“One day I realised that my son couldn’t even read or do simple math exercises. He’d already finished first grade when I understood that.”

Elsa, 39, has three children – and their education was disrupted first by the earthquake in 2019 in their home of Durres, Albania, and then by the Covid-19 pandemic. Her seven-year-old, Aldo, started to fall behind as soon as he started school.

Elsa said, “Aldo wasn’t able to attend pre-school, which is good at getting them ready for school, and then when he started school, the pandemic happened. Everything closed down and he had to attend first grade online."

“It was totally a new thing for all of us. As parents, we couldn’t even provide internet access for our children. I couldn’t help him and his elder sisters, too. They had a lot of difficulties accessing and understanding the online lessons.”

Remote learning was difficult for children, and many Albanian teachers found it challenging to adapt to new models of teaching, with many of their pupils having problems with internet access or electronic devices.

Aldo lives with his parents, two sisters (aged 18 & 15), and their grandmother in the ex-swamp area of Durres, a place that suffers from frequent flooding and pollution. His father doesn’t have a stable job, but takes temporary jobs where he finds them in construction. He is always out looking for work. His mother Elsa is busy taking care of the home and also takes care of her own mother, who is paralysed and needs a lot of support.

It is challenging for the family to survive on one set of wages – especially as sometimes they don’t even have that, when the father can’t find work. They were thankful to be enrolled in Mission Without Borders’ family sponsorship program. MWB supports families in many ways – from emotional support to educational to material, and giving advice and sharing the gospel. Arjan, MWB’s family worker, visits Aldo’s family regularly, bringing food and hygiene parcels.

Aldo began attending MWB’s After-School Care program, where educational support is given to children who are struggling. Qualified teachers tutor the children, giving individual attention to each child and helping them overcome any difficulties, so that they can become confident in their work.

“From the moment Aldo started coming to After-School, I noticed that he had some problems,” said Oriola, Aldo’s teacher at the program. “He couldn’t read or do basic maths such as addition and subtraction. He was scared and insecure, but he’s a loving child, obedient and eager to learn.”

“His insecurities at school also led to problems in his behaviour, making him sensitive, irritable, and impatient,” Oriola added. “He refused to admit when he was wrong. But since then, he has changed a lot in a few months.”

Aldo’s face lights up when he is asked about after school club.

“I love it,” he said with a big smile.

“I go there and I understand the lessons. I’m not afraid to ask when I don’t understand something. On Monday my school-teacher said that I’m doing well now. I told her I’m going to an after school club where I’m getting extra help. I like going to the centre and learning. Nobody insults me when I can’t read well or when I don’t know how to do the exercises.”

His mother is relieved to see Aldo doing so well. She said, “He’s a better reader and he’s more involved in the lessons thanks to the professional support he receives at the club. The teacher there spends time with him and he loves her. Every day he can't wait to go to the club, and he always heads out early because he wants to be there on time. Thank you so much for everything you have done for us and my children and especially for Aldo.”

Now Aldo feels secure in himself and excited about the future. “When I grow up, I want to be a chef,” he said. “It’s good to be a chef. You can eat better and other people enjoy your food. My dad told me there is a school where I can learn to be a chef and that’s what I’ll do.”

Without support from MWB, children like Aldo are in danger of becoming more and more disillusioned or discouraged, and drop out of school altogether. At MWB’s After-School Care clubs, teachers have high expectations of the children no matter their background, and they work closely with them to help them succeed. Already, Aldo’s future is looking brighter – and he is less likely to live in poverty because of his new-found confidence and the enjoyment he takes in learning.

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