Saturday, October 31, 2009

' Don't look back, go ahead...'

" We are going to Australia." Dad entered their tent early morning.

" What are you talking about?" Grandmum stood up with difficulty from the ground.

" Come on kids, we are going to fly to the sun." He had shaken them to wake up.

Saranda sat up shivering from the icy air coming in from th ethousands of hole in their plastic tent. She had already forgotten what the warm sunlight felt like.

" I'll stay. My life, my dear husband and your sisters are all still here.." Grandmum whispered.

" You will die here, Mum." Dad started to talk but she stopped him resolutely.

" You know that I'm too old to go, besides I have to wait here for your sisters
to come," She waas helping Dardon to put his damp jumper on. "But YOU have to go,
you are lucky to escape this misery."

When Dad hesitated, she pushed him out of the tent: " For the sake of your children,

" Saranda, I have something for you," Grandmum took off her gold chain with a tiny golden sun and put it around Saranda's neck: " My Grandmamma gave it to me and
now it's yours, it brings you good luck on your journey."
She gently patted Saranda's long brown hair then quickly turned away to hide the tears in her eyes.

It was a cold frosty morning when they boarded the bus, still half asleep. Saranda
waved to her beloved Granny for as long as she could see her old figure, so fragile
until it finally disappeared in the crowd of thousands of cold, desperate refugees.

The same day they boarded a plane for the long flight to Australia. Saranda landed a seat near the window. As the jet soared up into the sky, she could see her beloved Kosovo, the piece of land, which they were forced to flee, their war-ravaged homeland. How small and wounded it looked. She had no desire to go back now, but...

" What about aunties, my cousins and my friends?" She quickly turned to the rest
of her family to see the same question in their eyes. " And our Grandmum, will we see her again?"

" We were lucky to escape the camp." Dad sat next to her, his eyes full of pain.

" Look, that muyst be our village." Mum sobbed.

Suddenly, a flight attendant touched Mum's injured arm, gently telling her something in English.

" What does she mean?" Mum turned to them from the front seat. Dardon scratched his head trying to remember the English phrases form school.

" Don't look back, go ahead, we are on the flight to sun." Saranda said triumphantly. " That is, what it is!"

Saturday, October 17, 2009



What am I?
I'm ever-changing yet the same. There was a darkness from where I came. I have 'rainy' and 'clear' days. I look for a sunshine, just hold my hand and walk with me on this great land. Enjoy this sunshine, for where we go there will be a darkness, just the same. I'm ever-changing yet the the same. I want to stay as long as I can, with you, on this great land.

Who is Saranda?

Saranda's journey is about to continue. Please read carefully, there will be 'My Thinking Frog' questions for you to answer next week. ENJOY...

"I warned you about my land yesterday, you damn refugees." The angry farmer from the other side of the border shouted as they approached. "No more moving through my land." More Macedonian farmers came on their tractors to show them off.
Their huge dogs came snuffing up for a fight. They speeded up to the camp trying to avoid them. Saranda looked the other way at the muddy remote field. There were thousand of plastic shelters and tents made from sheets. Shortly after arriving Dad joined other refugeees to hastily dig latrines while Mum had already linde up for food handed off the back of a relief agency truck standing nearby. Saranda and Dardon stood in the middle of the bustling camp for a moment wondering where to go, when Grandmum's scarf appeared from one of the tents.

"Welcome to a home in the mud." She greeted them with her usual cheery smile, but there were tears in her eyes. Saranda and Dardon hugged her tightly as they jumped into the first shelter they'd had since being expelled at gunpoint from their home. The big tent was full of desperate people sitting everywhere. In the dark corner a young woman was sreaming: " He has a fever, what will I do?" As Saranda's eyes became accustomed to the darkness, she noticed a tiny baby on the woman's lap. The look in her eyes was mad with fear. All women in the tent were around her. Men on other side of the tent paid no attention, lost in their separate gloomy lives.

"Come to this corner and I will try to help this poor sick baba, an aid worker is coming...come on, my children." Grandmum pushed them to the small ampty place on the women's side with an old rug on the floor.

When Saranda opened her eyes next morning, she could hardly breathe in the heavy air and her fingers stayed frozen when she wanted to pull up the charity blanket. Some of the refugees were packing up. The aid worker who came to help with Mum's injury told them to pack up too, but their Granmum refused.

"Go, where?" She murmured as she kneaded heavy bread.

" This is a dangerous place, a terrible place to live..." Mum started to complain touching her new bandage. A wild scream from the corner made her turn back. The aid worker rushed to take the sick baby from the young woman.

" If we move, we will have to beging again, " Grandmum nodded. " There is no safe place for us to go. I just want to go back home."

They all nodded, looking sadly at the young woman. Her baby was dead. There was no piece of white cloth to wrap it in. The aid worker quickly took the baby out to avoid spreading infections.

Their family stayed in the dirty muddy camp clinging to what little stability they had left. As the cold rain thumped on the tent, Dardon and Saranda listened to Grandmum's old story about the 'Light of Life' /look on the introduction page to this story if you want to read it by yourself/.

Saranda knows that somewhere beyond this gloomy horizon the sun would shine on them again.

Monday, October 12, 2009


I hope you enjoy reading Saranda's story. I changed her name to protect her privacy although she does not live in Australia any more. I have tried to stay 'close to the truth' with her story as much as possible, relying on my observation notes from our conversations and notes from her diary I had a privilege to read / I mean the parts written in English as she liked to switch to Arabic often/.

From the time I met Saranda I have taught many other students from different backgrounds, of different age and different abilities. However they all have their own troubles and grievances to deal with, they all have been in different times in their lives in difficult situations and needed to learn how to deal with stress. I realized that children who have found their own way how to deal with stress and learnt eventually to overcome difficulties grew up to be strong and confident individuals, who have a great chance to suceed in life. I felt that my role is to listen to them, to acknowledge them as individuals in their own right, to give them support or advice if they need it, but I realized I have to be patient enough to let them grow and experience world in their own pace, to find their best way to deal with stress. SUPRISINGLY MANY CHILDREN FROM WAR RAVAGED OR POOR COUNTRIES COMING TO LIVE IN AUSTRALIA HAD ALREADY BETTER COPING SKILLS AND RESILIENCE TO DEAL WITH STRESS THAT OUR CHILDREN GROWING UP IN AUSTRALIA.

Saranda's story is horrific. How many of our children growing up in Australia will experience war in their lives? And yet we have more and more children diagnosed with adult like conditions such as depression, stress and anxiety and even in younger and younger age. I am lucky that I work in school which is one of the pilot school for KidsMatter /the early intervention to help children build relisience and coping skills to prevent serious mental health problems such as depression emerging during their teen years and adulthood/. However I wonder, what is happening to our children, Professor Sims said research showed at lest one in ten children in Australia has a diagnosable mental health problem, why?

Is our society and our parents too much responsive to our children's needs, too compassionate about our children's emotions that we stopped trusting them to learn to deal with everyday moderate stress independently?

Is our children's unhealthy stress caused by the demands of modern fast life and consumerism we all are slaves of?

Are our children suffering with obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias and worries products of modern overprotective parents?

Are they products of modern busy parents who had no time for their kids any more and prefer to pass their responsibility to 'more qualified' psychological sevices?

Saturday, October 10, 2009


The flood of refugees grew bigger as they slowly moved toward the border. There were dark mountains around them.

"Up there is the village, where our Granny lives." Saranda poitned to the left, there was no sign of burning.

Dardon nodded, still looking at the long convoy of civilian vehicles stacked out behind them. His brown hair was soaked, dripping on his dirty jumper.

"Remember, how we were skiing there this winter?" She spoke again holding an old sheet to protect them. The water ran down her cheeks as she turned to him. He was usually at his loudest while home. But now...

Suddenly they heard an aeroplane. In a split second there was an explosion. Flames engulfed the lead vehicles. A bomb attack.

Dardon screamed in terror and Saranda wated to as well. Dad appeared and grabbed her hand. The black suitcase thumped on the ground and everything spilled out. The wind vigorously turned the pages of their family album. She wanted to pick it up but Mum pushed her to run.

After a while they all flopped down, exhausted. As they were lying on the drenched ground, Saranda touched gently Mum's bandage. She looked like a hundred-year-old-mummy, with her eyes closed, lips tightening in pain, she was saving all her energy for the future.

" Let's get out of here, we have to manage to reach the border before dark." Dad ruffled her hair with one hand as he helped Mum to stand up.

The rain stopped but the wind was blowing fiercely as they approached the borderline with tens of other escapees. Saranda hated meeting the soldiers. They gave her the creeps. She could feel their unconcerned eyes boring holes in her face, their voices hammering at them.

" No one is allowed in," they told them. " The situation is getting worse, the border is full of refugees, wait here, until tomorrow."

So there they were standing, on no-man's land, scared to go back and not allowed to reach safety. The wind stopped as suddenly as it had started, and the last snow slowly fell from the silent dark sky. The sodden and wretched group of refugees crying out for help were covered in white, as was the black mud around them.

" Oh, I am so cold." Dardon whispered, his face blue.

" Give us a hand getting some sticks for the campfire." Dad said cheerfully handing Dardon his coat.

They didn't get much benefit from teh tiny smoking fire in the early Spring evening.

" Not that dry bread again, I'm sick to death of it." Dardon wedged himself on the patch of first green grass next to Mum looking for some food in her pocket.

"Goodness, just look at this misery, I hope Grandmum managed to cross the border yesterday." Dad's voice sharpened with worry.

"Gran is too old, it's just not fair." Saranda said, peering through the slow tendrils of smoke at the people gathered around them. Old and young, crying babies and sobbing kids were huddled there, shivering over dying campfires.

"Don't worry, she is strong...she always taught me, that our family is capable of handling any crisis." Dad said, but for a moment his dirty, unshaved face sagged with anxiety and his arm tightened instinctively around Saranda.

"Mm," Saranda's eyes were full of tears, but she knew, there wasn't much point in allowing them to burst out.

" If only we could find a safe place for us to go, if only we could cross this damn border and...with God will..." While Dad was talking, Saranda nodded off to sleep with one hand tangled in his.

Dardon's head lay heavily on her shoulder. He was snoring loudly. Saranda imagined herself as a golden bird flying to the sun.

Friday, October 2, 2009



The weather changed suddenly. Thunder grumbled somewhere beyond the horizon, or was it the sound of many guns. Saranda felt her heart beating wildly.

" Keep quiet and don't move, " her brother shouted next to her left ear.

They had been gathering wood in the bushes near their house when they saw a couple of Serbian soldiers passing by. Suddelny Saranda noticed thier mother walking through their paddock towards the men with guns.

" Mum stop..." In her panic stricken reaction Saranda jumped from the bushes, but Dardon pulled her back down: Hey, watch out! Or they will shoot all of us."

One of the soldiers stopped an dlifted up his gun. He was coming towards their hiding place. Saranda had a feeling that he was looking straight at her. Her legs were heavy, she couldn't run, she couldn't move any more. Then the man turned left to the approaching woman.

" Oh, that was close," Dardon whispered. " I thought we were dead for sure."

The soldier ordered their mum back into the house. She hesitated for a while, looking for them. He shot. Mum knelt on teh ground, touching her injured arm. They caught sight of her face, which was pale with shock and sruprise. Terror held Saranda still. Suddenly there was silence. An early spring shrub brushed against her face as she jumped to her feet. A few fresh green leaves were caught in her long brown hair. She could smell its sweetish scent as she ran in front of the soldiers.

" Mum." Saranda leaned over her mother. She was trying to use a piece of cloth to stop the bleeding. Saranda felt sick looking at thousands of red drops which now coloured her mother's grey jumper. Someone was behind her. she quickly turned around. Her younger brother was shivering; his big, dark eyes wide open like in a nightmare. Only this was real.

" Don't worry, my darlings, " Mum was breathing hard. " Help me to my feet, will you?"

As they slowly moved, they heard the soldiers' laughter echo on the other side of the padddock. Suddenly, ahead of them, a fork of flame shot up. The three of them looked at each other dazed.

" Our house is on fire." Dardon gasped almost sobbing.

" Come on, quick." Mum urged, clutching her teeth together from the pain. " I must get some things, I must get them...auch, out."

As they came to the door, several men with guns stepped forward. Saranda knew them all by sight. There are two of their closest neighbours and the shopkeeper, who used to give her a candy...Serbs. There were great flames shooting from the top window. Her room. Through the smoke she tried to find some kindness in the eyes of her neighbours. But they dind't recognize her anymore. She was only an enemy. The little group stood for a moment, an injured woman and two kids. Confused, helpless...Trapped in the centre of a civil war.

They took flight and ran out of the sight of the gunmen when suddenly Saranda saw the family truck behind tha barn. The back was low with the weight of the household goods loaded in it.

" Get in," Dad gabbled. "Quick."
Mum, terrified and bleeding heavily, sat beside him.

" Oh, my god, it looks nasy..." Dad torn apart his own shirt in a hurry...

" Go on, you cattle, clear out and don't come back. " The gunmen yelled from the burning house.

Saranda climbed onto the back of the open truck. Her brother followed her, slowly, weeping quietly to himself. Dad drow off. At the end of their village was a traffic jam with many vehicles, tractors and people. They were hidden in a smoke haze. Every house near the road had been set ablaze.

" Ghosts, they are like ghosts," Dardon whispered. " It's a nightmare, soon we will all wake up, back in our home. On, no..we have to go back, what about the dog?"

They could hear a horn started blasting. Their car clanked to a halt. Suddenly Dad jumped off the front seat and ran along the logn row of vehicles.

" Our doggy ran away like us, he went straight to the forest behind our paddock." Saranda said looking for the sight of her dad in the crowd. " Maybe..." she couldn't say anything else because it felt as if she had a lump of wood in her throat. Finally she saw him rushing back followed by a woman with a first aid kit. As soon as they approached their car, Mum screamed in pain.

Slowly the cars moved on. Daylight was fading. The cluds seemed so low as they joined the smoke from all the fires around. The grey world around absorbed all sound. The grey cold crept into her body. Saranda stretched her upper body on top of the cold suitcase and fell asleep.

" I am so hungry, it drives me nuts." Said Dardon from behind her.

She sat down semi-conscious and gasped for air hungrily. They were surrounded by blackness. It seemed as if they had spent days on the top of their truck, which was doing more stopping than moving.

" Gee, I've found it, a piece of bread, yum..." She could hear his noisy eating. Saranda stretched her arm in his direction. Shivering from cold, they watched as the sun rose again. So small and lost in the grey, gloomy world. Chewing slowly on hte piece of old heavy bread, Saranda looked up at the sky: " I wish 'Light man' from Grandmum's story gave us a sunflower each."

" I wish I could fly." Her brother's gaze followed the direction to the birds flying towards the sun. A big cloud soon hid the sun and heavy rain began.


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