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Education approaches

Jehona Gjurgjeala talk – Civil Society Forum, Trieste
Sowing seeds – saving the environment, through saving young people
Idea: Despite all the advancements in technology, research and advocacy in the Balkans, the formula for
changing a mindset still relies of a very basic principle – sow a seed, help it grow – and it will bear fruit.
Story: The story of the Gërmia Park Supervolunteers and how TOKA is sowing the seeds of environmental
activism in Kosovo, one young person at a time.
I think I have never been in front of such an impressive group of people before. A group that has
chosen the road less travelled.
All of you can probably do something much easier than what you do. You can have a well-paid job, in
some big organization, with less pressure, lower stakes, less stress.
Yet, you chose to work to make the Balkans a better place, in your own way.
I’d like you to ask you that, just for a moment, think back to your youth.
Rewind the movie of your life to your teenage years… and recall a moment that made a mark on you.
On who you are. What you care about. And see if that moment is connected to who you are, and what
you do, today.
Can I have a show of hands from those who could remember such a moment.
I had such a moment in my mid-teens. By a stroke of luck, I ended up in a youth group, who started
doing interesting projects in my hometown of Prishtina. A youth newspaper, workshops, exhibitions.
We brought the city to life.
Until then, I thought I was going to be a doctor, like my mum. But the PostPessimists changed me.
That experience infected with the passion to make a difference in my community – a feeling that has
not left me to this day.
Just like you, I could have a much easier life. My last job was as a director of Expedia, the biggest
travel company in the world, with over 10,000 employees. I was promoted three times in seven years,
and was likely to go further. But I left it behind, so that I could change the lives of young people in
Kosovo today, like someone helped me change mine 20 years ago.
Which brings me to the topic of today. Changing Kosovo, one person at a time. I will tell you the story
of our Germia Park Supervolunteers…
The Supervolunteers are a group of teenagers from Kosovo, who started their journey with TOKA
sometime in the last two years, first just for fun – and then with a mission. The mission to make
Germia Park Centre a better facility for environmental programs.
But, before I tell you what they did, I have to tell you how it started and how it grew. Which is based
on three basic principles.
Who – the seed
Start with open minds – which is why we focus on youth.
While working with youth is not new in the Balkans, the
tendency has been to work with two extreme sides of the
_________________________________________________________________________________________________Meto Bajraktari 41, 10,000 Prishtina, Kosova I www.toka-ks.org I +381 38 704 560 I [email protected]
spectrum – either high potential leaders, or the marginalized.
We try to look beyond the ‘usual suspects’– the tipping point and mass following happens when you
convert the ‘second wave’. I used to work in business, and the graph below is very-well known to
illustrate product adoption cycles, but the principles apply for cultural shifts also.
TOKA focuses on this ‘sweet spot’ – not the ‘best’ that are going to ‘make it’ anyway, but those just
behind them – who are smart, hungry and motivated – but need just that extra wind beneath their
wings to step up. They may come from tougher socio-economic backgrounds, rural areas, minority
communities. They are in the woodwork, just need to be helped to come out.
How – the growth
People don’t care what you know, until you know that you care – start with the person, and invest
in them. Help them understand themselves, believe in themselves and grow themselves. Before a
plane can take off in any direction, it needs to be assembled, tested, polished and fueled.
That’s what we have been doing in every single program we run. Our invitation is simple – come,
and just take whatever you need. No agenda, no pressure.
Meet them where they are at. If, as in KS, you are the last on the reading list of the PISA test – doing
a program that relies on classical teaching, reading and writing – is going to have limited impact.
Instead, start with the language that they can speak.
Which leads me to the third point…
3. Make it fun! Make it social! Make it an adventure!
[NB: this game lasts a minute, and explanation takes less than a minute. See video for illustration
 I would like to ask for a couple of volunteers to join me in a simple game.
 You have one minute to stick five straws on the potato, and balance a M&M on each straw.
 Closing: it just seems like fun, but in fact even in a simple, one-minute game like this you are tested
under pressure, you have to think about engineering basics, and have to mix speed with patience and
precision. You can imagine how participants get hooked.
What – the fruit
Then, they will come back to you…with an understanding that is their own, a conviction that is they
own and a passion that is their own.
When we finally asked our alumni if they would be interested in volunteering – we were overwhelmed
with their response.
The Germia Park Supervolunteers were thus born – a group of TOKA alumni that ideated, developed
and implemented improvements in the Germia Park Youth Centre. They came to a two day camp to
brainstorm, meet every two weeks for four months – and completed their projects over their precious
free time during the Spring break. They worked tirelessly, through their free time, doing whatever
needed to be done to finish. Girls were drilling and digging, boys were painting and cleaning.
Everyone was equal in passion and purpose.
What makes this approach so powerful is that it both
 multiplies – these teenagers carry many new skills and experiences that they will use to positive
benefit in other contexts in their lives,
_________________________________________________________________________________________________Meto Bajraktari 41, 10,000 Prishtina, Kosova I www.toka-ks.org I +381 38 704 560 I [email protected]
and is sustainable – they are hungry for more. They want to do more. They have not ‘ticked a box’ for
their CV and conscience. They keep asking us for support to do more.
And soon they will do it themselves.
The skeptics may say that ‘we have to wait and see’ if indeed they will do it themselves.
I’d say to them – look around this room.
And soon, more friends will join us.
Thank you.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________Meto Bajraktari 41, 10,000 Prishtina, Kosova I www.toka-ks.org I +381 38 704 560 I [email protected]
Sample photos for the presentation
_________________________________________________________________________________________________Meto Bajraktari 41, 10,000 Prishtina, Kosova I www.toka-ks.org I +381 38 704 560 I [email protected]