision to take a stand for Albanian Kosovars.

They started writing letters to Bill Clinton. They know quite a bit about Mr. Clinton. Prishtina has a street named for him and a statue of him at the corner.

Here are a few excerpts:

"You have inspired me to become a
president of Kosovo and continue
to help my country..."
“…we are learning about the war in Kosovo and we are so thankful you helped save us…”

“…you have inspired me to become a president of Kosovo and continue to help my country.”

“I have a question. How does it feel to bring a whole army to save such a small country?”

“In school we are learning about the war. We are also learning about WWII. If you hadn’t stepped in, we might be in that situation.”

“It would be nice if you would come to Kosova and tell us how you brought NATO to save our country.”

As I said, this story is about the leaders of the future.

And yes...I mailed them.

If you’d like to meet my class, read more of their heartfelt letters, or learn more about Prishtina High School, check out our Facebook page: Prishtina High School or click on this link

Join me as I spend these next months in Kosova (the Albanian pronunciation for Kosovo) in Southeastern Europe. Each week I share my experiences. Leave your comments and questions below. I’ll try to address each as best I can.

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