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ConfPicture.gif (18262 bytes)In our October conference, we had choosen this picture to illustrate our Educators' Conference on Kosovo. The little girl in the red sweater became the symbol of our action to help reconstruct education in that part of the world. Eric (Causes Communes), who took the picture in early July, did not know much much about her. All he could tell us  was that the picture had been taken in a small village called Gllarevė - between Pristina and Peja.

Two days before leaving to Kosovo in early december, I received a note from Watts Rozell (Kosovo Connection), who had organized the conference: "If you can find out as much as you can about the girl on the conference picture...  " So on December 8th Pascal (Le Soir) and I embarked on a C130 of the belgian army, en route to Kosovo.  Our mission: find the little girl in the red sweater !

We spent one week there, going from Leposavic to Dragash, from Mitrovica to Peja. We met teachers and their classes. We met school directors and community leaders in both the serbian and the albanian parts of Kosovo. We met NGOs and official organizations who are currently reconstructing schools there. At the end of our stay we located the Gllarev village. And we found the little girl in the red sweater.

Her name is Shqipe. Meeting her and her family was one of the very emotional moments in our trip. But we also met many other boys and girls in all sorts of schools. In the serbian-speaking part of Kosovo we visited a "large" school in Leshak, and a little mountain school at Belobrdė, half-a-mile from the serbian border. We saw big schools in cities like Pristina, Gjakova or Peja, but also tent schools in villages like Cabra, that had been completely destroyed.

Whatever language they speak, all the children we saw there hold the key of the future for Kosovo. Their teachers have an important responsibility. So do all the people who can decide to help them, or not. Even if the material conditions there are sometimes very difficult, what they need is much more than money. This was my first trip to Kosovo, and I have learnt much in just a few days. What we see on TV, what we read in newspapers, cannot give us a right understanding of the reality there. But after this trip, I am even more convinced than before that an action at the level of a specific class or school, like a class twinning program, is probably one of the most effective ways we have to help Kosovo integrate a community founded on the democratic values of tolerance, openness to other cultures, and responsible solidarity.