News Archives

Church agency expands work in Kosovo

10/16/2000 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: For related coverage of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries' meeting, see UMNS stories #473, #474 and #476.

STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS) - With the recent overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has decided the time is right to expand its development work in Kosovo.

Directors of the Health and Relief Unit, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, voted during the board's Oct. 9-13 annual meeting to approve nearly $2 million for the new work. The funding comes from the $5 million donated by church members and others for UMCOR's work in Kosovo.

The UMCOR staff in Kosovo will use $1.6 million to create a small-business development program and $402,074 for a youth reconciliation program in northern Kosovo that will include Albanian and Serbian youth organizations.

The Rev. Paul Dirdak, UMCOR's chief executive, pointed out that recent elections in Yugoslavia, culminating in the ouster of Milosevic, have made it easier to promote bridge building between Kosovar Albanians and Kosovar Serbs.

Small-business grants "will be distributed on both sides of the ethnic division," he said. "It's a powerful engine to help people live together." The grants also will require recipients "to become humanitarians themselves" by helping support the poor in their communities, Dirdak added.

UMCOR already has had success in reconciliation work through its youth houses in Bosnia, where staff found "there are young people willing to rebel against their parents' hatred," he said.

The goal of the small-business project is to promote an equitable economic recovery and foster stability among and within ethnic groups through business development seminars, small grants to micro-enterprises, business cooperation across ethnic lines and new community associations for small-business development. Participants will have to complete a training program to qualify for a start-up grant. Additional consulting and site-specific training will supplement the general training program.

The youth project will be in and near Mitrovica, which remains the most divided city in Kosovo. Because of the tensions between the northern and southern parts of the region, separate projects will be established in those areas. Using UMCOR's Bosnian model, the training program will include conflict resolution principles, diversity appreciation, group problem solving, community needs assessment, organizational development, strategic planning, leadership and advocacy. An estimated 200 youth are expected to be involved.

UMCOR's initial work with youth in Mitrovica has included the formation of one Serb and one Albanian youth association, and such groups will continue to be developed and supported. Future peace-building projects that both Serb and Albanian youth have expressed interest in include the creation of a joint art project, the establishment of an "Internet café," and joint slogans to promote peace and tolerance.

Since the summer of 1999, UMCOR has provided assistance to target communities and individuals in Kosovo by addressing housing, infrastructure, agricultural and social development program needs. When possible, such assistance is coordinated with other local and international organizations.

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