“A person grows thanks to challenges” - Member in Focus with Balkan Sunflowers Kosova’s Director, Muhamet Arifi
In this Member in Focus we interviewed the Director of Balkan Sunflowers Kosova (BSFK), Muhamet Arifi. Muhamet is part of the Ashkali community, an ethnic minority in Kosovo. After 25 years of work as a musician, a security guard in the OSCE Mission in Kosovo and founder and director of BSFK, he accepted a new challenge—enrolling in university at 44 years of age.
Muhamet, what is BSFK’s dream for change?
The inclusion of marginalized groups from different ages, mainly Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities in Kosovo. We want to help the civil society in areas where we see a lack of services. We work together with and are complementary to the government, which is tied by specific procedures and sometimes cannot act as it is supposed to act.
What is your recent engagement with early childhood projects?
We believe that if you invest in early childhood you can prevent discrimination later. BSFK works on the policy advocacy level on the one hand, and provides services to children on the other. Recently we have developed a curriculum for preschool teachers on how to work with children and their parents. We are happy as the curriculum was accredited last week by the government. Also, we have recently helped the national Office for Good Governance to revise the strategy for inclusion of Romani children which is now much more precise and realistic.
And on the provision level?
We have five learning centers with preschool programs with approximately 150 children attending on a daily basis. In addition we manage two kinder-garden programs with about 30 children attending daily and other programs such as language learning, conflict resolution, after school and summer school for children zero to ten.
We are proud to support preschool programs. After ten years of experience we know that children who went to preschool programs are really the best students in the school. Attending preschool is obligatory, however the government does not guarantee preschool access to all children. That is why we decided to intervene. The preschool programs that we provide, prepare children for school and the results are very positive.
Can you give us an example?
The majority of children who are attending our early years education programs go on to a secondary school. In the town of Fushë Kosova in 2007 there were only seven students in secondary school and two went on to university. Today we have 84 and 50 respectively. Our goal is to work with children from kindergarten to university. The risk of children drop out is high, but with a little support they can go all the way to university and have a better perspective in life.
Health projects play a big role in BSFK. Why and what are you doing?
According to our study the life expectancy of Roma is 58.7 years, compared to 70 years of the whole population. We wanted to raise awareness about this so we have taken a practical approach: we have set up five youth clubs to provide health services for minority groups. The clubs are cooperating with health clinics ensuring the immunization of children who are not vaccinated. They do house-to-house visits together with a health specialist and give vaccinations to children.
As member of the Ashkali community yourself, how do you live these differences in your country?
Our work is very challenging, but a person grows thanks to challenges. You develop your skills by solving different issues.
Talking of challenges, you have recently taken on a new one, right?
I have recently enrolled into university. I am attending the second year of a Bachelor’s in Business and Technology.
Why have you decided to embark in this new adventure?
As I said, person grows thanks to challenges. Studies will help me to deal with those challenges and secondly I want to be a role model for my children and for youth in general.