Tag Archives: Kosova

Women at Work in Kosovo

A few days after leaving Afghanistan, where I had my first experience with Women for Women International’s program, I travelled on to Kosovo, the second stop in my tour. WfWI opened its office in Kosovo in 1999, the same year the Kosovo War ended, and so far has served over 30,000 women there.

Shortly after arriving, the differences between the women we serve in Afghanistan and those we serve in Kosovo became quite clear to me. During a visit to a vocational training center in Sllatina, I was struck by the fact that even though the Kosovar women were socially excluded and from households with limited assets they were eagerly recording tips on how to improve production of lettuce in their gardens and greenhouses in their notebooks. This was a stark contrast to Afghanistan, where few of the women enrolled in the program had basic numeracy or literacy skills.

While on the whole women in Kosovo face far fewer dangers than those in Afghanistan, their lives are far from easy. Their struggles are very different, but the will and determination to move past them is the same.

One of the major challenges facing women in Kosovo right now is a deeply troubled economy. Over the past few years, Kosovo has had very little economic growth. The unemployment rate stands at 45%, among the highest in Europe. But for women, the economic situation is even worse, as women’s unemployment is at 55% and only 6% of businesses are owned by women. Nearly half the people of Kosovo are living in poverty.

Signs of limited economic opportunities were everywhere in the homes we visited with several family members crowded into limited space, in the costs of food in the markets and the income earning potential of the women we worked with, in the numbers of youth gathered in public spaces with little or no prospects for work.

Early in my travels in Kosovo, I met a woman named Lindita Balas, a thirty-year-old mother of five who was participating in WfWI’s program. Five days after giving birth to her youngest child, Lindita decided to enroll in the program. Just two months in, Lindita has already learned skills that are going to help her increase her economic independence by selling vegetables she grew in her kitchen garden. She told me how the opportunity to meet other women and network with them had given her encouragement and confidence to try something new like this. Lindita was married at 16, and hasn’t had many opportunities to do something for herself, but she told me she enjoys gaining a broader understanding of her rights and building relationships with other women.

Across the country, women are seeking opportunities to earn an income to support their families. For the women enrolled in WfWI’s core program, the business skills training they receive is giving them crucial skills for success. In learning how to price their goods, how to market and sell their products, and how to plan investment needs, women who before had few economic opportunities begin to understand how they could take the leap into business.

Many of the women I met were eager to try to save enough money to build their own greenhouses. It was clear that any seed capital for these budding entrepreneurs would go a long way to opening up opportunities for selling produce within the communities where they lived.

The women know that success will take a lot of hard work, but for them it’s more important to depend on themselves than others. One of WfWI’s graduates Abetare Balaj Halili  told her life story how given her political activities prior to independence she was imprisoned several times, she had to quit studying after completing high school. Enrolling in the WfWI program convinced Abetare to do something for her and her family. She saved some of her training stipend, and she started a business to decorate cars for weddings. She used the business training to carefully cost her inputs including the costs of ribbon, and the chiffon she used to decorate the cars – given that weddings were by and large recession proof she had succeeded in developing a thriving business. Her profit margin was sufficient to provide for both herself and her family.

With such poor economic conditions, the Kosovar women WfWI serves are putting themselves at a competitive advantage in the marketplace. By learning beekeeping, horticulture, dairy production, or capturing a market trend in the service industry, women are able to create new opportunities for success.

Learn more about how you can become involved and support Women for Women International’s work in Kosovo.

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Filed under Afshan's Country Tour

Visiting Sadije’s House

by Trish Tobin

I knew we were being hosted for lunch by one of our program graduates but the Albanian/English translation was too fast for me to pick up on who we were visiting. I was overwhelmed when I realized we were pulling up to Sadije’s house. It was like visiting a movie set to me, since I had seen this house in the film that PEF did about the trip that Sadije organized for her fellow graduates around Kosovo. If you haven’t seen it, please watch it on YouTube. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSwwaiECAzc

We also did a newsletter story on Sadije’s trip – which was monumental considering half the women on the trip had never seen beyond their village let alone traveled around Kosovo (and with a group of women no less). Some women had rarely left their homes before – something I found hard to really, really believe until I drove through the villages and saw the farmers’ markets – all men selling and buying, no women. It was one thing to see only men on the streets – and another thing entirely to see them doing the grocery shopping. This is truly a patriarchal society.

Sadije welcomed us to her home in Drenas as did her husband – who is also in the film. It’s very courageous as a man to support and encourage your wife to do untraditional things too. I was very impressed by him. He took Sadije to the farmers’ association meetings where she is now active. After talking, I suggested to Sadije and to Faruk, Women for Women International’s agribusiness specialist in Kosovo, that they do another bus tour like Sadije had done for women graduates but this time do the trip for farmers to visit one another’s farms and associations to share knowledge, seeds and create a broader network for them – and of course it would include the women farmers. And this is why I love Hamide Latifi, Country Director in Kosovo, so much. She is not only for the idea; she wants to do it by the end of May! I like the way the Kosovars make things happen.

Sadije and her daughters made the most amazing cake for us – it was huge, too large to bake in any oven I’ve seen. And we had “flia”, a flour and onion layered dish that was kind of like a lasagna of onion crepes. Tasty. But the best part for me was when they showed me the newsletter that Sadije had on the bookshelf – right next to her Women for Women International graduation certificate. It was the newsletter where we featured her story. You can see the same newsletter on our website. http://www.womenforwomen.org/outreachwinter08/ Now I knew that we sent copies to the Kosovo office like we do for every newsletter – but to see that Sadije kept her copy…well, it was a good moment and I couldn’t wait to tell Teisha back in the office in DC who had worked on the newsletter story.

Sadije\'s graduation certificate The newsletter on Sadije\'s bookshelf

As we got ready to leave one of Sadije’s younger daughters – 12 or 13? – got brave enough to peek into the festivities. She blushed crimson immediately and could not be persuaded to stay no matter how much we encouraged her. Hamide explains that Sadije’s family suffered badly during the war and the children still have emotional scars that make meeting strangers more difficult. I’m reminded of what Sadije’s husband said in the film – that it was indescribable to not be able to protect your wife and children.

As we leave, I’m happy to see one of the Women for Women International greenhouses has arrived. This means Sadije has qualified for the small business package – given how healthy and happy her farm looks, I can see why.

The greenhouse parts - ready for assembly

There are reminders though as we leave. I see whitewashed areas on the house and ask Hamide what they are. As I suspected, the white paint covers up the slogans Serbian soldiers and police left behind to denigrate the family. Bullet holes are still visible as well.

But then there is the Women for Women International – Grate per Grate International (in Albanian) – sign in the window. It feels like a beacon to me – a proud one and I think it must be great for her daughters to see that, to see their mom on film and to know that there are opportunities for them too.

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Education for Women in Kosovo

By Trish Tobin

While visiting in Kosovo, I had the opportunity to meet with three courageous women who, after graduating from Women for Women International’s program, decided to go back and finish their secondary education.  They came to Sadije’s house – Sadije is a graduate who hosts classes in her home.  Tina (28), Elmiahate (26) and Afrodite (30) are from another village though, the village of Llapushnik.

There is a whole generation in Kosovo who have missed completing their education because of the war and for some because of the oppression before and during the war.  After the war, the focus was on recovery of the basic needs – homes for those who lost theirs, returning to look for lost loved ones and basic needs.  Now the focus is on jobs, how to generate income to get by and to improve their standing.  Returning to school wasn’t something most could afford – if they didn’t go to school in the “regular years” people typically didn’t go back.  When asked, they tell me they “missed school”, a term that people understand means that they couldn’t go to school because of war.

Afrodite, Elmiahate and Tina - Women for Women International Kosovo graduates gone back to school

These women who I met used their Women for Women International funds to pay for transportation and school fees and even more importantly, they have been lobbying the 16 women in their village in their same situation to also go back to school – so far 14 of the 16 have returned to school.  

They wanted to visit with me to tell me that we shouldn’t invest only in young girls or grandmothers who are needy but that we should invest in the women.  I assured them they are our greatest asset for getting more women of their age into our program, back to school and into job training - that in doing by example and encouraging their peers, they’ve extended the impact of their sponsors’ support for them exponentially.

Their interests too are advanced – they are taking business classes in school and are less interested in handicraft training and more interested in small business training and microcredit opportunities.  As I reflect on the visit with them, I think I understand why Hamide wanted me to meet with them.  They are the future of Kosovo and they are the future of Women for Women International in Kosovo. 

I can see these women criss-crossing the country one day soon offering consulting on business plans, making women aware of lending and funding opportunities and getting more women enrolled in the program.  The last question Hamide asked the women is a poignant one.  “Once you have a steady income, would you consider supporting a woman in the program yourself?” Their answer was a resounding yes – and I can see that desire to support one another already in the way other graduates like Sadije have opened up their homes for classes in the rural areas where no community center is available. I can see it in how the women I meet all day have formed small groups with one another whether for their business or for their friendship. There is a support network (dare I say movement?) growing in Kosovo of women.  Women who perhaps had not considered the strength of their numbers before and the impact they could have.  But they are seeing the fruits of it now and are doing everything they know how to keep it growing. 

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Filed under Kosovo