Wednesday, June 21, 2017

In Our Time, In Our Way

By Sanne de Schipper

After an intense evening Sunday night with the broken bus, there was a little blessing in disguise, since our 09.00 am meeting no Monday got rescheduled. So we were able to sleep in and catch up on some sleep. Around noon we met again at the university for a meeting with the director of the Kosovo Women's Network. (The Kosovo Women's network is a network with 121 associated organizations that work to promote women's and LGTBQ rights and tries to empower women such that men and women have equal opportunities in Kosovo.)

Anne immediately set the bar high by saying that Igballe Rugova, the director, gave the best and most interesting presentation during the previous trip. But she most definitely lived up to this expectation. So instead of telling my story, I'd like to tell one of her stories, because I believe that the work Igballe does, is exactly what we are here for.

Almost right after the war, in the earlier 2000s Igballe (she identifies as a Albanian Kosovar) was asked to help a Serbian Kosovar woman in setting up an organization. After a while (and a lot of effort) she also became friends with the husband of this Serbian Kosovar woman. So one day he called Igballe and told her about a Serbian deaf boy who was in desperate need of a hearing aid. In the spur of the moment Igballe told him: “you get half of the money from the Serbian community and I will collect the other half in the Albanian community.”

After she hung up the phone she was thinking to herself: “What did I just say? How will I collect money for a SERBIAN kid?” So she started to explain the situation to her family and friends and asked them if they would like to contribute some money for the hearing aid. After she asked everyone in her community, Igballe turned to the Kosovo Women's Network. There she talked with the different organizations and explained in a 10-minute speech what the situation was, and why the network should help. And then right at the end of her speech she said: “Oh, and by the way, the deaf boy is Serbian.” Igballe expected that the Network would respond with outrage, since the war was still fresh in everyone's mind. But instead something happened, that she did not expect; all the women reached under the table and got their purses out and contributed money for the boy's hearing aid.

Even though horrible things had happened in the war, people were able to set aside there differences and come together to help a child in need. Both communities saw that contributing to this cause was more important than politics, ethnic differences or (historical) grievances. In my opinion this is peace building at its finest. There was no interference from international organizations, no one forced another to help; it were just people who wanted to help other people. I learned today that reconciliation can't be forced, it is something that needs to come from within a community and as Igballe said, it needs to be done “in our time and in our way.”

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