Women for Women UK Major Gifts Officer Nora Russell traveled to Kosovo in June. She has written about her experiences and the women she met. This part 3 of 4 in her series. Check back later for the last update.
Day 3- Women’s Opportunity Center Opening
A gloriously sunny day started with the official opening ceremony, where the newly appointed Country Director of our Kosovo Office, Iliriana Gashi, was joined by Carol Jackson from the Private Equity Foundation as well as Molly Cronin from Sharon Davis Design Studios.
The official ceremony featured speeches from Iliriana Gashi, Carol Jackson, Molly Cronin and Ramize Rexhepi, a graduate of Women for Women’s year long programme in Kosovo.
Carol said “I have been inspired by your resilience and determination. Our CEO Shaks Ghosh can’t be with us today but she sends her congratulations. The Private Equity Foundation was delighted to fund this centre and it will be a leading light for women in Kosovo. I know from my visit that this centre is an excellent hands. I have learnt so much about the amazing work of Women for Women International.”
Molly Cronin added that, “this is not just a building – it will be a safe space for women to meet and share and continue their learning.”
Iliriana thanked the trainers of the Women for Women programme: “Thanks to our trainers who go 4 or 5 times a week to remote villages, in snow or sunshine to deliver our programmes and support women with literacy and vocational skills.” After hearing Besa’s story earlier this week, I truly believe this too.
Next to speak is a graduate of our programme, Ramize Rexhepi , who chose to specialise in horticulture and food processing and has now set up her own women’s cooperative producing pickles, Burek and Ajar.
Ramize said,”In the beginning I was only interested in learning about gardening, but through the Women for Women course I decided to take some of my produce to market and on the first try I made 46 euros. It was so good to be able to buy things for my family and now I led a cooperative of women making food for sale at market. I can only say – Women, participate in as many fairs as you can!”
The ceremony was closed with a beautiful rendition of ‘Songbird’ by singer and UK supporter of Women for Women International Laura Comfort.
After the ceremony I had the chance to catch up with Ramize and hear her story of moving from survivor of the war to active leader of a 17 woman strong cooperative.
Ramize cultivates everything she needs: cabbage, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes. “I took part in all the trainings available, particularly the food processing course and a course on making 13 different types of cheese. The most difficult parts of the training was the literacy classes as during the war she had missed a lot of schooling.”
Now she is in a group of 17 women and they are trying to get funds to increase the ability for them to unify their production, so that the goods can be marketed easily and they can increase production. When she first started taking produce to market her family were bemused, they asked “What is the fair for? They felt it was a shameful activity for a woman to sell goods at market and were worried people would laugh at me.”
Ramize laughs, “Now we have no problem and it is seen as normal, in fact now my family are always asking – when are you going to the next fair?” Her father is so impressed that he has given the cooperative 5 km square to support the development of their business, which they hope to build a processing factory for pickling and preserving . She says her most profitable product is the jars of Ajar, a red pepper paste and Pinxhur and similar product that is made from tomatoes.
The guests then shared a lunch of traditional Kosovar food, catered by graduates of the Women for Women programme and were able to browse a women’s product fair, featuring handicrafts, food and honey.
Supporters then also had the opportunity to tour the new WOC facilities and visit different training activities and classes in a open house, including an opportunity to view our Life Skills classes, Vocational Classes and letter writing.
After the Opening ceremony we took a bus trip to the old city of Prizen, walking to the top of the City Fort, once built by the Ottomans. Our guide tells us how she and her family were unable to leave the city during the war (unlike many of the city residents) and that as an 8 year old child she watched how the city burned and the fear this struck in her.