Stories of Impact

Growing up in Kosovo

Rosa has been hiding who she is for her entire life. This may sound odd because she lives in Europe. But in Kosovo, a country ravaged by a bloody civil war, life is different.

Rosa is only 16 and her life seems pretty normal in her community. She lives in a small house overlooking the mountains in a neighborhood full of Albanian Muslim families.

But what her friends don’t know is that her mother’s parents were both Serbian Christians. When her mother married her father, an Albanian Muslim, after the war, their family ended up in Kosovo.

For their own safety, her parents decided and instructed Rosa, not to ever speak about her mother’s family history with anyone – or her faith. They explained that even though the conflict was many years ago, it was still a very sensitive subject for everyone.

And across her village, she could see how deeply divided the people still were. Serbs and Albanians lived in separate villages, even separate communities within villages. The Serbs still used the Serbian flag; Kosovars used the new country’s national flag. They rarely interacted.

This was very hard for Rosa. Growing up, she listened to what her friends and even her teachers said about Serbian people and about Christians.

She always knew that if anyone found out about her family, that she would be judged and hated. After all, there was only one student in her class who was a Christian, and in her neighborhood and entire school, there were no other Serbians.

She constantly felt confused and burdened with her family heritage because the things associated with Serbian Christians were nothing like her family members, or her. None of her relatives were even apart of the conflict because they all fled to Germany.

In her heart, Rosa knew this was wrong. She felt that everyone should be able to live in safety without fear of telling people where they’re from or what they believe. But what could she do about it?

When we first met Rosa, we didn’t know her story. She attended an after-school program that we led with some local teachers in her village to teach kids about pluralism and living in peace with people of different beliefs and backgrounds.

Throughout the week, she took part in an activity where all the students visited an imaginary island called Fruitopia. They each took on the identity of a different fruit that was shipwrecked there with each other – even those who were their enemies. And they had to learn how to get along and create a set of rules to govern their island.

She had fun helping her group establish their fruit beliefs, designing their fruit masks and creating their laws. But what really caught her attention was at the end of a lesson, when the teacher started to compare the rights, freedoms, and stories of the different fruits to that of people in Kosovo.

For the first time, she heard what she always wanted to understand – that if it was possible for different tribes of fruit to live together, then it was possible for us too.

When the teacher asked the students about the diversity of their own communities, Rosa’s classmates shared that they knew Kosovo had a more diverse background in the past, but since the war, that had changed – there were no Christians and especially no Serbs.

At first, Rosa became angry and sad as she listened to the conversation. But, as the conversation continued, something changed.

The teachers mentioned the rights the children had developed on the island – the right to believe what they choose and each be safe to practice their beliefs. Rosa saw her friends begin to speak about the need for people in their community to have the same rights.

One of her best friends raised her hand and started to talk about how Kosovo had to move forward from the past, just like the fruits on the island. She spoke about how she wished Christians, Muslims, Serbs, and all Kosovar people would get along and live in peace and the same rights. Other students agreed with her. And then, more students began to share that their parents had Serbian friends and that they had a few Christians friends in their schools.

Rosa couldn’t believe what she was witnessing. Some of her classmates were encouraging friendships, dialogue, and acceptance of Serbians, Christians, and everyone else. She felt free to be herself for the first time.

When the program ended, Rosa asked the teachers if she could speak with them privately. That’s when she shared her family’s story. She shared that, “Seeing the way my classmates wanted the fruits to live in peace and be free and then hearing them talk about it in real life, saying that Christians and Serbians shouldn’t be discriminated against and treated like outsiders anymore, gave me so much hope. I feel freedom now, that I can tell my friends about my family and know that they will still be friends with me. That I won’t have to keep it a secret forever.”

When you support Hardwired programs, even those as simple as an after-school activity with our local partners somewhere around the world, you give children like Rosa hope and an opportunity to experience the freedom and dignity they deserve.

Rosa and her classmates dreamed of a future where they could live together in peace – and thanks to your support, they are now one step closer to that dream.