Rina Recica is 14 years old and one of the brightest students in her year group at school. Apart from her studies, she is also very much concerned with social issues and problems such as environmental protection and human rights. Over the past years, her and her friends have contributed regularly through volunteer activities in her school. “We organised a school yard cleaning initiative regularly and produced posters against bullying. But I somehow always had the feeling that we were not doing enough and that we could do more,” Rina explains.
This changed when a non-governmental organisation called TOKA approached the school offered to organise Service-Learning Clubs (volunteering clubs) with the help of two of their teachers. “This helped a lot,” says Rina, “as now we have more regular and well-coordinated activities and we also got to know other people at school who were doing volunteer activities whom we didn’t know before”.
The service-learning programme started in Kosovo five years ago and in the last three years has been implemented with the support of the European Union. In a nutshell, the programme is about helping young people get more involved in volunteerism while also acquiring new knowledge, values, and skills; such as critical thinking, communication, problem solving, social skills, decision-making, leadership, and enhanced self-efficacy and awareness for active citizenship.
Hatixhe Zeka, who is the manager of the programme, explains that many countries have volunteerism included in their formal education system through service-learning programmes. However, Kosovo is among those that do not have volunteerism as part of their formal education. “The reason for initiating this programme was fairly simple. We aimed to make young people more active in matters concerning the community and to contribute to their informal education at the same time,” says Hatixhe.
In the beginning, the programme started with a call for participation open to all school teachers across Kosovo,followed by six days of training for the selected candidates on how to coordinate and initiate volunteer activities in school. Afterwards, the trained teachers returned to their schools and started organising volunteer clubs with their students. The activities continued with weekly meetings where teachers and students started talking about concrete volunteerism actions. In these meetings, the teachers trialled used certain training techniques so the club members are better prepared for volunteering activities.
The first module was about reflection on participants’ own skills and capacities, the second introduced the cycle of preparation for volunteer action, including analysis of the needs of the community and on how to develop problem-tackling ideas, and the third reflected on the successes and gaps of the project. The volunteer clubs in each of the selected schools met up regularly over several months, and in addition to teaching new skills, each of the clubs also implemented at least one volunteer project by the end of the programme. Each project was also financially supported via a symbolic contribution where it was necessary.
In five years, the project managed to initiate 29 service-learning clubs in 15 municipalities across Kosovo, engaging 60 service-learning club leaders with more than 500 volunteer members joining the clubs. During the school year 60 service-learning projects were implemented in different communities all over Kosovo. As a result, over 50,000 vulnerable people have been supported in direct or indirect ways through projects implemented as part of volunteer clubs. “It was really inspiring to see the effort and the passion that teachers and students alike gave to their volunteer projects, and there even greater interest for the new clubs that we will start to initiate soon,” says Hatixhe.
The programme also involved students from the Faculty of Education and Department of Psychology from the University of Prishtina who are to become future teachers and psychologists. They also benefited from the informal teaching techniques provided as part of the clubs. According to Hatixhe, the overall impact of the project was three-fold: teachers learned new teaching methodologies that have proven both efficient and practical, and they also these benefits to their regular classes; club members gained higher self-confidence in coordination, analytical and soft skills; and students in the Faculty of Education and Department of Psychology gained valuable experience in facilitating experiential learning activities, such as managing youth, club and project implementation in theircommunities.
Hatixhe further explains that the EU support for this programme was crucial, and not only from the financial viewpoint. “The EU support increased the credibility and importance of the programme among stakeholders at the municipal andcentral levels, and it gave another important push for the last three years,” she says.
About the project
TOKA has been implementing the Service-Learning programme since 2017. In this programme, TOKA has included 2,500 young people aged 12-17 from more than 80 schools in 20 municipalities of Kosovo. These young people are part of the service-learning volunteers’ clubs which are supported by TOKA. The clubs are led by teachers or civil society members over the age of 18, who were trained in the experiential learning methodology which integrates learning through experience. This programme also exposes youth to concrete experiences by implementing service-learning projects, making catalogues of the needs of their community, solving or reducing the problems of their community, setting goals and objectives, managing project activities, raising funds, drafting budgets, and monitoring and evaluating projects. Since 2019, the project has been supported by the European Union Office in Kosovo, through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights EIDHR.
Photo credits: TOKA
Stay connected to discover news, stories, opportunities,
and other related information about the European Union and the Western Balkans.