Following the series of wars throughout the Balkans in the twentieth century, conflict broke out in North Macedonia in 2001. Lasting less than a year, the conflict pitted the minority Albanian and majority Macedonian communities against each other, and is now seen as a turning point for ethnic relations between the two. The seven-month conflict was brought to an end with the Ohrid Framework Agreement, but the ethnic divide and the gap between the two communities exist to this day.
Per the latest census of 2021, Macedonians represent 58 percent of the resident population and Albanians 24 percent. Their mother tongues are Macedonian and Albanian, respectively. The dominant religion of the Macedonian majority is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, while the Albanian minority is largely Muslim.
In North Macedonia today, almost 100% of the Macedonian community and 97% of the Albanian community attend schools where students are taught in their own mother tongue. They study in separate schools or school floors, and there is little or no opportunity for youth from these two communities to interact.
In the North Macedonian capital of Skopje, MindLeaps has created one of the few spaces where Macedonian and Albanian youth can come together and take part in programs side by side.
MindLeaps launched its first program in North Macedonia in March 2020. In partnership with the US Embassy and Youth Community Center Cair (YCCC), MindLeaps established the program in Skopje with the overall goal of developing a sense of community, unity, and resilient behavior in adolescents. The ongoing program has served 450 youth between the ages of 14 – 18 years in three program tracks: dance to develop life skills, communications, and business.
Dance and Data
The MindLeaps Dance & Data program targets seven critical cognitive and social-emotional learning skills with its carefully structured kinesthetic-based curriculum that develops the ability to concentrate, memorize and use language, while also cultivating teamwork, discipline, grit, creativity, and self-esteem. Over 140 youth were enrolled in the initial Dance & Data program in 2020.
In 2021, the program continued with 110 new students enrolling in Dance & Data. Twelve-week courses took place at one Macedonian and one Albanian school, all led by our local team of dance trainers. Tracker data showed increases among the seven skills – including teamwork, promoting inter-ethnic tolerance. An anticipated 120 new students will be enrolling in 2022, with the program operating in two new schools.
“When it was time to start, I felt scared and shy. But, the way the teachers act makes you feel really comfortable and I wanted to try new things. By the end of the class, I couldn’t wait to come back again. I hope I will make new friends too while dancing here.”
-Sara, MindLeaps Student
The MindLeaps Virtual Academy launched in April 2020. Since then, groups of 60-70 Macedonian and Albanian students have taken courses on Business Entrepreneurship, Communications, and Social Media Marketing.
Cyber Security Course
In 2021, MindLeaps initiated cyber-security courses led by MindLeaps North Macedonia Project Coordinator, Shpetim Latifi. The course involves the energy and finance sectors in the process of building cyber-security capabilities in North Macedonia, and provides a mapping of the critical information infrastructure in North Macedonia. In addition, students become skilled in media literacy. Through this program, MindLeaps hopes to take youth in North Macedonia to the next level of resilience when faced with religious and ethnic radicalization risks, both in-person and online.
Marketing & Social Media Course
In 2021, MindLeaps North Macedonia also launched its new Marketing & Social Media course, with over 50 students enrolling. Javier Aranzales, TikTok influencer and a member of the MindLeaps International Trainers, guest lectured for the Marketing & Social Media course. The TikTok challenge for the course with #mindleaps hashtags generated over 69,186 views on TikTok.
Youth Alumni Network
The MindLeaps Youth Alumni Network, started in October 2020, is the second MindLeaps project also sponsored by the US Embassy in Skopje. It seeks to build a permanent, motivated group of youth leaders from different backgrounds, indirectly decreasing the likelihood of youth extremism and discrimination through the coordination and execution of ongoing programs and events. The project reaches 50 youth and empowers up to 6 youth leaders from the Alumni Network to take on its leadership. Ongoing Youth Alumni Network events in 2021 included the first online event – a quiz game that brought together 15 youth from North Macedonia, Uganda, Rwanda, Hong Kong, Canada and the USA. In-person activities were also organized, including soccer, volley ball and a movie night. The Youth Alumni Network also hosted an event entitled “Job Skills”, with guest speaker Max Lockie, current LinkedIn Engagement Editor and formerly with Facebook and MSNBC.
Train the Trainer
In March 2020, MindLeaps ran its Train The Trainer program for the first time in North Macedonia, providing MindLeaps dance curricula and Tracker training to local dance instructors. The success of Train The Trainer led to another session in June 2021, this time with International MindLeaps trainers taking part. Several of the trainees have become permanent MindLeaps instructors for the ongoing program in North Macedonia.
Many thanks to our partners YCCC and the US Embassy in Skopje for making this program possible.