A new awareness
World Vision International is proud to honour Kids for Peace of World Vision Kosovo, one of two organisations sharing this year’s Peacebuilding Award. With a child-focused platform club structure, World Vision Kosovo’s Kids for Peace has uniquely provided opportunities for multi-ethnic interaction among children and youth in order to help overcome decades of ethnic tension and create a culture of peace through building relationships. Using dialogue, peace education, artistic expressions, advocacy, and a focus on holistic needs involving psycho-social, relational, spiritual and economic well-being, World Vision Kosovo has seen emotional healing and the foundations for peaceful living bear fruit.
A peacebuilding story
Although Kosovo has been home to a variety of ethnic groups for centuries, the tensions culminated in a violent conflict between 1998 and 1999, primarily between Serbian forces, who were governing the country at the time, and Albanians who represented the ethnic majority. Human rights abuses on both sides were documented, and the peace that has followed has been uneasy at best. For a decade, the country was governed by United Nations, which was successful in instituting multi-ethnic governance in some parts of the government but not others. Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February 2008 marked the beginning of a new era for Kosovo. Using the Ahtisaari plan as an outline in its transition to independence, the intention of Kosovo’s leaders has been for Kosovo to emerge as a functional, vibrant multi-ethnic society. However, in the current climate there still exists a high degree of mistrust among Kosovo’s ethnic groups, especially Serbs and Albanians. The trauma caused by the war in 1999 is still very evident today. This holds true for Serbs and Albanians as well as other ethnic minority groups caught in the middle. In the post-war Kosovo context, continued social tensions inhibit children of different ethnic communities from communicating with each other, especially in rural areas. Ethnic division has been an obvious reality in Kosovo and many people complain they do not have freedom of movement. These have been fundamental social needs that need to be addressed.
Fatmire Feka, 16-years-old, speaks out at Youth Empowered Toronto about her experience starting the Kids for Peace club movement.
In its efforts to foster solidarity among communities during the years of and following the war, World Vision Kosovo observed staunch opposition from many community leaders to any attempts at multi-ethnic cooperation. In addition, they observed a reluctance to work with each other on issues of common concern, despite the fact that World Vision Kosovo had remained strong and present through the life of the conflict. Memories of ethnic cleansing and revenge killings kept ethnic groups hostile towards each other and attempts to bring them into dialogue were met with resistance and fear. As a result, communities have become more homogenous in ethnicity.
With 50% of the population (an estimated 1.9 million) under the age of 24 and watching youth deal with the traumatic effects of war, World Vision Kosovo identified the need to overcome ethnic divisions and build capacity for conflict resolution amongst children and youth, especially in rural areas. During its various peace and tolerance-building efforts, World Vision Kosovo found a great number of children ages 10-15 that were particularly interested in helping World Vision contribute toward peace in Kosovo. Using a bottom-up approach and centring on child participation and leadership, World Vision Kosovo began facilitating and supporting activities aimed at providing a safe place for dialogue, social and cultural sharing, and helping youth to build cross-community relationships in order to strengthen mutual understanding. Children and youth committed to coming together to promote a healthy way to break down tensions between ethnic groups and began to develop outlets for expression and activism with special emphasis on spiritual development. In July 2002, World Vision Kosovo officially launched the Kids for Peace project in four municipalities in Kosovo.
Today, Kids for Peace has 16 active clubs, and the two newest are in the most divided and conflict-ridden parts of the country, North Mitrovica and Zvecan. Many ethnic groups participate in the clubs: Kosovo Albanians, Kosovo Serbians, Kosovo Croats, and Kosovo Roma/Ashkali/Egyptians. Every year, 400 children aged 10-15 participate in Kids for Peace. Since Kids for Peace’s start, over 3,000 children have participated in Kids for Peace activities. Kids for Peace has developed many different facets since 2002. Not only does the project focus on dialogue and clear communication, but Kids for Peace has consistently found ways to use religion, cultural values, artistic expression and even economic development as platforms to build durable peace within communities. Furthermore, summer camps, forums and community councils for peace have also been foundational outlets for children and youth to continue to expand Kids for Peace.
The makings of an award recipient
Since its start, Kids for Peace has been mobilising children and youth to formulate appropriate ways of addressing tension, trauma, and ethnic divisions that have plagued communities. World Vision Kosovo, in partnership with children and youth themselves, organises opportunities for young people from all ethnic backgrounds to come together to work toward a mutual understanding of one another. The venues that World Vision Kosovo uses, particularly through club-structures based out of primary schools, also allows the mobilisation of teachers, parents, and communities that uphold educational engagement as a component of overcoming historical divides. In addition, summer camps mobilise children at the regional level; as children and youth gather from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo, they not only share best practices with each another, but they continue to expand their understanding and importance of building relationships with different groups of people in order to create a wider impact as peace advocates.
Because World Vision was present in Kosovo as violent conflict was at its peak, the organisation has been able to critically understand the context and the layers of the tensions and divisions that remained. World Vision Kosovo understood that if you want to know the oppression of the most vulnerable, you have to ask the children and youth how they see the world. And so it was that World Vision Kosovo walked alongside children that were eager to partner to bring peace to their communities. With young informants on the holistic needs of children and youth and World Vision Kosovo’s credibility, presence and willingness to listen, Kids of Peace has quickly become a stand out programme based on solid context and conflict analysis.
World Vision Kosovo has also shown evidence of integrating peacebuilding into relief, development and advocacy programmes. Throughout the years of unrest, World Vision developed and maintained a strong presence on the ground in Kosovo through the provision of emergency humanitarian aid. World Vision has been active in Kosovo since 1998, initially providing emergency humanitarian aid, but more recently has shifted to focus on long-term development. World Vision Kosovo civil society and peacebuilding efforts began during the height of the emergency response, with outreach to religious leaders from all ethnic communities. Community service project activities, conducted with diverse community groups, focused on trauma healing, tolerance building and participatory education. Later, psycho-social support and educational support aimed at assisting communities to create a more peaceful and tolerant environment followed. Meanwhile, World Vision Kosovo also led initiatives to meet preventive health needs for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, and to facilitate their resettlement back to their communities of origin in Kosovo. All of these programmes maintained peace and reconciliation as an underlying goal. Today, Kids for Peace highlights development as well as advocacy. Sustainability is at the core of Kids for Peace’s values as the programme calls for capacity building through dialogue and relationship building. Peace through advocacy is mainly evidenced through artistic expressions, councils, and forums created by children and youth to address child rights, all with the objective of breaking stereotypes and creating awareness around cultivating a culture of peace.
Along with this, World Vision Kosovo’s commitment to mobilise communities to build durable peace becomes evident. Using already existing and well-respected structures and community partners, Kids for Peace uses these venues to draw in more community participants. Because clubs meet in local primary schools, both the teachers and the student body of these schools have been challenged to invest in peacebuilding. World Vision Kosovo sees schools as valuable investors and partners with them to receive other resources that would benefit whole communities. Kids for Peace also understands that if you want to build durable peace you have to address the worldview and spiritual beliefs of communities. Therefore, Kids for Peace focuses on building the inner/spiritual resources for living in peace and hope with the understanding that spiritual strength nurtures the healing of broken relationships with self, family, God, others and the environment. Kids for Peace partners with religious leaders for lasting peace because they have a positive impact on society and they help instruct people to live responsibly, encourage them to care for the poor and they promote acceptance and respect for all people. For example, through Kids for Peace, Albanian Muslim youth were given a first-time opportunity to visit churches and monasteries while Serbian Orthodox youth were given exposure to Muslim institutions. These opportunities promoted mutual understanding and respect for the faith of others, a foundational principle to durable peace.
Kids for Peace’s main goal highlights the value the organisation possesses to build bridges and bring different groups together. Beyond bridging young people together to lead Kids for Peace, many creative and innovative outlets have become bridges. Art shows exhibiting expressions of children and youths’ experiences have become ways children have formed unlikely relationships. Beginning in 2004, youth members of Kids for Peace clubs launched a multi-lingual newsletter containing their thoughts and ideas, poetry they wrote, and words of encouragement that were aimed at youth from across the ethnic divide. Economic development projects called “Loans for Peace,” have even helped bridge divides within the community as World Vision Kosovo has seen improvements in peoples’ willingness to interact across ethnic lines.
Although Kids for Peace possesses a grassroots foundation and authentic connection to the local layers of the communities, its level of impact has influenced a wider scope. Over 3,000 children and youth have participated in Kids for Peace but since the programme seeks to involve family members, schools, religious leaders and other stakeholders from the community, Kids for Peace has impacted around 60,000-70,000 children and youth. Their influence has revolutionised the way the country has absorbed and responded to pain of the past. Highlighting the best assets of a community and its resources, World Vision Kosovo helps to equip its participants with the skills and knowledge to understand conflict, advocate for change, and express their experiences using the cultural values and venues within their communities. In communities with rich artistic heritage, World Vision Kosovo helped young people link up with resources that could parallel experiences of grief and trauma through art. In other communities, World Vision Kosovo helped community members identify a need within a community that led to the formation of small businesses using “Loans for Peace.” Through both a comprehensive understanding of local and national resources and a desire to highlight the strengths of the culture, Kids for Peace has drawn high praise from the UNICEF branch in Kosovo as well as the Prime Minister of the country. It is quite evident that World Vision Kosovo’s Kids for Peace serves as an honoured recipient of this year’s Peacebuilding Award.
Congratulations Kids for Peace, World Vision Kosovo!