In April 1999, a small group of people had been watching all the horrific news reports from Kosova for as long as they could bear. They had conversation which ran: “We’ve got to do something!” — and that sentiment exploded into action.
We made lots of contacts with existing aid organisations very quickly, as we tried to avoid re-inventing the wheel, but were determined to be driven and directed by real, local people and to avoid all the waste and red tape which scares people about charities.
We had a fantastic response. Experienced aid workers were quick to give advice, and we have been able to see the realities, on the ground, of how different sized organisations are all essential, complementary parts of the picture. We make real friendships between the UK and foreign communities, and we are certain our aid goes where it is intended. More importantly, the relationships we have forged bring hope and great prospects for development.
Other charities running aid convoys have shared their stories (and we’ve sent vehicles along with them) and above all, individuals and families have amazed us with their generosity and support.
None of us have ever worked on a project which has so captured everybody’s imagination.
Our first convoy delivered its aid to Kosovan refugees in Albania in March 1999.
We were ecstatic to be able to make the delivery and positively impact on people’s lives. Since then we’ve delivered to refugee camps and villages in Macedonia, and volunteers have spent several weeks in Kosova itself, meeting with (and delivering aid with) families, Trades Unions, the students of Prishtine University, doctors and nurses at Gjlane hospital, and politicians from the provisional Kosovan government. We have been stunned by the generosity of the welcome we have received — as real people travelling with eyes and minds open. We are also indebted to the people of the International Medical Corps in Mitrovice, who have been able to distribute our aid after our departure.
Given the ethnic divisions, it is important to note that we do not only deliver aid to Albanian communities. With no hesitation, where there are still Serbian people living [in Kosovo] – who at first were often overlooked in the rush to help Albanian communities – we work with them too, sometimes having to be surreptitious to avoid local anger.
There is much still to be done. We intend to keep on working to help the people of the region, paying particular attention to Macedonia and Albania, where they have received less concentrated international support than Kosova itself. We must work with them after the fighting to help them rebuild their lives. Over ten years of ethnic division has left deep psychological scars. Our volunteers have heard chilling stories, and seen the evidence in grim detail. In many villages every home was burnt out. Every sizeable town has hundreds of orphans. Children of rape victims require special attention and care. Schools and Universities are re-stocking libraries after years of being run down.
The NATO and UN forces were not there to prosecute war criminals, and we have met civilians too scared to assist the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Our volunteers – ordinary people from the UK – have found bodies which nobody is equipped to bury. We are in for a long haul of dealing with traumatised civilians.
Please help us to deliver food, clothes, toys, tools, and to buy building materials and assist in rebuilding and recreating jobs. How? Try this: whatever you do for fun — keep doing it, but get it sponsored! It’s the easiest way to make a huge contribution! Sports, hobbies, obsessions… all can be “leveraged”!
We’ve had supermarket sweeps; pub crawls with “10p on a pint”, thanks to a string of local pubs; a cake sale & raffle. In the summer of 2001 we set in place a plan for a sponsored walk of the length of Britain! Bands have played benefit nights; there was even a play at the Edinburgh Festival which donated one night’s takings. And we are very grateful for a very generous donation from a school in Hong Kong, which used some of our photographs to explain to its pupils what was going on.
Want to find out more?
- More photographs from our work in Kosova are available in this gallery on flickr.
- You can see some press coverage of our early convoys here.
- Read a striking poem, written by one of our team in Kosova, a survivor of the war.
- Dive into the archives to follow our story. It begins in February 1999.
A selection of images & their stories