October 5, 2020

Albanian after-school program makes simple, but important investments in students

Written by  Betsy Stewart
Children gather at the EEC property for a meal and homework tutoring during the school week. Sonya Harnish/EMM Children gather at the EEC property for a meal and homework tutoring during the school week. Sonya Harnish/EMM

ERSEKË, Albania — Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) and its partner Ersekë Evangelical Church (EEC) in Ersekë, Albania, are seeking supporters for projects focused on disadvantaged children. The church’s Foleza after-school program and its sister residential home program are focused on creating safe and stable environments for children to thrive. 

Foleza is a small program with an ambitious vision: to see each student succeed in school and life. Practical resources are essential to the success of Foleza and the students it nurtures. 

Among other improvements, Foleza is purchasing new desks to replace communal study tables, which will improve focus and individualized support for the children in the program. Secondary school students in the program will study at desks equipped as cubicles, with walls on the sides and front to encourage even more focus. 

“This kind of simple investment in each student is powerful because it communicates that their education is important, and encourages a deeper commitment from each student to their own learning,” said Sonya Harnish, an EMM worker who attends EEC and serves as an office administrator for a local Bible training and camp center that partners with EEC.

Foleza is hosted in the EEC building and provides a safe and nurturing place for the nearly 20 children who attend each day. Translated “little nest” from the Albanian language, Foleza was started in 2013 when the church saw first-hand the need for children to have extra support in order to thrive in school. After a local family of four children came under the church’s custody when their parents died, the church was moved to do something more for children like them. 

EEC also started a residential home for the family of four children, which has now grown to 10 children and a missionary family who serve as house parents. Children who are received into the home have the need for a family environment because they have lost their parents or their family unit has become unstable. Most of the children in the residential home also attend the Foleza program.

“The children who are involved in Foleza and who live at the residential home come from some kind of disadvantaged background,” said Harnish. “Many of them struggle with school. Some of them started school late, some of them are behind. We want to give them the chance to focus on their studies and know that they belong.”

Teachers and church leaders who oversee Foleza and the residential home also see the programs as an opportunity to cultivate character in the children, including order, respect, and looking out for each other. 

The residential home seeks support to sustain its care for children and day-to-day programming, including basic needs like food, clothing, and medical and dental costs, as well as operating costs for the home. Financial gifts toward Foleza can be made at emm.org/foleza.

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