By Rezearta Çaushaj
Whose Political Protection Does Kindergarten Director Nashi Shehapi Have?

Whose political protection is the Director of Kindergarten No.1 Nashi Shehapi enjoying after beating a 4-year-old child?

It’s been nearly two months since together with my colleague Alice Elizabeth Taylor we reported on the violence that the Director of Kindergarten No.1 in Tirana, Nashi Shehapi, inflicted on a 4-year old child – A.H. We also reported how after his transfer to Kindergarten No.20 an unfortunate incident resulted in second degree burns for the same child, due to lack of staff- a problem that is prevalent in all kindergartens in Tirana.

This is what has happened since the first story was published:

– In a public statement, Municipality of Tirana revealed a private letter written by the child’s mother and addressed to the Director of Kindergarten No.2, where she wrote that she didn’t hold the director and staff responsible for the burning incident of her child. Against ethics in journalism, the article covering the statement included the beaten child’s name and photo was released to tabloid media and published without permission or the mother or father.

– No administrative measure was taken towards Director Shehapi, despite the Prosecution having initiated an investigation.

– Ermelind Sallaku, a Socialist Party member whose wife works in Ms.Shehapi’s kindergarten as a nurse, met with the child’s father and asked him to drop the charges against the accused.

– We discovered that Director Shehapi does not hold any relevant qualifications for her position, and that she didn’t get it via the official procedures for application through the online portal. Her assignment in this position is political. Ms. Shehapi is the Head of SP branch in Varri I Bamit district.

– Our visit to the kindergarten revealed the fact that all staff members were visibly terrified to talk to us, due to fear of retribution from Shehapi.

– We discovered the “mouse hole” – a dark cupboard under the stairs for storing mops and brooms – where Director Shehapi put A.H. and other children when she felt that they deserved punishment.

Despite frequent denunciations, Ms Shehapi is still working in her position undisturbed.

We met the prosecutor of this case, Ms. Eriselda Bala, who initially refused to meet my colleague Alice Elizabeth Taylor, but later had to accept due to pressure from her colleagues and Ms Taylor as to why the prosecution has taken no action whatsoever two months (now four months) after the child was beaten. However, Ms. Bala didn’t appear comfortable to reply to answer, and at one point she even said she couldn’t speak in English inside an Albanian institution in an effort to avoid talking to Ms Taylor.

When asked why Ms. Shehapi is still on duty, Ms. Bala said that her suspension requires a court decision, and she seemed unwilling to explain further.

It appears that Ms. Bala is either trying to give partial information or she is not clear about the difference between a suspension and a dismissal – the first is temporary and preemptive, while the second follows a guilty court verdict against the accused.

The suspension should actually be demanded by the prosecutor of the case as a preemptive measure, but Ms. Bala oversaw this detail, which goes hand in hand with her negligence to work on a case of violence against a child, and to abandon the case file on her desk for over two months.

Strangely, on the same day and following our visit to prosecution office, the child’s (A.H.) mother got a phone call from an Officer of the Judicial Police, asking her to bring the child over for another statement in the presence of a psychologist, two months after the initial statement was taken.

It is worth emphasizing that the prosecution should have made sure that Ms. Shehapi would stay away from children in the kindergarten until a court verdict, and all staff, children and parents should have been interviewed regarding the incident- this did not happen.

Another person that should have been automatically included in the investigation into the beating of A.H. is the Kindergarten No.1 psychologist, whom no one bothered to question in two months and who has refused to report to prosecution upon the latter’s belated request. The reasonable question arising from this is why do we even need to pay psychologists with taxpayers’ money if not for guaranteeing the physical and mental well-being of our kids in kindergartens?

Later on, my colleague Ms Taylor met Ms. Zhaneta Beqiri, Director of the Center for Economic Development and Education of Children (QEZHEF) attached to Municipality of Tirana, who had previously ignored the request to make a statement on the case. Besides her reluctance to meet with Ms. Taylor, Ms. Beqiri didn’t want to talk about her meetings with Ms. Shehapi or discuss the leak of A.H.’s mother’s letter. She just said that Shehapi’s suspension was not in her competency; she had responsibility for just the welfare of nurseries only.

Suspension of a person suspected of exercising violence, particularly on children, is the first step taken by relevant institutions in any of the developed countries, so as to avoid chances of violence recurrence and to emphasize the moral obligation to treat any report of violence in the most serious way. The final court verdict makes it clear whether the accused will take the job position back or will be sentenced.

Apart from the moral obligation, even just by looking at the QEZHEF regulation one understands that Ms. Beqiri has direct responsibility for taking administrative action towards MS. Shehapi. QEZHEF is supposed to have violence reporting mechanisms at place.

Specifically speaking, QEZHEF has:

– A Head of Department for Psycho-Social Development and Care (Art.49/6 of Regulation) responsible of “caring, supporting ethical and professional improvement and taking immediate action in case of potential abuse and negligence towards a child, and referring the case to the relevant authorities.”

– A Social Worker (Art.51/5) who “finds out abused and neglected children and refers them to the relevant authorities.”

Aren’t we justified in interpreting QEZHEF’s Director’s attitude as being supportive of the violator? For what reason should parents in Tirana trust Ms. Beqiri of QEZHEF?

Besides the unprofessional work by the prosecution, Nashi Shehapi is abusing her power further by using her position to force parents to sign a petition stating she is innocent.

Ms. Shehapi seems to have used her network inside the party, starting with the Head of Parent’s Board, Jorida Sotiri, who works for a government ministry, and has initiated the petition in favor of MS. Shehapi by calling a meeting of parents. The Director herself welcomed some parents at the gate of the kindergarten with petitions in her hands and asking for their signatures while claiming to be innocent.

But her grotesque abuse of power doesn’t end here. The prosecution has attempted to hold a meeting and ask all children but, advised by third parties, Ms. Shehapi has refused to face the children. On the contrary, our sources report that in order to cement her claim of innocence Ms. Shehapi has sent to the police 3-4 parents as representatives to testify positively on her character. These people are parents of A.B., V.RR. G.K., another young parent and the kindergarten guard. They are neighbors of Ms. Shehabi with whom she has a good relationship despite the fact that their children have not been in her class, which was actually dispersed because of her ongoing and problematic behavior.

Following the lack of reaction by the relevant institutions, people who worked with Ms. Shehapi and other parents have contacted us anonymously to express their worries.

From the numerous sources that have spoken to us, it has been ascertained that Shehapi has a history of abusing children, verbally and physically but that parents and staff are too scared to stand up in public against her.

Our sources testified on the aggressive behavior of Ms. Shehapi with children in her class, particularly with two children N.B. and N.Ç, who were constantly and regularly targets of her abuse, and terrified as a result. Her class was dispersed following our first article on the issue.

The children have told their parents at home but they fear to face Ms. Shehapi given no other alternative for them but the public kindergarten, and also because of her discriminating policies in the workplace.

Such discrimination starts with the selective admission in class of children who are late (2-3 kids were left in the rain two weeks ago) while those children she likes are admitted despite circumstances. Other instances of discrimination include director’s attempt to force a parent to take their 5-year-old child (J.Ç) to the upper pre-school system while her two relatives (6-year-old each) are still attending her kindergarten.

Additional sources told us that Ms. Shehapi is just another of the typical small abuser directors who spout political propaganda in parents meetings, and extort money from parents in return for things that should be free. One source even told us that Ms Shehapi swapped the broken washing machine she had at home, for the newer and working on in the kindergarten.

Physical, verbal, psychological and power abuse, as well as manipulations and theft seem to have been taking place in Tirana Kindergarten No.1.

In front of lack of any reaction, the most important question facing the public is: Who is protecting Nashi Shehapi?

Our sources testify to an extended network of party people who willingly or unwillingly have become a shield to her. The network starts with Ms. Shehapi’s daughter, who works for Prime Minister’s Co-Governance Portal, MP Klotilda Ferhati, Jonida Spahiu at the Ministry of Education who is her relative, Head of Tirana Regional Education Directorate Arjola Byzyka who has employed her in violation of procedures, Zhaneta Beqiri who should have taken action against the beating of the child weren’t she more worried about the image of the Municipality then justice.