VINICA, Macedonia – Students learning trades in this eastern Macedonian town have a newly renovated school to learn in, thanks to a humanitarian effort that included local nongovernmental organizations, the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. European Command.
Vanco Prke Secondary School is one of nearly a dozen Macedonian schools renovated recently under EUCOM’s humanitarian assistance program, said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark Watkins, chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in Skopje.
“It’s news windows, heating and lights. But it’s also more than that,” Watkins said. “We have a synergistic tie-in to USAID. Together, our end-state is to achieve interethnic integration, which is important to EUCOM.”
The Interethnic Integration in Education project, a four-year $5.2 million project now in its third year, focuses on community-level school renovations. With work done on 10 to 12 schools each year, more than 40 schools will be fixed up by 2015. The project, co-financed by EUCOM and USAID, benefits thousands of Macedonian children – an entire generation of Macedonians growing up with quality learning environments.
U.S. troops first arrived as peacekeepers in 1992 and maintained a decade-long presence in Macedonia. During the 1990’s, Camp Able Sentry, the U.S. logistics base outside Skopje, supported international military operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and northern Macedonia. In 2001, ethnic strife erupted into armed conflict between Macedonians and Albanians. Since then, the U.S. government has supported development efforts in Macedonia that benefit all its ethnic groups.
In the case of IIEP, it’s more than just nice classrooms, Watkins said. It’ building a foundation for a more cooperative, integrated and peaceful future, he said. Teachers train for interethnic integration and diversity. Students and parents, from different backgrounds, interact.
As Watkins arrived at the Vanco Prke, teens offered fresh-baked bread, a traditional Macedonian welcome. During opening ceremonies, students who are learning clothing design modeled their handmade garments in a music-filled fashion show. Other students performed a traditional Balkan song, among several musical numbers.
“We have all together made this happen. The American people, through the U.S. European Command and USAID provided funding to refurbish windows. Teachers, students and parents made the necessary preparations. Vinica covered the cost of new gutters and painting the façade,” Watkins told the crowd. “It’s impressive what we can accomplish when we work together. In fact, our motto at U.S. European Command, we are stronger together.”