Thoughts on Book Feast

By Eni Oshafi

Given the belief in books as the best mean to educate and inspire the readers and somehow orient them in life, and inspired by the holiday season, UN Youth Albania organized the Book Feast event.  The event was conceived in relation with goal nr. 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), called “Quality education”, which aims, among other things, to ensure that by 2030, all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education. Through this activity we decided to donate a small library to the 27 children of the Orphanage of Shkodra, hoping that these books will encourage in the long run at least some of the children to consider the path of education and reading, even after leaving the orphanage. Our offline and online campaign resulted in 219 donations, thus exceeding our initial target of 100 books.

On December 17th,  10 members of UNYAA organized a visit to the orphanage of Shkodra to donate the small “library” and to spend a little time with the children, trying to understand their interests and predispositions, but also to play games and to encourage them to read books that have contributed to each of us during our childhood. As expected, the children ran towards the books with curiosity and enthusiasm, asking us to read something to them. The books were added to the library of the orphanage and the event continued with several different games.

From the conversations that we had with the children and especially with Mr. Mahmutaj (the Dean of the institution) resulted that none of these children are biological orphans. The children of the residence have one parent (in some case they have both parents) who for economic reasons cannot take care of them. From the conversations, we also learned that these children do not have high ambitions regarding education. One contributing factor might be the government policy to orient these children towards vocational high schools. Teachers have a tendency to give higher grades to orphans, based on mercy and compassion for their predicament, but this behavior can be counterproductive in the long run because in the first place it does not inspire children to learn more, and secondly it can be perceived as a positive discrimination which does not prepare them for the real life.

The truth is that among Albanian orphans there are talented children, whose talent is suppressed from the very start by the lack of information and a somehow understandable public policy. Even if the vocational high schools present a more realistic opportunity, books, reading, and education must accompany each person at every step of their life. Knowledge should not be limited to the profile and duration of the studies. The problem is people’s perception of vocational schools and of any person who attends them, as someone who is not interested in knowledge and reading. These children, like everyone else, are citizens and it is everyone’s duty to help them become responsible citizens by teaching them the desire to read.