The Autobiography of Sevasti Qiriazi-Dako
Sevasti Qiriazi, known in English as Sevasti Kyrias Dako, was the first Albanian girl to get a higher education. She grew up in Monastir (Bitola), Albania, went to Protestant mission schools in Monastir and Istanbul, then went to Korça in 1891 to help establish the Albanian Girls’ School with her brother Gerasim. She taught the Albanian language in the face of strong opposition. She witnessed Albania’s progression from its last years under Ottoman rule, to independence and successive governments, and through world wars and occupations, until the beginning of the communist era. She wrote her memoirs in English but they were never published. Now they are available in both the original English and an Albanian translation, in Albania, Macedonia, and worldwide on Amazon.
In telling the story of the Kyrias sisters, we are telling the story of the educational movement in Albania, a story of achievement and romance.
One of the first apostles of the Albanian language who embraced the holy but extremely dangerous idea of writing the Albanian language within Albania.… When we speak of her bold actions, brave resistance, and unrivaled patriotic service, the name of Miss Sevasti Kyrias is revered as a heroine.
The historic work of the Kyrias school for the education of the Albanian woman is embedded in the conscience of every Albanian who believes that an educated, cultured Albanian woman is the foundation of society and the foundation of our progress as a people and nation.… But something else is important about this school—it used the mother tongue at a time when the use of our language was officially forbidden as a means of education.
The Girls’ School was founded by the American Mission. Its plucky teacher, Miss Kyrias, conducted it with an ability and enthusiasm worthy of the highest praise. And in spite of the fact that attendance at the school meant that parents and children risked persecution by the Turk and excommunication by the Greek priest, yet the school was always full. The girls learned to read and write Albanian and taught their brothers.
Never should we deny or forget the great service done by a “national nest” that became a hub and a fortress where national feelings and sparks both gathered and spread. This “nest” was the Girls’ School in Kortcha.
These forty years have demonstrated the untiring energy and the unfaltering faith of Mrs. Dako as she saw the needs of the girls of Albania.… For generations the girls and women of Albania will rise up and call her blessed.
Among our girls you find Mohammedan, Roman Catholic, and Greek Orthodox, but anyone who comes to see them will be impressed by the fact that they all live like sisters.… These girls, who never before were seen with books in their hands, are now studying very hard…. It does one good to watch all these girls day by day grasping new ideas and grafting their mountaineer individualistic characteristics upon noble ideas of social fellowship and unselfish service for their neighbour.
Pure inspiration, poetry and song. Sevasti’s work is a call to the younger generation. It is the symbol of liberty and progress. It is a call to restore Albania’s honor to new heights, as every Albanian employs their knowledge and efforts so that Albania may one day be listed among the most developed European nations.
The school of the Kyrias sisters has elevated us in the eyes of the world as people of progress for the Albanian Idea. It revived the idealism of our Renaissance. Among Albanian mothers, the school awakened feelings for the preservation of our nation, as Carmen Sylvia has expressed so well: “The woman weaves the future of the nation.”
Sevasti’s qualities of character include optimism, energy, boldness, decisiveness, and fearlessness in the struggle against all obstacles.
The teaching of Miss Kyrias is carried on as though it were a furtive and shameful practice, and her school, centre of high influences, model of order and sweetness and good will, would be more readily tolerated if it were a nest of vice and crime. At any moment the chief of police may come clanking into the courtyard, and more than once the brave woman who works there alone and unprotected has stood in her doorway and dared him to execute his threat of confiscating her books.
There is no other college like the Kyrias Institute.