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New program connects Albanian students to their language, culture

December 17, 2018
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At a session of an Albanian language and culture program, volunteer Refik Ibraimi and his daughter Albiona Ibraimi, who is in 4K, along with volunteer Bujare Zhubi, right, play a game of Llastik, where the participants jump to the alphabet or numbers in Albanian. The mission of Shkolla Shqipe Ismail Qemali is to teach youth about Albanian language, history and culture.

A new program is offering Madison-area students a chance to meet weekly to learn the Albanian language, history and culture and to get to know others with family units that look like theirs.

Shkolla Shqipe Ismail Qemali is a nonprofit Albanian language and culture program for students ages 5 to 17. The Albanian school is named after Qemali, who is considered the founding father of modern Albania and the principal author of its declaration of independence.

The program was started three months ago and meets every Saturday at Edgewood College under the direction of Krenare Lumani, who also teaches seventh-grade language arts and social studies at Cherokee Heights Middle School. She is assisted by other volunteers.

Shqipe Ashiku, a ninth-grader at Stoughton High School, said she likes working with different students and learning things she didn’t know about Albanian history, vocabulary and the conjugation of verbs.

“They do a good job making it simple depending on where you are with the language,” she said on Saturday. “I know how to speak (Albanian) but not that fluently because I speak English everywhere else.”

An exception is when she speaks with her grandparents, who don’t know English. Like others in the program Ashiku lives with her elders.

She was sitting with Diella Zhubi, a 10th-grader at Oregon High School, who also appreciates learning the language because while she can speak it, she didn’t know how to write it.

Kristi Adili, who has third-grade twins in Shkolla Shqipe Ismail Qemali, said the students’ learning the language has been a benefit for the grandparents. She enjoyed watching her mother-in-law, who lives with the family for half of the year, help with the program’s homework.

“It is one of those priceless experiences that you can’t pay for,” she said.

Krenare Lumani’s mother, Zamira Lumani, started a similar program about 20 years ago and it ran for about two years.

“It was always my dream and passion … to hold onto your culture, to hold onto who you are. You are Albanian,” Zamira Lumani said.

But when she started the process, Lumani said she was approached by her daughter who asked if she could take it over. Not only is Krenare Lumani a teacher, but she went to school in Macedonia, which is the home country of her parents and bordered by Albania, where her family lived for a year when she was in third grade.

Krenare Lumani said the “Albanian school” that her mother started when she was about 5 was a formative part of her life.

“When I get together with my cousins to this day, we still talk about it,” she said. “We really enjoyed it.”

Krenare Lumani said for her, it was easier to be around other Albanians because her cousins lived in the same neighborhood and she is hoping the new program will bring together children who live more spread apart today. She said many of them rarely associated before with other Albanians outside of their family.

“My main hope is that they build those relationships with each other,” she said.

Refik Ibraimi, who was born in Macedonia and has a 5-year-old daughter in the program, is now a volunteer.

“Somehow we can save our heritage and culture (and) make sure they know where we came from,” he said.

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