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REA Educational Center of Macedonia - more than just a kindergarten

In the city of Tetovo, few could say that they've contributed so much to facilitate female access to the workforce as Ms. Qanije Selimi.

Qanije Selimi with toddlers enrolled at REAQanije Selimi with toddlers enrolled at REAWhat most will find surprising is that she is not a social worker, nor an activist or government employee working on the issue. Ms. Selimi manages and operates a private kindergarten in Tetovo. Since 2013, the REA Educational Center and Daycare for Children has provided a mucneeded service in the city – allowing parents to work, while giving their preschool children a safe place to play and learn. It wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Qanije’s entrepreneurial spirit and a small grant from the USAID Small Business Expansion Project, which is co-funded by the Government of Switzerland. 

The beginnings of the venture were humble. Qanije was born in Tetovo but grew up with her family in Switzerland. She returned in Macedonia, after getting married, without a job but, but she did bring back an entrepreneurial spirit with her and a strong will to find a way to provide for herself and her children in the country where she was born. Back in 2013 Qanije started her service with only a few employees, with just enough capacity to receive 15 children. There were procedures the business had to go through so it could receive the required licenses to operate, adaptations had to be made to make the available space more suitable for the use, employees had to be trained. After a few months of operating,  Qanije approached the USAID Small Business Expansion Project and applied for support. The Project analyzed her business and realized that it had the potential to grow and develop. The Project supported REA by donating furniture, equipment and educational materials. As a result, she was immediately able to double the capacity of the center from 15 children to 30, while also employing 3 new governesses and 4 interns.

Tetovo has one of the highest populations of younger children in all of Macedonia, from the ages of 3 to 6 years old. The need for daycares increases as the city grows. Oftentimes, one of the parents, usually the mother, has to forego working to take care of the children in the family until they grow up. This means that all of these stay-at-home moms are disengaged from the active workforce and unable to bring additional income to the family table. Another problem arises when they try to return to the workforce – after years spent working at home, it is harder for businesess to hire them, and most businesess would rather hire someone with more current work experience. This impacts both the family and the local economy in a negative way. It also aggravates the already serious problem of unequal representation of genders in the workforce and promotes the deeply ingrained view that women should stay at home to take care of the children and the men should be the primary providers of the family. 

Qanije relates a story from her kindergarten: “One time, a woman came to the center begging me to enroll her son, even though we were already working at full capacity. She told me that she wanted to work, but her father-in-law wouldn’t let her because he though her job was to take care of her child. She said that if her son was enrolled at our daycare, she could finally work and contribute financially to her family”, Qanije explains. “I couldn’t turn her down after that”, she adds.

It is easy to see how daycare services Children playing outside REA. With their children being taken care of, mothers can look for gainful employment more easily.Children playing outside REA. With their children being taken care of, mothers can look for gainful employment more easily.or the lack thereof can influence the possibility of gainful employment of women in the region. Qanije is well aware of this fact, which provides her with additional motivation to succeed in her venture. Even though half of the working population in Macedonia is female, only 15-30% of all entrepreneurs are women, according to the latest estimates. In Polog, this number is much smaller, where less than 20% of women are economically active according to official statistics. By enabling women the right to be a productive, equally valued part of the workforce, Qanije supports the micro-level growth and economic stability of all those families which are her clients.

Today, the REA Educational Center and Daycare Center for Children operates as a full-fledged kindergarten – 90 children have been enrolled this year and are being taken care of by 12 employees. The Center moved to a bigger facility to accommodate the growing demand and classes are now held in both Albanian and Macedonian, allowing for a wider group of children to be enrolled.

Thanks in part to Qanije’s success, the Small Business Expansion Project has established the Support Fund for Women and Youth Entrepreneurs, which supports small businesses with a big growth potential, to enable a more equitable and sustainable local economic development.

   The REA team. Qanije's company has expanded considerably from its humble beginnings in 2015.The REA team. Qanije's company has expanded considerably from its humble beginnings in 2015.











Published August 2015.