Following up on a political delegation trip is no trivial task: Members of Parliament (MPs) return to their daily routines and (very) different political agendas, are again caught up in parliamentary skirmishes, and their tight schedules might simply not allow for time-consuming follow-up meetings.
This time was different. The aforementioned visit to Kosovo, Europe’s youngest state also in demographic terms, has left a lasting impression on all participants. Parliamentary as well as party constraints play a minor role when there is a common goal: Helping Kosovo overcome both internal and external hurdles towards political and socioeconomic advancement.
Three promising projects in particular have caught MPs’ attention:
- An Ajvar production site funded by the EU and run by local war widows,
- a school project for Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian children under the roof of Balkan Sunflowers, an international grassroots organisation,
- a vocational training facility and youth centre run by Diakonie Deutschland, a charitable organisation.
Empowering Kosovar women
In male-dominated Kosovo, empowering the female part of the population is imperative. Some have already taken matters into their own hands: In war-torn Krusha e madhe, a group of some 60 war widows founded a cooperative to produce Ajvar, a kind of relish, principally made from red bell peppers. Partially funded by the EU and USAID‘s Kosovo branch, the women set up a semi-automated production plant in their native village and started out selling to distributors in the region. Today, the cooperative is even able to export their Ajvar jars abroad through their diaspora network, mostly to Switzerland and other Balkan countries.
The brave women are meeting headwinds, too. First, to go about their business they still overly rely on male partners, for both production and distribution. To our amazement, the delegation was greeted by the local chieftain, or mayor, in his outdoor pavilion, since the cooperative’s premises could not host such a large group of people. A blunt attempt to sideline the women’s voices (unsuccessfully, though). Second, due to the small size of the internal market, the cooperative is on the lookout for importers beyond Kosovo’s borders. Granting long-term business visa would allow the initiative to establish valuable contacts to potential customers in Germany and elsewhere. Visa regulation should accommodate for such extraordinary circumstances.
In our digitalised world, a food producer should be able to contact clients anywhere on the globe. The Kosovar government needs to focus on wiring up grassroots initiatives to the internet, enabling them to engage in state-of-the-art e-commerce. Thereby they could surpass the traditional male-dominated (commercial) chain of command.
The hearts of Kosovo’s young
Next stop Fushë Kosova/Kosovo Polje: To better the appalling conditions under which children from an ethnic minority background live and study, is the mission statement of Balkan Sunflowers, an educational aid organisation. The situation of the minority youth population in Kosovo is unacceptable: school attendance is appallingly low, dropout rates are skyrocketing. Save for informal occupations, proper jobs are out of reach.
Balkan Sunflowers’ efforts make a difference. Not only do they provide access to basic school education, but also convey a general appreciation for formalised education.
Without doubt, the Kosovar government has to step up its commitment to improve the situation of marginalised minorities. Connecting the school containers to the internet could be a first step. Volunteer organisations such as Balkan Sunflowers will continue to bear the bulk of the responsibility for the foreseeable future, however. Hence, private donations are as much as needed as private investments in the schools’ facilities and infrastructure.
Donated second-hand computers would open up a whole new world of Open Educational Resources (OER), when schools are finally online. OERs are perceived to have great potential to reduce costs by reusing learning materials, stressed the Asian Development Bank in a recent brief. Under-equipped educational systems, like Kosovo’s, should reap those benefits.
Multi-ethnic dance sessions
Less than one 50 kilometres to the north in Mitrovica, Mr Baumgarten, a German pastor, runs a kindergarten, trauma station and vocational training facility. Situated on the banks of the river Ibar, which divides the city into a Serbian north and an Albanian south, his charity organisation also built a youth centre that opens its doors to local kids and adolescents.
Being aware of Kosovos’s unresolved ethnic conflict and the subsequent need for more personal encounters between all groups, Mr Baumgarten, a veteran aid worker, encouraged the formation of a multi-ethnic dance group that practices on the ground floor of his centre.
Their dance talent is debatable, their exemplary role isn’t. Young boys and girls from all ethnicities practice head spins and moon walks together, instructed by a 30-year-old Roma. Following instructions from a person with Roma background does not come natural for most Kosovars, admits Baumgarten, adding that after a number of sessions they began to look up to him, even admire him. The reconciliatory effect of the programme should not be underestimated, since it contributes to breaking down racial prejudices, a key requirement for social progress.
MPs have already enquired about possible stops in their constituency during the group’s upcoming “summer tour” across Germany.