STC Kosovo’s April 2023 Big Volunteer Weekend was a huge success!
Over 40 volunteers from 5 countries gathered together, including both Kosovar Serbs and Albanians, volunteering alongside each other to show kindness and to care for their urban environment.
This year’s Big Volunteer Weekend focused on the city of Mitrovica, an ethnically-diverse municipality which includes Albanian, Serb, Turk, Bosniak and Roma populations. The city has been the focus of recurrent ethnic clashes in history, in particular between the Kosovar Albanians and the Kosovar Serbs, leading to the creation of North Mitrovica in 2012 which effectively separated the Serb and Albanian populations using the Ibar river which runs through the city. There is just one bridge that connects the two populations, and this is manned by Italian police 24/7 to help prevent further violent clashes.
This year, volunteers in Mitrovica worked on 5 projects during the course of the weekend including clearing and painting the Handikos-Se Basku Centre for persons with disabilities to create new spaces for admin and occupational therapy (https://www.facebook.co/profile.php?id=100076309261658), painting the RADC Learning Centre for Roma communities living in Kosovo (https://www.facebook.co/radclearningcenter) , playing games with Roma children in the Roma district, and clearing plastic waste from the banks of the Ibar river.
STC Kosovo was born from an initiative by STC Chesapeake leader, Jon Hildebrande, who previously brought teams of volunteers from the USA to the region. STC Kosovo’s founder and City leader is Jay Benfante, who took part in a Big Volunteer Week in Pristina ten years ago…Jay has not looked back since!
“Running projects at STC Kosovo can be challenging. Although the war is over, tensions between ethnic populations still exist, and bringing people together to serve others is not as straightforward as it might be in other areas of the world”, says Jay. “The city scapes of Kosovo are also threatened by environmental degradation and waste management issues due to a culture of habitual littering and fly-tipping which is a huge educational challenge.”
Through his work leading projects for Serve the City in Kosovo, Jay hopes that volunteering can hold the key to bringing harmony to Kosovo, bringing ethnicities together to show kindness to one and other, and creating cleaner shared city spaces for all to enjoy.
“The kindness and openness of the people of Kosovo is extremely touching,” says Jay. “The people of Kosovo have endured violence and destruction for many years, but they remain warm, genuine and hospitable. Our projects this year worked across ethnic groups here, and our volunteers really embraced the STC Big Volunteer Weekend initiative to show kindness to others in their city!”