Living in the Midst of Shooting and Terror!

“What we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”– Mother Theresa

Helping others does not necessarily mean that you have much yourself. You just have a heart to help those in need, and are willing to share what you do have. So we decided to concentrate our “drop” on a small Serbian enclave that was surrounded by Albanians who were intent on ethnically-cleansing the area. We had heard about this village from other international aid workers, as it had become well-known because of what happened there. Having only 600 inhabitants, it had been the site of a horrible massacre where 14 of the men had been killed in front of their wives and children as they were returning from working in the fields. Life in this isolated village is still dangerous to this day. Not long ago a school teacher and her husband were killed while driving home. For 14 years the people have lived in constant fear, and what little protection NATO peacekeepers used to offer them has long since dried up. The poor villagers are unable to move to a safer area as there is no money.

The first time we visited this village it was the middle of the harsh Balkan winter. We had some banana boxes of donated clothes and things for children that we were hoping to distribute. We drove our van down the middle of the deserted snow-covered main road, stopped our van, opened the back doors, and then waited. Within minutes curious people began coming out of their homes, eyes wide in amazement at the scene before them. They calmly began looking through the things that we had brought as the word had spread and more people began coming out to meet us. We did not have much on that initial visit, but what we did have seemed to multiply before our eyes as we simply leaned on God’s supernatural supply.

After establishing a solid relationship with the residents of this tiny village and winning the trust of both the people and the village elder (who also happened to be the principal of the school), we decided to “adopt” the village – that is, focus a significant amount of our time and resources on helping them. After several deliveries of aid, we felt a desire to do more for the young people of the village whose ages ranged from 13-17 years old. We started a regular program of character development where we would teach and train them in motivation, leadership, and various life-skills.

At the end of the training we wanted to do something special for them to commemorate their finishing of the course, and determined to take them on a day trip to a beautiful lake situated in a Serbian area near the Serbia border with Kosovo where they could enjoy a day free from the rigors of daily life, and enjoy playing in the water, boating, and other fun activities. The problem was, the lake was 80 km away and required passing through hostile Albanian territory, so we had to come up with some sort of solution for transporting the kids there!

Because the Danish NATO military contingent was overseeing the area where the lake was situated, we approached them with our idea and asked them for help. Their office for civilian/military cooperation (CIMIC) was open to helping us in any way that would enhance the lives of the minority Serbs, especially when it came to children. They agreed to supply two military transport trucks together with armored personnel carriers at the front and back that would guarantee protection for the convoy. This was important, as in those days the radical element of the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) had an ongoing policy of ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Kosovo, and they would attack any sort of Serbian transport that was not protected. The Danes not only provided the needed transport, but also supplied drinking water for the day and a military ration lunch kit for each participant, which the kids really loved as it was chock full of all kinds of goodies!

The military vehicles came down to the village in the early morning, and all 30 of us were assembled and waiting as they pulled up. It was quite a sight as we all climbed into the back of the green canvass-covered trucks and settled down on the not-so-comfortable wooden plank seats. Apprehensive parents handed cell phones to their children so they could keep in touch throughout the day, and waved their good-byes as the military column pulled out. For most of these children it was the first time they had been outside their little village enclave in years, able to experience what “freedom of movement”, something that was supposedly guaranteed under the U.N charter, was like.

After a day of great fun, the trucks and escort vehicles returned in the late afternoon to pick us all up to get us all safely back to the village before sunset. It was an amazing day and one of those unforgettable events for us all, but especially for the young people.

Since the lake excursion was so successful, we wanted to do even more for the young people the following year, and so set out to plan a week-long seminar/holiday camp for our group on the Montenegrin coast. The distance this time was much greater, 350 kms, and while most of the driving would be in Montenegro, we had to catch the bus in the Kosovo Serbian town of Mitrovica, and therefore again required the help of the Danish KFOR for secure transportation from the children’s village. Despite the successful trip to the lake the previous year, the parents again worried, this time even more since it was a much longer trip and their children would be gone for a week rather than just one day.

With Kosovo being land-locked and the Serbian village enclaves under constant threat, none of these children had ever been to the coast or seen the ocean before. Most of them learned to swim during that week and had the time of their lives as they took advantage of the evenings to walk to the nearby town to enjoy some semblance of night-life, discotheques, etc!  Both food and funding to support this initiative were supplied via sponsorship raised from international organizations operating in Kosovo.