“…teenagers from one of Europe’s most difficult places to come of age grew into some of the most wonderful adults I know.” Wendy Hassler-Forest, Program Manager of the Mitrovica Rock School brings us our fifth Story of Light from Kosovo.
Running a long-term program in Kosovo for ten years has been an odd mix of incredibly fun, inspiring, touching moments, and the day-to-day struggle to keep things moving – organizationally and financially – and watching our local partners get frustrated by the bureaucracy, incompetence, and corruption that thwart their efforts locally. Sometimes all our attention goes to the problems we’re facing, and that’s when a concert, training week or summer school comes as a welcome reminder of why we are there, to begin with.
We established the Mitrovica Rock School at the request of local musicians, who described a city which, before the war, had had a thriving rock music scene. That scene which had been shared by both Serbs and Albanians was destroyed by the conflict, as communities were drawn apart. The Rock School set out to restore that tradition, while also connecting the city’s youth, a whole generation of whom had grown up without contact with the other side.
We always knew that the Rock School had an impact. In the early years, we half-joked that we were being held hostage because we couldn’t walk away from a project that was so successful with its target group, despite being so difficult to manage and sustain.
This year’s summer school was our 11th: every year for the past ten years youth from the north and south Mitrovica have come together in Skopje, where they escape from their divided hometown for an intensive week of music-making, together. But this year it didn’t feel difficult, because, for the past ten years, we’ve been coaching some of Mitrovica’s most talented young musicians and professionals in the arts of music education and management.
Under the Rock School’s traineeship program, talented students are invited to work at the school as trainee teachers, organizers or communications assistants. They are coached by senior staff, the Rockacademie, and by MWB. Many trainees have graduated into staff positions, while others have gone on to impressive careers outside the school.
The entire Mitrovica Rock School team that worked during the summer school was trained within the program. They were among the school’s first students, formed the school’s first ethnically mixed band, worked their way up to trainee-teachers, and now are among the region’s best band coaches and cultural managers.
Why is this my story of light? Because literal teenagers from one of Europe’s most difficult places to come of age grew into some of the most wonderful adults I know. Because the group that formed Mitrovica’s first ethnically mixed band has coached 18 other mixed bands in writing and producing their own songs. Because I can drop off the map tomorrow, and the Mitrovica Rock School will continue to thrive – because they’ve got this.
*Check out the teaser for “Music Connects: The Real School of Rock” a documentary on the Mitrovica Rock School coming out in 2020!
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