Saturday, July 14, 2018

“Be the change you want to see!” - Qendresa Ujkani

By Lisa van Holsteijn

Coming home has not been easy. Returning back to the dorms felt strange. Being alone again also felt surreal. And it took me several days to get used to living in such a well-organised, (comparatively) immaculate city again. We can drink water from the tap! We can throw toilet paper in the toilet. Suddenly I was able to look at Amsterdam with new eyes and was reminded how privileged we are to live in such a safe, clean and well-organised city.  

When reflecting on the time we spent in Kosovo, I’ve been trying to filter through all my experiences to discern what the most touching, or meaningful moments were. I’m going to outline one of these moments below:

Overcoming the divide: IBCM

This encounter came as a real surprise to me. On the 3rd day of our trip we headed up to the north of Kosovo to the city of Mitrovica. Mitrovica is a divided city; in the centre of the city is a river that divides the Serb-populated north with the Albanian-populated south. Emblematic of this divide is the bridge across the river, that is currently barricaded and out of use - stopping the crossing of citizens from the one side of the city to the other. (Ironically there is now a park called “Peace park” that has been built on the bridge, and its this park that acts as the literal divider between north and south Mitrovica.) Tensions among Albanians and Serbs are felt very strongly by most who live in this city. Nevertheless, there is one institution in Mitrovica where these tensions are being overcome: the international business college (IBCM). This college is the only multi-ethnic college in Kosovo and is a place where students from many different ethnicities (primarily Albanians, Serbs, Turks, Croats, Bosnians) all come together with the common aim of obtaining an internationally recognised bachelor degree. The college teaches all its courses entirely in English (to emphasise the neutrality of the space) and has also just renamed its two campuses from north and south Mitrovica to “riverview” and “riverside.” When talking to two girls Abide and Qendresa who study there I was amazed to see how mature and assured they were about their hopes for the future.

Both girls expressed immense sadness when explaining that many young people who obtain degrees in Kosovo want to leave as they don’t see a positive future for themselves if they stay in Kosovo. Both Abide and Qendresa however talked passionately about how they recognised that many things needed to be improved in Kosovo, but that they were the ones who were going to make that change. “Be the change you want to see!” Qendresa told me with an enthusiastic smile, “Who else is going to change if you don’t do something about it?” 

The fact that these two girls felt so passionately about taking their country’s future into their own hands and wanted to dedicate their lives to improving the situation for others, really touched me, and I was almost brought to tears listening to them speak. This selfless dedication was something we hadn’t heard from any other person. What Abide and Qendresa said resonated very deeply within me - it is something I also strive for. It really felt like we developed a strong connection in a very short time, and I sincerely hope that we will meet again at some point in our lives.

This was a very special moment for me, and it really felt like a huge gap had suddenly been bridged - we connected and I could see how at the end of the day we are all striving for the same things. Our different nationalities, age, race, ethnicity were all irrelevant. Through this realisation I am slowly starting to realise how harmful the omnipresent dichotomy of “us and them” can be. Abide and Qendresa remind me to always look past the black and white portrayals of situations presented in the media, and instead to look to the humanity in all of us.

As the beautiful Besim would tell me a few days later, “at the end of the day we are all human beings, and that’s what really matters.”

If you are interested in reading about other future perspectives from Kosovars that Petra, Xanne and I interviewed throughout the trip then please take a look at our Instagram called “Kosovar Dreams.” This is the link: 

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