The school looked like a prison. Or, rather, an asylum. The first school of the village stood in shambles before a newly renovated primary school, all behind a long and wide raw cement brick wall. Upon seeing it for the first time, I remember thinking, “I’ve seen this set in a hundred horror movies. And children are supposed to learn here?” Something had to change.
Many things had to change, actually. The village of Romanovce has a wonderfully diverse population that is half ethnic Macedonian and half ethnic Albanian. While most adults had found a way to live amongst one another in peace, the village children did not yet possess this skill. Fights between the segregated school classes were not rare. After all, the children had no outlet in which to practice working together across ethnic boundaries and few opportunities in which to express themselves personally.
As an outsider, I saw many of these issues very quickly upon arriving in Romanovce in November of 2009. However, as an outsider, I could not simply show up, start projects and expect long-standing issues to disappear. I needed credibility, I needed more understanding, I needed time. Over the next two years, I worked with several teachers on a daily basis, learning about the culture, the curriculum and the community. As my third year in Macedonia approached, I realized the time was right to start a project for the community that could address some of the issues I’d seen from the start. It was time to paint! It was time to start with Mural Project! Read closer about the project here
Soon after, I finished my Peace Corps service and moved back to the United States, from where I am currently writing. In my American home, I now have two photos that hang on my wall – one shows a blank wall and one shows a colorful vision of community efforts come to life.