Kadire Tahiraj is a mother of three, and lives with her husband and children in a small two room house.
“My sons are 16 and 22, and my daughter is 19. They are enrolled in school, but I worry that we may not be able to pay for their education much longer due to my husband’s small income as a factory worker. I graduated from secondary school where I received training to be a laboratory technician, and attended High Pedagogic School, but because of the political and economic turmoil in Kosovo, I could not complete my studies. Education is my unfulfilled dream, and I don’t want the same to be true for my children,” says Kadire.
At the beginning of the war, Kadire and her first husband were expecting a baby. When she began to have problems during the pregnancy however, she was hospitalized in Peja. There, along with three other Kosovar women, she was tortured by Serbian members of the medical staff. “One morning, a nurse came to us with injections. The only thing I remember her saying was, ‘It is time for delivery.’ But it wasn’t time for delivery. It was too early for all of us. In the twelve hours following that injection, we all had miscarriages. It was one of the hardest moments of my life.
The staff did this because they were told to leave the hospital and execute all of the patients present. That evening the four of us got organized and escaped from that hell. At midnight, we took a taxi and traveled to Montenegro, because the entire city of Peja was empty. I still cannot believe we escaped.” She found her family, but they told her that her husband had been killed, while she was in the hospital.
She badly needed medical care, and was rushed to a refugee camp in Albania. There, she received heartbreaking news: the injection she had been given prevented her from ever being able to have children. Kadire stayed in the camp while she recuperated.
“While I was in the camp there were three children and no one was taking care of them. I thought to myself, ‘God, what happened to those kids?’ Every day, I became more and more friendly with them, and tried to take care of them as much as I could. The youngest was only six years old. It was the only thing that gave me happiness after what I had endured. My husband had died, I had lost my child, and I would never be able to have a baby of my own. The least I could do was take care of these children who were all alone. Their mother had died during the war, and their father had taken them to relatives who were supposed to take care of them. Their relatives traveled to Albania with them, but in the refugee camp they were left on their own. It made me cry to think of them all alone,” says Kadire.
After three months, Kadire returned to Kosovo. She kept in touch with the children, as they missed her and wanted to stay close to her. Kadire eventually married their father, so the children could have a mother in their lives. “We have been together a long time. I have a blessed life with my husband. I consider the kids my own, and I have never told anyone that they are not my children. I always try to buy them nice things, because I don’t want them to think that I don’t care for them just because I am not their natural mother.”
Since enrolling with Women for Women, Kadire has been a powerful example for other women in the group. She is very active and talkative during training sessions, and she initiated and organized trips around Kosovo for 90 women. “For many women, this was the first time they had visited many of the places we went. They were very thankful for the chance to see a good side of our country. I have achieved this because of Women for Women. The program has helped me realize that we can achieve things for ourselves, we just need to work for what we want.”
Kadire attended customer service and sales training classes through Women for Women, and used her sponsorship funds to buy her children clothing. “I liked every part of the Women for Women training, but my favorite part was the ‘Economical Value of Housework.’ I am very thankful to both my sponsor and the organization for making the program possible.”
Kadire also took a family health education course through the Red Cross. “After completing my training, I taught other women about women’s health, and assisted in performing their physical exams. I also organized wellness and domestic violence trainings for Women for Women participants, as well as students from a local secondary school. In the process, my colleague and I helped to identify and report several cases of domestic violence.”
Kadire has encouraged more than 120 women to enroll in Women for Women in Drenas and Novoberda. She is a valuable ambassador for Women for Women’s work in Kosovo.
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.
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