Helping people recover from the COVID crisis Building Resilience Among People Who Need It Most
December 29, 2022
Woolen socks. They’re a small token of appreciation for the humanitarian workers who helped an elderly woman in need.
“It isn’t much, but I wanted to make them for my children. That is what they are to me, you know. They have helped me so much during this time, and I knitted a pair of woolen socks for each of them, to show how thankful I am,” she says.
“The socks will keep them warm in the winter. So, in a way, I am helping them too,” she chuckles.
This kind-hearted and generous woman is Remzije Morina. But to everyone who knows her, she is “Auntie” Remzije – an endearing and respectful term used in Kosovo when referring to elderly women.
Auntie Remzije lives alone in her home in the Radoste village, just outside of Gjakovë/Ðakovica. She has three daughters who are married, have children, and live in other parts of Kosovo. “They check in on me from time to time, but they have their families to look after,” says Auntie Remzije.
She is one of around 200 people who received health and social services through the Mobile Clinic, as part of the ‘Response to COVID-19 Emergency and Early Recovery Support’ Action, known also as the Humanitarian Assistance Project (HAP). Financed by the European Union Office in Kosovo, HAP has been implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kosovo, with some activities carried out in partnership with UN Women Kosovo.
Operated by the Humanitarian and Charitable Society “Mother Teresa”, the Mobile Clinic is a customized vehicle that travels from village to village, helping people living in remote, hard-to-reach areas, who have limited to no access to much-needed health, social, and legal services.
The customized vehicle is one of four that have operated as part of HAP. The other three have been managed by Handikos Gjilan/Gnjilane, Agency for Free Legal Aid, and the Horizon Consulting medical company. A little under 1,000 people have been assisted through the mobile clinics since the beginning of the HAP project. Having been donated to the respective NGOs and the Ministry of Health, the mobile clinics will continue to operate.
The Humanitarian and Charitable Society ‘Mother Teresa’s humanitarian workers visited Auntie Remzije from time to time during the past year, checking her health, bringing her the medication she needed, and taking her to visit a physiotherapist. Auntie Remzije has a damaged hip, which causes her pain, difficulty while walking, and can only be cured through a hip replacement. She has had this for as long as she can remember. Her living alone, in the outskirts of town, coupled with her condition, makes it hard for Auntie Remzije to travel, and through HAP’s Mobile Clinic, the humanitarian workers have made sure she got the help she needed.
While Auntie Remzije’s woolen socks were unbranded, the clothes that another beneficiary makes are tagged.
Elki Gojani Ricami is a self-taught seamstress. She has been sewing clothes for five years now. Before that, she worked with her husband in the trading business.
“Making clothes has always been a passion of mine; I just didn’t get into it professionally until five years ago,” explains Elki. “My husband started getting some fabrics from Italy. I kept some and started sewing dresses, and well… the rest is history,” she says smiling. “Now I make coats, jackets, more dresses, blouses, shirts, and anything you can think of,” she adds.
Elki started out sewing clothes by hand. The dresses she was making five years ago were simple and didn’t require much skill. But with time, she decided to teach herself to do more. She never studied fashion design, or sewing; instead, she learnt by watching videos on YouTube, and practicing.
But as much as she was willing and eager to learn, something was holding her back.
“When I started, I only had a simple sewing machine. But there are things you can’t make with just that. Like the beads and bar tracks of buttonholes, for example. Or the lapels and collars and patch pockets of these coats and jackets. I had to iron down the glue that holds it together by hand. It would take me 2-3 days to make one coat, from start to finish, and I would not have time to make other things. That wasn’t very profitable, you know?” explains Elki. “But since I received this extra equipment last year, everything is so much easier,” she adds.
Elki is one of the 25 women from Gjakovë/Ðakovica who received trainings as part of the Humanitarian Assistance Project, with the aim to empower women economically in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The trainings helped women further develop their skills in terms of innovation, business plan development, entrepreneurship, and digital marketing. Trainings were completed with practical support, with each woman receiving equipment tailored to their needs, to help them start new businesses, or strengthen existing ones.
The activity was implemented in partnership with UN Women Kosovo, with trainings facilitated in cooperation with the Women’s Business Association ‘SHE-ERA’. 81 women in total were trained as part of the HAP project; in addition to the women from Gjakovë/Ðakovica, another 26 women from Pejë/Peć, and 30 from Mamushë/Mamuša/Mamuşa were trained. 51 women living in vulnerable situations receiving equipment.
Elki received two types of equipment: a coat pasting machine, and an iron along with the ironing board.
“I used to make one coat in 2-3 days, now I make 2-3 coats per day,” says Elki thankfully. And the trainings have helped me a lot. I’ve learnt how to better promote my business and my skills. I now have clients outside of Gjakovë/Ðakovica too,” she says.
Besides being used as a hobby or for professional work, threads and needles can be used to relieve stress, especially during difficult situations such as those the pandemic brought about. Witnesses to this effect are the residents and visitors of the Humanitarian Society for Mothers with Intellectually Disabled Children “Hader” in Prizren.
“They crochet, they knit, sew, make jewelry with beads, and make all sorts of other crafts. It helps them, and makes them happy,” says Resmije Krasniqi, the co-founder and Director of ‘Hader’.
Established in 1999, ‘Hader’ was an initiative of a few mothers whose children are mentally challenged; Resmije is one of them.
“My daughter is the reason I do all this. Taking care of her, made me think of children with special needs their mothers, and how much I wanted to help them. And I was especially concerned with the wellbeing of the children with physical and mental disabilities who had no one to look after them. Who was going to help them?” asks Resmije.
‘Hader’ has five residents, while the rest are visitors who come by in the morning and stay for a few hours. The center houses children as well as adults with disabilities, regardless of their age, ethnicity, or religion.
“Hader is home to anyone who needs it,” says Resmije. And one of those who does is Beqir Lami, who has been living there since 2014.
“When he first came here, he was an alcoholic. He had no roof over his head. I took him in and offered him shelter, and he has been living with us ever since,” explains Resmije.
Beqir is a disabled veteran of the 1999 conflict in Kosovo. Beqir used to be married, and he has a son and a daughter. But Beqir doesn’t have much contact with either of his children.
“I was living a completely different life back then,” says Beqir, trying to piece together the very few memories he has from that time. “I used to drink, a lot. I was depressed and aggressive. But my sister helped me to recover,” he says, looking at Resmije, who smiles at him with admiration and pride.
“Beqir has come a long way,” says Resmije. “He even gives back to this place. It’s his home after all,” she says. “He helps out, works in the garden, plays with the kids, and looks after the old place,” she laughs. “And I try to take even better care of it ever since the renovations,” adds Beqir chuckling.
He is referring to the renovations ‘Hader’ made with the grant it received from HAP. The humanitarian organization is one of 11 residential centers supported through the EU-funded project, to help rehabilitate, renovate, and reconstruct their facilities, in turn, allowing them to provide even better care to the families they help.
Having received just over 8,000 Euros, ‘Hader’ was able to replace their old kitchen with a brand new one, buy sofas, a wooden cooking stove, tables, and chairs, as well as beds and wardrobes for the five residents.
“Hader” has benefited greatly from the HAP project. Because of the rehabilitation, daily social services are now easier to provide. And the people housed here have especially benefited from the support, because with their housing conditions improved, so has their well-being,” says Resmije.
We say goodbye, leaving Beqir and Resmije looking at pictures taken through the years, reminiscing, and thankful of how far they have come.
The dispatchment of the four mobile clinics, the trainings and equipment provided to strengthen women’s economic empowerment, and the grants for the rehabilitation of the 11 residential centers were only three of the 13 activities carried out as part of the EU-funded Humanitarian Assistance Project. Five of them were implemented in partnership with UN Women Kosovo.
Through the HAP project, UNDP set up a Voucher Scheme of just under 3 million Euro to support 8,290 families for 8 months. Families could purchase food, hygiene products, and other necessities as per their needs. Water and heating costs were covered for 1,819 families for six months.
40 UN Community Volunteers were deployed to support the Centers for Social Work (CSW) across Kosovo to ensure timely provision of social services. It provided an opportunity for newly graduated students to gain valuable work experience, becoming the next generation of social workers.
In addition to the 11 residential centers, 30 CSWs were supported through targeted renovations and rehabilitation. The initiative created a better space for all and made it possible to provide higher quality services to people in need.
More than 200,000 women and men from marginalized groups were reached through campaigns organized by UN Women Kosovo that addressed discriminatory gender stereotypes and social norms, with gender equality considerations being applied throughout all HAP activities.
Up to 4,000 front-line workers and visitors of CSW and shelters also received much-needed hand sanitizers, protective gloves and masks to keep help them be protected against the virus.
Guided by the United Nations’ ‘leave no one behind’ principle, the HAP project has been at the heart of UNDP’s COVID-19 recovery efforts, providing relief to those who needed it most.
Story by Elsa Kelmendi, photos by Arben Llapashtica for UNDP Kosovo.