For Valbona, the war in Kosovo destroyed everything she and her family had. “We tried to stay in Kosovo for as long as we could. My husband and I fled our village to escape the violence. In April 1999, things became too unstable and dangerous, so we left for Albania.
When we came back, everything had changed. Most of the houses in our village were empty shells that had been abandoned, looted and burned. Everything that we had was destroyed. Everything that we owned was stolen. We were lucky that they didn’t burn our house,” recalls Valbona.
“Learning how to grow food – and how to make an income through horticulture – were the most important lessons I learned from joining Women for Women International’s program. We traveled together around Kosovo to see different fields and greenhouses that could be used to grow vegetables all year long. I learned how to create a garden and grow seedlings. This inspired me and took my breath away. I saw that I could do it myself.”
Today, Valbona employs six of her family members and sells the cucumbers and peppers they grow in the local markets in and around Pristina. Inspired by her success, four other women in her community have started gardens of their own. “Horticulture gave me an escape and a sense of pride,” says Valbona.
Reinvesting her business profits in her family’s future, Valbona began to save money regularly. “Before, we didn’t have enough money, and we didn’t know how to save up money. Now, I am never without money. Even if we do not have much, we have something. Now, I have a personal bank account.”
Valbona and the other women in their village have found a new sense of independence. “Before, we didn’t really go out of the house because we were housewives, and we didn’t have a reason. And without a reason, we couldn’t go out of the house. There was always someone to go out and run errands for me, and I would only leave the house to visit family members. Now, I am connected with my neighbors and we formed a community. We can go wherever we want, and it’s not such a big deal anymore.”
Inspired by her success so far, Valbona has set new goals for herself. “I want to have a new greenhouse, and I want to keep getting more women involved with building an irrigation system,” she says. Tapping her new network, Valbona is confident that together she and the other women in her community will be able to achieve any challenging goal they set for themselves.
Sadije, her husband and their four children had a normal life on a small farm until the war reached their town. Soldiers terrorized the population, and Sadije fled to the mountains with her children. She lived there for months, separated from her husband, unsure if he was alive or dead.
When the war was over, Sadije was reunited with her husband. They returned with their traumatized children to a ruined home and fields, and no prospects for supporting their family.
Sadije enrolled with Women for Women International and received rights-awareness training and small business management courses. Now, Sadije no longer attends our meetings—she runs them. As a community leader, she holds programs in her own home. Women travel miles on foot just to hear her speak.
Sadije says, "I feel so good. My life has changed so much. I am so happy to work with the women that I don't ever get tired. Thank you to the people who have helped me so much."
Women for Women International (WfWI) believes that lasting change can only be achieved when women have access to both knowledge and resources.
Meet Emine Gashi*, a WfWI - Kosovo program graduate. In addition to learning how to turn her small garden into a viable small business, Emine learned how to speak up for herself and take back control of her life.
Emine Gashi is a widow and mother of 7 children. Her husband died 10 years ago. Before joining the Women for Women International program Emine was obliged to ask her brothers-in-law's permission if she needed to leave the home because of her widowhood. Her brother-in-law made all the family decisions for Emine and her children. She has been simply a kind of "slave" to serve and raise her children - but she had no rights to them or their upbringing. Until she enrolled in our program, Emine believed she couldn't challenge the male-dominated mentality. "As a widow it was hard for me to challenge victimization. I couldn't go out alone and make decisions for my children and myself. I never dared to go out of the house alone. I lived 30 years near by Gadime's Cave, a tourist area, but I never dared to visit it before the program. After I graduated, I visited it with a group of women," she says. "Since attending the program, my life has changed. I am more self-confident, more courageous to speak and to manage my life and my family. Today I go out when I need to go, and I no longer ask for permission. I go to see the doctor, do shopping, and finish my work outside the house. I now ask for opinions, but I know that in the end the decisions are mine." Emine has become very active in her community. She meets regularly with fellow women graduates. "I help our community leader, because she has lot of work to do. The more independent I become, the more my family values me. Everyone respects my work and the direction that I am building my life. I did not know to read and write when I joined WfWI-Kosovo program. I took the opportunity to attend literacy courses organized by WfWI-Kosovo, and I have learned to read and write." "I now help support my daughter's medical treatment in Italy, where she had two heart surgeries. Because I didn't have any funds, I took a loan. I repaid it by selling milk and vegetables from my garden." "Today I am proud with my work. I am now able to meet more of my family's needs, and most importantly, I support my daughters' education."
*Emine has given us permission to share her story.
Meet WfWI - Kosovo graduate Fatime Lima!
Fatime is a 37 years old woman. Her parents divorced when she was a child and she was raised by her aunt. She has three kids that are 17, 15 and 8 years old and lives in a small house, with her husband who works sometimes.
Fatime enrolled in the gardening vocational track at WfWI, but is also exploring making and selling handicrafts. In additiont to her vocational training, she enjoyed meeting with other women who shared her struggles and getting to know them.
Says Fatime: “I never had the strength to discuss my life with anyone—I never said what a huge wish that I had to meet and embrace my mum. The women’s group in the program enabled me to share these sorts of things with my peers. On the day that I talked about it in the program, I remember I was not being able to sleep well. Now that this dream has been realized, I will be grateful to the WfWI-Kosova Organization for as long as I am alive.”
After graduation, Fatime has become a truly active citizen. She has organized women of her village Baja to enroll in our program. She is a member of a farmer’s asscociation “Prodhimi Drenas” and also she participates in different fairs by selling produce she has cultivated in the greenhouse—a project from her vocational skills curriculum at Women for Women-Kosova--such tomatos and cucumbers.
Elhame Smaili is an inspiration. Although she is 60 years old, she continues to learn new skills and build hope for the future.
She endured many hardships before joining the Women for Women International Kosovo program with her daughter in-law. During the war in Kosovo her only son was killed, and her husband died of a heart attack. Her eight-year-old niece Arbresha, developed a physical handicap following complications with an illness during the war, and now walks with much difficulty. Elhame's house was burned down during the war, like many houses located in Cirez, her village in the Drenica area. Although an organization was slated to assist her family with reconstructing the house, they received only minimal aid and live in very poor conditions the damaged house. She lives with her daughter-in-law Mihrije, three grandsons and three nieces.
With determination and an energetic spirit, Elhame and Mihrije opted for the beekeeping course as a way to develop skills to earn an income. Now recent graduates of the program, Elhame says that she and Mihrije have learned more about the world through their participation and now have a broader perspective. Elhame and Mihrije have recently received three beehives and begun their beekeeping activities, putting their Women for Women International training into action: "I am finally active and involved in the work," says Mihrije. "There are barriers such as poverty, but I have to challenge them, especially to support my children."
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