Albanian and Serbian children heal wounds of war; promote peace

With the pitter-patter of rain falling on the tent above them, parents and community members look on, hardly able to believe what they are seeing right in front of them. Children from Kosovo and Serbia sit on the ground together. They are huddled around a large piece of fabric and are, together, painting a rainbow and writing slogans about peace and love, just one day ahead of International Day of Peace.

The date is Thursday, 20 September 2012. The weather is a real disappointment for the 50 Albanian and Serbian children who have been working three entire weeks to publicly demonstrate that peace is possible among their nations.

The children are surrounded by150 others who are eagerly waiting for the activity to begin. Although the rain may have tried to dampen the mood, these children are undeterred. A big tent is placed over the village sports field.  Below its shelter, children press on with their program. It cannot be postponed because the next day, September, 21, is the International Day of Peace. 

A different generation, leading by example

Although this activity is important, the truth is that the most amazing thing has already happened and continues to happen across the country.  For more than ten years, thousands Albanian and Serbian children have filled peace clubs across Kosovo, through World Vision’s Kids for Peace project.

Although the peace clubs in Kosovo are not new, the importance of this event in Rubovc, cannot be overlooked. This village is home to the only school shared by both Albanian and Serbian children. While the children go to the same school building, they go in different entrances, attend different classes and rarely, if ever, say hello let alone socialize.

Peace is possible

On this September day, however, 200 children showed peace is possible. “It was my first time to see Albanian and Serbian children together in Rubovc,” says Suzana Recica, 53, an Albanian mother who came to support her daughter, Xhenetha. “You could not distinguish one [child] from another,” she said.  “I did not want to lose this opportunity.”

She can’t hide her astonishment that the entire event turned out “so fine” knowing that it was prepared children. Even so, she is glad her daughter has opportunities she was never given as a child, noting that as a child she never had a place to be with other children.

The children take the stage with hugs and enthusiasm, Suzan is struck by the message from the children--that Albanians and Serbians living together in peace is not an impossible mission.

More than moral support

Wrapping her jacket more tightly around her, Suzana shares what the event means to her. “I am deeply encouraged,” she says, admitting that hate is strong among many Albanians and Serbians in Kosovo. And, has clearly understood that her daughter enjoys being with Serbian children

Like her daughter, Suzan has chosen to not hate. She has chosen, instead, to respect. And just like that, she heads out into the pouring rain to help her child. Other parents do the same. Not only are they supporting their children they are being examples of peace.

Children changing adults

Peace is not a childish dream. Even if it was, like anything childish, it has the power to impact the adults as well. The children’s message challenges adults and pushes them to hope and understanding. Many adults who came mainly to support their children were caught up in the message and become carriers of it as well, because in the end adults want peace too.  

Working together for lasting peace

Nearly 400 Albanian and Serbian children participate in the peace clubs annually. Over the years, thousands of children have gone through the program. As children they often enter as shy individuals, afraid of their “the enemy” or “the conqueror”. But, as they progress through the clubs, they learn that the world is made for everybody and that the best way to move toward is to fade the hate and heal the brutal wounds caused during their shared history.

Living and leading by example

For those who think that peace is not possible and forgiveness a formidable task, they should be reminded that the idea of the peace clubs came from a young girl Albanian girl from Kosovo named Fatmira. During the armed conflict with Serbia, she lost a brother and a sister. Her grief was watered by tears.

But, instead of hatred growing inside of her, a different seed bean to grow. A seed that took root in her and motivated her, at just 11-years-old, to start the peace clubs which have taken root and produced positive fruit across the country.

Today, 10 years later, the peace clubs have no doubt saved thousands from the bitter power of hate. 

The fruit

Today, families from Rubovc, many of whom spent the entire day on the field, taste the fruit of peace. They were surprised that their children get along so well with each other, especially as adults often recognize that they  would need much more time to move forward.  

“I really like that my son, David, is member of [the] peace club,” says Dragan Djokic, father of a Serbian boy. “Even though we live in the same village with Albanians, he has never had an Albanian friend,” he affirms, even as his son interacts with the other participants.

Dragon was one of the four Serbian parents who agreed to let their children travel to Albania as part of a Kosovo-Serbian Kids for Peace conference at the beginning of this September.The event culminated with the children declaring: “we are so similar” at the Albanian media event that covered the conference.

Dragan says that everyone-children and adults-need these “life changing messages,” emphasizing how he personally likes cooperation between Albanians and Serbians (a path through which he is supporting his son, David). He adds that this kind of activities helps both Serbians and Albanians to communicate and know each other better and encourages his son to continue being part of the peace club.  With a little smile in his face, Dragan tells how children communicate with each other, in English, and are Facebook’s pen-pals as well.

A village divided by invisible walls of hatred   

To better understand the significance of the day’s events, one needs to look no farther than a few feet to the Rubovc village school, where children study under the same roof. But, appearances can be deceiving. Although they have a common school grounds, children enter through separate gates and study in separate classes. An invisible line even divides the school yard.  

While it is not divided by walls, Serbians and Albanians stay apart, without touching in the middle. They do not greet each –other even in the streets of the village.

“We have seen most of these Serbian children in the village and school but we have never said  ‘hello’ to them,” says Xhenetha Recina, a young Albanian girl who helped in the organization of the event. “This is the first time for me talking and staying with [Serbian children].” This separation was exactly why organizers choose children from both nationalities to come together and organize this event.

The Children and youth took their responsibility for every detail, seriously. “Even though they are part of the same school, these children have never spent time together,” says Loreta Buzhela, the World Vision Kids for Peace project facilitator in this community.  “This activity was a challenge for them. They gathered together and took responsibility to make plans. They communicate in English (since they speak two different languages); they used signs. They also received our help in translating. It was clear they looked so happy together,” she says. “They only needed a tiny push to bring them close.”   

Challenging the status quo


Not only did the Children of Rubovc come together for this event, they extended their influence even further, by : inviting children from three other peace clubs in Lipjan: Janjeve, Kraisht and Suvi Do to join them.

They also challenged the rules of anger, crossing the cultural divides in their community—physically and symbolically, by mixing in their divided school. Twenty-nine Albanian children and 21 Serbian children all went together each other’s classrooms, together, in the middle of the day to work on preparations for the event.

“After coming in, they went on with preparations of International peace Day, there, inside each other’s classes, all together,” says Pajtim Smolica, of the Kids for Peace project.  

With their cheeks rosy from the cold temperatures, the children concluded their event, not realizing completely how their events and attitudes are also changing the adults in their community—starting with their parents.

At least for these children, and for those who love them, communities are seeing that peace is possible and that as love and understanding grow, less and less room is left for hate.