As Kosova Program Manager for Oxfam in 1994 and 1995, and for the IRC (International Rescue Committee) in 1996 and 1997, I headed a team of Albanian engineers and program officers in the County of Vitia, an hour southeast of Prishtina. Our mandate was to improve the water and sanitation conditions in primary schools by digging wells and building proper latrines in Vitia and Gjilan, two ethnically mixed (Albanian and Serbian) counties in eastern Kosova. Beyond this, we repaired schools (at a time when Albanians were not able to get building permits from the Serbian government), provided health education for village women, worked with families to get their daughters back to high school, and did what we could to resuscitate the waning vestiges of community spirit.
While working in in this region, the homebase for my son and I was with the Tafa family, who welcomed us into their family of eight adults and thirteen children living together in one house, in the village of Terpez. We will be forever grateful to this family that welcomed into their home, sheltered us, and supported us through a very challenging time.
Deepest thanks to my talented, dedicated project team that made all the work possible: Qemajl Murati, Feriz Sinani, Isa Shabani, Mustaf Tafa, and Samet Dalipi. A special thanks to IRC director Alan Ross, an extraordinary man with great vision and heart who inspired much of our work.
I am also grateful to the leaders of “Legend,” a group of young women activists who organized the Health Education meetings and mobilized village women to work together to improve their lives: Drita Xheladini, Fatmire Shabiu, Ganimete Hebibi, Habibe Osmani, Kimete Zeqiri, Haxhere Pira, Meliate Osmani, and Xhevahire Sylejmani.
Hetem Kurteshi, from the village of Balancë in Viti, passed away in 2021 from Covid. We worked together to rebuild the Balancë school make other improvements in the village. Hetem led the work with great skill and dedication He was such an honorable, kind, humble, intelligent man – a wonderful example of what it means to be Albanian. We mourn his loss with the Balance community, and send our condolences to his family.