Rafaela Hajdini, a teacher at the Albanian school run by the “Iliria” association in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, shares ” the publication of the Pan-Albanian Federation of America VATRA, New York, about the efforts to preserve Albanian national identity, history, language, culture, and traditions in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. This is achieved through teaching the Albanian language and culture, as well as patriotic and cultural activities.
HISTORY OF THE ALBANIAN SCHOOL OF THE “ILIRIA” ASSOCIATION IN ST. LOUIS
With the establishment of the “Iliria” Association in St. Louis, one of the main goals was to open an Albanian school where children could learn to speak and read their native language. All the founders and members contributed to making this a reality. The association’s chairman and board played a significant role in this endeavor. On August 9, 2020, elections were held for the board of directors, and 15 members were selected: Pandeli Gaçe, Elona Dyshniku, Besian Gjika, Xhevat Dullovi, Aurel Bardho, Eneida Taçi, Arif Palloshi, Fazli Dullovi, Jovan Bello, Rafaela Hajdini, Ramadan Hajdini, Emiljo Zhupani, Anila Veizi, Nafi Halimi, and Brahim Mehmetaj. The opening of the Albanian school in St. Louis took place on August 28, 2021. Quoting from the speech given by the chairman of the “Iliria” Association, Mr. Pandeli Gaçe, on the occasion of the opening of the Albanian language school in St. Louis, Missouri: “Dear little ones, you who are the flowers of our life, you honorable generations of teachers and participants in this important event, greetings! We are here today because our mother tongue, the language of our beloved homeland, Albanian, has brought us together! This blessed language has conveyed our first friendships, tenderness, joy, and amazement. With it, we have expressed the pains, desires, and most beautiful and daring dreams of our lives. Our people have transmitted their own legends, myths, fables, lyrics, and epic tales, and have written and left us history, the treasures of culture and knowledge, these precious values. Its path has not been easy at all, yet it has survived centuries of storms and turmoil. This has happened because many oppressors have aimed and tried to extinguish our language, closed schools, killed teachers, and burned books; they destroyed monuments, but the people never gave up on their language. Today, it remains a treasure that enriches global culture, as one of the world’s oldest languages. The “Iliria” Association, here in Saint Louis, from its very beginnings, placed opening this school as a top priority, due to its importance and the support that the United States provides to the culture and education of its citizens. Dear little ones, today you might feel small, just as we did when we were your age, but you carry with you an event that will be historic and valuable for you and all Albanians in this region. It is for this reason that these ladies and gentlemen, who dedicated their lives to teaching, knowledge, and Albanian culture, have come to honor us with their presence. We are deeply grateful for this noble gesture. Now let me wish you a successful start to this school, for which many Albanian parents and your dear teachers, who have made everything ready, have given their support. Along with you, they will lead the progress of the Albanian language and culture forward! Greetings from the heart, and I wish you a great school year,” concluded Mr. Pandeli Gaçe.
EARLY BEGINNINGS OF ALBANIAN TEACHING ORGANIZATION
The first teachers for the school were Rafaela Hajdini, Alda Kafasiz, and with the assistance of Miranda Gaçe. In the beginning, two classes were formed and divided by age. Lessons were held every Saturday for one hour. The teaching took place within the association’s premises. Sensitizing everyone was not easy for various reasons, but over time, as children began to write and read in Albanian, they started to enroll other children. Furthermore, teachers recommended that parents communicate with their children in Albanian to expose them as much as possible to the Albanian language. A year later, we managed to formulate the teaching curriculum. The curriculum used is from the diaspora along with other texts. Students are not only learning to speak and read, but the history of the Albanian language is also emphasized. Initially, teaching was difficult due to the lack of literature and educational resources from the Albanian government. With our own efforts, we do what we can for the mission of providing books; we have secured them privately and based on this, I undertake the mission with the students.
ALBANIANS IN ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
The Albanian community in Missouri may not be as large as in some other American states, but it is significant. Efforts have been made and continue to be made to preserve the national identity of Albanians in St. Louis. As an association, we have met with state authorities in St. Louis, who were very cooperative. They provided us with useful advice and agreed to collaborate to ensure that children, alongside English, learn and speak their native Albanian language.
WHO IS TEACHER RAFAELA HAJDINI?
I am the eldest daughter of Ramadan Hajdini and Arjana Hajdini. Born in Korça, Albania, I left Albania with my parents in April 1997. I now work as a teacher for children with special needs at the Special School District of St. Louis. I work voluntarily as an Albanian language teacher at the “Iliria” association. My passion for teaching children in our mother tongue comes from my parents, who continuously spoke and taught us the Albanian language within our family environment. My goal is to pass down our beautiful Albanian traditions, culture, and language from generation to generation, even though we are many miles away from our beloved homeland./DIELLI