Over Global Care’s 35-year history we have helped rebuild communities ripped apart by conflict in countries as diverse as Rwanda, Afghanistan and Iraq. DIANE BALL recalls the Kosovan Crisis in the late 90s,. and her work with Global Care helping children re-start their education..
“I was at a Christian Festival when I saw an advert for Global Care,” recalls Diane. “They were looking for people to go to Kosovo to help with rehabilitation as the war came to an end, focusing especially on children and schools.
To be honest, I wasn’t too sure where Kosovo was but I had seen the war on the news and something inside me stirred as I read the advert. I was delighted to be accepted but there wasn’t much time to prepare as they wanted people on the ground as soon as possible.
I flew out to Kosovo in late 1999 and was pleased to meet up with Andy Dye, my travelling companion and soon to be good friend. Our new home would be Prizren, one of the larger towns outside the capital, Pristina.
We were met by Global Care’s manager in Kosovo, Bethany Sanders, who drove us to Prizren in the charity’s Landrover in the dark. We were stopped several times on the way at checkpoints by the KFOR army (NATO’s peace-supporting Kosovo Force), and we realised then that we really were in a recent war zone.
My first impressions of Kosovo were of a beautiful country, although as the war had only recently ended, we could still see evidence of houses and sometimes whole villages which had been burned to the ground.
Our work involved going into schools which had been badly damaged during the war. Some of them had managed to remain open, while others were simply too badly damaged and needed total rebuilding.
Each week one of us would attend a UN security briefing about the area, trouble hotspots and where work needed to be done and by whom. It felt a bit strange for little old me to be sitting in these top level meetings! It was necessary though, in order for us to be able to work safely, and sobering to hear about some of the incidents that were still happening. I remember finding out on one occasion that the space outside a lovely village school where I always parked our Land Rover, was actually a landmine and that three children had been killed when they stepped on it. Even now, all these years later, that is pretty hard to take in.
As one of the smaller charities involved, we took on some of the lesser damaged schools and arranged for engineers to assess what needed to be done and for the work to be carried out. Some of the simple painting work we did ourselves, and we found handymen for the bigger jobs.
In the mornings, we would review how the rehabilitation work was progressing at each school and what needed to be done to move it forward.
Some days, we would be at the warehouse, sorting through all the items which had been donated and putting together family packs of food, stoves, tents, blankets and clothing. We would give these out to individual families displaced by the conflict and pass on essential classroom items to the schools we were working with.
In the afternoons, we would work in the schools, directly with the children. Some of them weren’t currently attending any lessons because their schools were too badly damaged or their teachers had been displaced. Some of the schools were tiny two-room buildings in rural villages, while others were big two-storey buildings with many classrooms. We would try to use the classrooms, whatever state they were in, as long as they were safe.
We would start by gathering the children together for some basic English lessons, including reading and spelling. Our translators did a fantastic job! Then we would head outside for some fun! We would take our own sports equipment with us and play parachute games, relay races and the children’s favourite, rounders – my team against Andy’s!
These children had just lived through a war that was very much still in evidence. They had often lost family members, homes and their parents’ livelihoods. In some of the villages, it was mostly just women and children as all the men and older boys had been shot. We couldn’t even begin to imagine what had gone on.
I remember we did drawing one day with some of the children and they drew pictures of fighter jets and houses on fire. It really struck me that day just how hurt and confused these children were feeling. The drawings were perhaps one way they could express themselves.
We knew how hard it was for the children to rebuild their lives. They were great kids and really, we just wanted to show them some love and enable them to experience some enjoyment again. Despite everything that had happened to them, we had some great times with lots of laughter.
Working in Kosovo was certainly harrowing at times. Yet we were shown such incredible hospitality from all the people we came into contact with, even though they themselves were hurting so badly.
We had interpreters working with us in the schools and they would often invite us to their homes for meals. Even if they didn’t have much food or firewood for their own families, they would offer us whatever they had.
Andy and myself had only been in Prizren a day or so, when we met a family over the road.. The father, Ned, owned a key cutting shop, and always offered us copious amounts of tea and coffee! We knew from talking to Ned and his family what a frightening time it had been. They spoke of not wanting to let family members out of sight for fear of what may happen to them.
By the time I left Kosovo, in late 2000, we could see a huge difference in and around Prizren. Although the army was still around, life was returning to normal and many schools and businesses were up and running again.
I like to think we had an impact on the lives of the children. I know the villagers we worked with were very grateful for the help and support we gave them.
Global Care was a very supportive charity to work for and I have some very fond memories of my time in Kosovo. While I was there, I even met, and got engaged to my husband, Phil, who was from Coventry and was working for the charity in the same team!
We now have three lovely children, and a fourth due in April 2018, so my time in Kosovo literally did change my life!”