Belgrade, Serbia (IOCC) Turning off of the modern, four-lane highway that leads to southern Serbia, our convoy of vehicles makes its way to the border between Serbia and Kosovo.
We pass through the bustling town of Kosovska Mitrovica and are allowed by international security forces to cross the bridge that divides the Serbian and Albanian communities. The road narrows as we traverse once productive farm land that lies fallow. Finally, the road becomes a single lane as we approach the village of Banje and end in a dirt path in front of an elementary school.
We are literally at the end of the road, isolated in a remote corner of Kosovo. Yet, we are surrounded by dozens of excited children, their parents and teachers.
For two days in September, His Grace Bishop Teodosije of Lipljan hosted IOCC Executive Director Constantine M. Triantafilou and basketball stars Vlade Divac and Dragan Tarlac. They visited children in Kosovo and brought with them shirts, hats and basketballs donated by Adidas through the Peja Stojakovic Children’s Foundation.
The sports stars sat down among the children to ask them about the subjects they were studying. The elementary school in Banje has a computer center and generator through a project implemented by IOCC with the support of Divac. “The positive thinking that they display in facing the challenges in Kosovo always makes me happy,” reflected Tarlac, who has visited Kosovo numerous times over the years.
IOCC has focused on community infrastructure projects in the region, such as the rehabilitation of schools that allow people to remain in their homes and avoid being displaced to nearby Serbia. More than 200,000 others from Kosovo have left in search of security and stability since 1999.
Recently, IOCC announced an initiative to provide $500,000 in assistance to Kosovo for the expansion of agricultural projects that provide employment and foster inter-ethnic cooperation. The initiative will also provide assistance to schools and create educational and recreational programs.
“It is amazing to see the smiles of the children who are living under such difficult circumstances,” said Divac. “The work that is being done by Bishop Teodosije and IOCC is critical for the survival of these people.”
— Mark Hodde/IOCC Baltimore