In March, 2003 there was anti-Serbian rioting amongst the Albanian population as part of the ongoing ethnic cleansing. Many poor Serbs had their houses burned in the process and were now living in very difficult conditions either in some adapted shipping containers that had been donated by the U.N. and the Russians, or with relatives. An international friend of ours, a businessman who ran shops on the military bases, wanted to help these displaced people, and donated hundreds of nice, good quality winter jackets, warm woolen and thermal blankets, sweaters, and hats for kids, etc., for us to distribute. A base that was upgrading their china gave us all their used plates, and another gave us stacks of cleaning materials when they were packing up to leave Kosovo.
There were no jobs and constant insecurity. People had lost more than their homes; they had lost their land from which they survived. No more gardens, no more animals, no more life. We knew the bits of aid that we could bring were only a drop in the ocean to the overall need, but the encouragement felt by the people when they saw someone cared, was worth so much to them during their darkest hour. The need was always great.
Snowsuits from Sweden for Christmas
During our visits to the multi-ethnic town of Janjevo in central Kosovo we would experience some of the most deplorable housing we had seen. Roma gypsies were living in deserted broken down houses without windows or heating. As we drove by, their cute kids would hang in doorways or sit on the front steps and it really touched our hearts, especially when we saw how they were dressed in dirty, broken rags in the middle of winter.
We had some friends in Sweden that would often receive end-of-season donated items from department and chain stores, so we wrote them to ask if they might have any warm winter clothes that we could give to these poor kids. They told us they had very nice top-quality snowsuits. All we needed was the transport to get them down to Kosovo. So we went to the appropriate NATO office to ask them about shipping some boxes of snowsuits for us on their next supply flight. But to get this OK’d would require someone who would be willing to go around standard military policy that forbids the shipping of civilian goods on a military flight.
Then the day before Christmas we got a call from the base letting us know that the boxes had been shipped and would be there in time for Christmas. In addition to the snowsuits there were hygienic items and toys. We filled up our van and headed off to Janjevo like Santa Claus to give out our presents! That was an unforgettable Christmas, as we were blessed with the opportunity to put these Swedish quality snowsuits on to shivering Roma gypsy children. Months later, with the snow melting and spring around the corner, we would drive up to Janjevo and see the children merrily playing outside, still wearing the same snowsuits, now looking like they had come through WW2. It looked like they had not taken them off since we put them on them, but at least for that winter they had been healthy and warm!