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.
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.