Life was scary on the dark streets of Kodra in northern Kosovo. As the sun set in this multi-ethnic neighborhood of Mitrovica, children would scatter, afraid of what might hide behind the corner. Residents had seen their share of violent conflicts between Serbs and Albanians before and after the Kosovo War, and safety has remained an issue in the poverty stricken area. Lingering trauma and fear flourished in the darkness.
But a group of young people decided to shed some light on the issue. Through Mercy Corps' Support for Kosovo’s Young Leaders (SKYL) program, Fatlum Bejtullahu, 20, Xhafer Beka, 26 (both Kosovo Albanians), and Alexander Zdravkovic, 20, (a Kosovo Serb) spearheaded a project to install streetlights along nearly one-mile of the main street, easing the lives of more than 1,300 residents.
“Since this street is now light we feel safe. Young people can spend more time together after the sun sets; older people started to go for walks during the evenings,” said Alexander.
He and the other two leaders came up with the plan during a two-day SKYL workshop they attended in Macedonia with 26 other young people from different ethnic backgrounds. The program is designed to motivate youth to become active participants in building a better future for themselves and their communities. There is also a specific focus on bringing together diverse cultures to connect and work together, a start at healing generations of division.
These three young men made great strides to do just that. Their work, also supported by the multi-ethnic local NGO First Step, installed nine new street lights and repaired nine others, bringing light to a diverse community of 700 Serbian families, 520 Albanian families, four Bosnian families, two Macedonian families and one Roma family.
Not only did the project improve the confidence and living conditions of the community, but it brought cultures together, opening the door for future cooperation. Nexhat Imeri, First Start’s Deputy Director, summed it up nicely: “This project will offer good opportunities for other joint activities between Serbian, Albanian and other communities who live in Kodra e Minatoreve in North Kosovo. Our future will be brighter.”