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Kosovo Mission as told by Romain Welter

 

 

 

Romain Welter relates his unique experience in the heart of PL4Y International’s project

 

Romain has spent two and a half years as a project manager in Kosovo. His actions were essential in order for PL4Y International’s great project to succeed abroad. Back in France, Romain revisits his unforgettable experience.

 

 

What drove you to undertake this project with PL4Y International?

 

Romain: I was at University with a friend who worked for the same project. So, he explained to me the goal of the programme and I had the opportunity to better understand the context. A part from that, I always wanted to go on a mission abroad and be involved in such a project; it was a real challenge for me. Both the professional experience and the human experience attracted me.

 

 

Kosovo has come from a difficult situation and just got its independence in 2008, can you tell us about the situation now?

 

I knew the situation beforehand. But what is interesting in this project is that you can rub shoulders with the local population coming from different communities as well as with local partners. This makes it easier to better understand the context. The situation can be totally different from one city to another and from one community to another, so it’s important to have a global view.

 

Today relationships between the two main communities – Albanian and Serbian – have calmed down. Nevertheless, the situation still delicate in some areas, most of the cities are mono-ethnic and there is a lack of social diversity. Moreover, some communities are not well integrated in the country, such as the Roma and the Turks.

 

 

What kind of relationships did you have with the local populations?

 

Within the project, we work directly with and for the local population; it makes the dialogue easier. People realise that we aim to improve the situation of the youth through sport and it is quite understandable for them.

 

Outside the project, it is a little bit different. Foreigners in Kosovo are not warmly welcomed. Since the end of the war and even since independence, Kosovo has been overwhelmed by International missions, therefore the foreigner’s image is not really good.

 

Moreover, the linguistic barriers still pose a huge problem. This is probably one of the big differences with the other missions in Burundi or Haiti. We work in English and French and we need translators for every training that we organise – for Albanian, Serbian and Turkish – which complicates the dialogue.

 

 

What are the actions undertaken by PL4Y International in Kosovo, and what was your mission?

 

We have a programme called “Sport4Youth” that aims to create a network of young sports practitioners from different youth centres throughout the country. We work in 12 different cities and in each city, around 5 volunteers between 13 and 21 years old are trained. The aim is to provide them skills in sports activities and to facilitate the dialogue between the different communities. We don’t force the dialogue; to the contrary, we try to create it and to make them think about their differences and similarities.

 

Moreover, we organise events during the summer in several cities for children coming from different communities. During these events children from 4 different cities and communities get together and play in mixed teams. The goal is to get them closer and to teach them to play together. What’s more, since last year, we organise cultural visits in each city in order to make them realise the cultural diversity of each community.

A part from that, we try hard to provide better access to sports for children. Thus, the volunteers we train organise around three activities per month for the children in their city.

 

In conclusion, my mission through these different programmes was to manage the daily projects, organise the training sessions and the events and to work on the educational methods. I was also connected to the partners: municipalities and youth centres.

 

 

What was the impact of PL4Y International’s missions on the gathering of communities?

 

The impact was important for the volunteers. We really felt an evolution in their relationship and in the way they see each other. Obviously, there are still sensitive subjects and tensions. But globally, the situation is improving and the most nationalist became more sensitive and more open-minded.

 

 

What were your feelings during the mission (especially regarding your contact with others)?

 

When you’re caught up in all the activities, it can be hard to take a step back and see the impact you’re having. I was, however, able to see that PL4Y International’s missions are really beneficial. This project is pertinent to both the context and the needs of the local populations.

 

Personally, my relationship with the volunteers was what really hit home; as time went on, we strengthened our friendships, which motivated them further. This also helped us understand where they were coming from, through their personal stories, which, in turn, helped us better understand the situation in Kosovo. The experience was rewarding both professionally – the work was interesting and it allowed me to evolve – and personally – I came to understand the issues at play. Working with the Kosovar youth volunteers who just overflow with energy was deeply touching.

 

 

Do you have a story you’d like to share that really shows how the mission changed you?

 

One of the really great moments during my two and a half years was a trip we took last summer to Lyon with twelve volunteers from different communities. Going to France, for them, was an extraordinary experience, given how difficult it is for Kosovars to get visas, coupled with the economic situation. I saw them having fun, and that – you can’t really put a price on it. It was amazing to see them sharing these moments and to see them interact with the French youth.

 

Would you go again if a similar opportunity presented itself?

 

Of course! If a project of the same level of quality came up, I think I’d leave without any hesitation.

 

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