I wanted to explore the friendships forming between the two groups of the new generation. It seemed the best place to do this was from the inside, so attending one of World Vision’s summer camps was a good place to start.
It was amazing to watch these kids playing together, learning from each other, and communicating with one another (even if they could not speak each other’s language). This made me realize that nothing is impossible and there is hope for real and lasting peace.
During my visit, I met two young ladies who exemplify the cultural changes that are happening: Marina and Vjollca. They are more than World Vision colleagues; they are close friends. Although they share the same bloody history, from different sides, they have made the conscious choice to move forward and bring peace to their own lives and help others to build peace in their communities as well.
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During the break-up of Yugoslavia, Vjollca’s family fled, first taking refuge in Sweden, then in Germany, and finally ending up in Norway. It wasn’t until February 2010 -- nearly 18 years later -- that they returned to the newly-formed Kosovo. This is her story:
Coming back home was not as easy as I thought. It was very difficult for me to fit in this new Kosovo that we found. [It] was new a country, but the [situation was] the same as it was when we left, or worse. Living abroad for so long made it very difficult for me to accept this situation. In trying to preserve its identity, Kosovo has become very conservative and in a way Kosovo is going backward again, even now that the war is finished.
My European mentality made it very difficult for me to accept this situation. I was really thinking [of moving] abroad again until I started to work with World Vision. That was when I figured out that God had other plans for me. I started to change myself [and] by doing this, I started to understand my people, their fears, and their injuries.
When I hear people talking bad about Serbian [people], I don’t feel comfortable. Ever since I was a little girl, and lived here in Kosovo, I had Serbian friends. This was not a problem for me. Living abroad for so long [also] made me understand that it doesn’t matter from where you are from, what your story is, or what your problems are. When it comes to life, we all have the same battles to win; mine is to [help] my family and my friends accept this new direction of my life.
When I met Marina for the first time, I was happy because I understood that now I wasn’t alone anymore in my fight. Now, we were together and this thing made me stronger.
Knowing the Serbian language was an advantage for me. I will never forget the excitement of Marina when she saw that I could speak her language. She said I was the answer to her prayers. Day-by-day, our friendship became stronger. Together, we confronted the mentality that Serbians and Albanians can’t work together and that they cannot be friends.
[Through our example], we are trying to help people realize that this big wall of suffering that has been built over so many years can be broken down, not with violence but instead with love, understanding, and forgiveness.
The best thing here is that we are working with children. Our project is called "Kids for Peace." Both Marina and I are working hard to change the mentality of these children.
When they first come to us, they stay separated. Their first day at the camp is very quiet. Then, after some time of working with them -- talking, telling stories -- something starts to change. They began to play with each other, to share stories, and, most importantly, they begin to give their hearts the opportunity to know their "enemies." By doing this, they understand that Albanian people aren’t as bad as they have been told, and vice versa.
We have problems at the summer camps. I am not saying that everything happens like magic, that they wake up in the morning and are best friends. No, it is a constant job that we do with every peace club. I am happy because I am sure that when they go home to their parents, to their friends, they talk, they think about what they learned in the camp, and this is very important, because talking about something means that you are interested; interest brings knowledge and knowledge brings acceptance.
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"Friends without borders" will continue tomorrow with Marina's story. Check back for part 2!
Florida Bonjo is a communications intern with World Vision Albania.
Child sponsorship plays a vital role in World Vision's work in Albania, with sponsors from the United States supporting more than 12,200 children. Sponsorship helps make possible programs like summer camps as well as life-saving basics like education, economic development, and healthcare. Consider sponsoring a child in Albania today!