Life-changing experience for students
A COMMUNITY project aimed at helping war orphans in Kosovo was established by Jane Edwards five years ago and is still going strong. Jane, community coordinator at St Christopher School in Letchworth GC, said: We have had a project in Rajasthan for years
A COMMUNITY project aimed at helping war orphans in Kosovo was established by Jane Edwards five years ago and is still going strong.
Jane, community coordinator at St Christopher School in Letchworth GC, said: "We have had a project in Rajasthan for years, where students go out twice a year but they don't spend terribly long in one place.
"I wanted to start up a project that was nearer to home and where everything is in one place."
The project began in the town of Gjakova, close to the Albanian border, which suffered some of the worst atrocities of the Kosovan War.
Jane said: "I work together with a team of people and it's a huge team effort.
"The main aim is to bring children together from the different ethnic groups to enable them to take part in community projects that help them overcome their prejudices.
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"The children and people we are working with have had horrific experiences, with one or both parents killed in the war."
Jane said one girl who has participated in the youth community project witnessed both her parents being shot dead when she was five years old. She clung to their dead bodies before her grandmother could get into the house to pull her away.
Jane said: "It's stuff that you can't even begin to imagine."
Working with local high school students in Kosovo, and liaising with various agencies there, including the British Council and the Centre for the Protection of Women and Children, Jane and St Christopher School students run an annual intensive summer school in Kosovo.
Workshop activities include music, drama, dance, art and craft, and jewellery making.
Jane said: "The idea is to work with the young people so that they don't keep the prejudices of their parents.
"I don't think I can change that, but the only way it is going to change is through the new generation.
"We are working to build bridges with communities who were at war in very recent times.
"We celebrate culture through music, dance and drama. They can share together and keep their own culture, but also understand other cultures."
She added: "The local students run an ongoing community programme because we don't want to leave them in a vacuum."
In July, 43 sixth formers and staff from St Christopher School travelled to Kosovo to take part in the youth community project.
Jane said the Kosovan people involved in the project have responded incredibly.
She said: "They welcome the experience with open arms. They are so open to change and they are so desperate for educational experiences they wouldn't otherwise get. After the war, there was no investment in the educational infrastructure."
And the project has not just benefited people in Kosovo. Jane said: "Our students say it's been a life-changing experience for them. They say they have received far more than they were able to give. I set up the project in such a way that it's a valuable experience for them."
Jane visits Kosovo five times a year and runs weekend training courses during her holidays.
Asked what she enjoys most about being involved in the project, she said:
"The best thing is being given the opportunity to make a difference to people's lives and to work with other people to make a difference.
"These people have had horrendous experiences which have left them seriously traumatised and they need to be able to look forward to a future without violence.