GJILAN, Kosovo — U.S. Soldiers from KFOR Regional Command-East celebrated the 4th of July with students at the Future School in Gjilan, Kosovo, July 4, 2023, by sharing the U.S. National Anthem, a history lesson on American independence and playing in traditional American games.
The students are a part of a summer English program, designed to strengthen their use and knowledge of the English language. Soldiers from the Texas, South Carolina, Alabama, and Rhode Island National Guards participated in the celebration, and educated the students about the significance of their Independence Day, discussing important lessons that can be learned from history such as the importance of working for peaceful resolution.
Alabama Guard 1st Lt. Timothy Lett, 128th Military Police Company, opened with an a cappella performance of the U.S. national anthem. Texas Guard Maj. Jason Autry and South Carolina Guard Staff Sgt. Christopher Goodwin, both educators outside the Guard, led the class discussion on the history of American Independence. Following the classroom time, Soldiers and students connected through American football, cornhole, and various outdoor games.
“We wanted to celebrate together with you today because your Independence Day is as important to us as it is to you,” said Festa Shabani Tahiri, the Future School Director and founder. “We are forever grateful and don’t forget what you have always done for us.”
Tahiri, who lives in Gjilan, says opening the Future School was a dream come true. She said she learned as a child the importance of being able to communicate with people from different backgrounds.
“Lots of different Soldiers came into our neighborhood. They stayed near my home. I was only 6 years old at that time and I wanted to speak with them,” she said. “I learned the value of language. It’s a bridge that connects people and cultures. I love kids and English, and I want to spread the love of learning languages.”
The Future School Gjilan opened in fall of 2022 and currently offers language courses in English, German, and French and is accessible to all children living in Gjilan. Additionally, they offer math courses and various creative activities for students. Tahiri says her vision is to unite students through language, especially in Gjilan, where Albanian, Serbian, and Turkish are spoken.
“This will help the kids here in Gjilan,” she said. “The kids can’t talk to each other because they don’t speak the same language and they go to separate schools so there is no inclusion. This is why I want to do this.”
She dreams of offering classes in each of the languages spoken in the community, in addition to the languages currently being taught.
“I think the Future School is doing a really positive thing in this community,” said Autry, an elementary school teacher of 2 years. Not only is he an educator, but he specializes in ESL (English as a Second Language). Prior to deploying, his class had native speakers of six different languages. The visit to Future School “re-energized me, because teaching is my passion,” Autry said.
While the event focused on sharing a special day, it ended up being a day about building friendships regardless of language barriers.
“The best part of today was having such wonderful and long conversations with Soldiers,” said Future School volunteer Aurela Sheriff. “We laughed and made great memories.”