Reports coming from Kosovo are usually quite disconcerting. Too often we hear about acts of pointless violence and expressions of nationalistic hatred. But this story is different. The Czech branch of the international Adventist Relief Agency ADRA has just opened a new school in the impoverished Northern Kosovo municipality of Ballovc, a small ethnic Albanian town twenty kilometres north of Prishtina, and just a stone's throw from Kosovo's troubled border with Southern Serbia. Our man in Prishtina, Libor Kubik, sent us the following despatch.
Until now, 250 children aged between six and 14 attended a school which hardly deserved its name. In truly medieval conditions, under a leaking roof which suffered further damage during a recent rainy season, they had classes in three daily shifts. They had no desks, no chairs, no generator to produce electricity during frequent power blackouts. The situation in dirt-poor Ballovc, where 80 percent of people have no jobs, is part of the bitter legacy of the Milosevic regime.
Acting upon a tip from Czech KFOR troops on a peacekeeping mission in Northern Kosovo, the Czech nongovernmental organisation ADRA started work on a new school building in Ballovc in October. Rudolf Reitz, Director of ADRA Czech Republic, tells me that 30 volunteers from the Czech Republic and Kosovo worked for virtually no pay till Tuesday afternoon, when the new school was opened with much pomp and circumstance. The Czech foreign ministry had provided 75 percent of funding, the remaining 25 percent had been raised by ADRA, which also paid the architect.
Talking about pomp and circumstance, the Czech Ambassador to Belgrade, Judita Stouracova, descended upon Ballovc, flanked by a suite of foreign ministry officials and a small unit of Czech KFOR troops. She was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of schoolchildren -- some in national costumes, others wearing faded Levi's -- their no less enthusiastic parents and a small delegation of village elders wearing typical Albanian skullcaps. Speeches were made, poems were recited and patriotic songs were sung by an ensemble of unusually sombre-looking seventh-graders. My Albanian is still very poor but I can tell you that President Vaclav Havel's name was mentioned several times and the applause was just frenetic. Clearly Vaclav Havel is still the most valuable Czech export.
The new school is a simple, one-storey whitewashed building. It is much bigger than its dilapidated predecessor, so from now on, there will be only two daily shifts. It fits nicely into the very picturesque landscape. Incidentally spring broke out in earnest here on Tuesday, at long last. The Ballovc school is the fourth to be donated to Kosovo by the Czech Republic.
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