By Medina Bilalli (YES 2019-2020, Kosovo, placed by Aspect Foundation in Canton, IL)
Speak the words, “war, camp, and refugee,” in Kosovo, and many citizens will think about the Kosovo War just over 20 years ago; the wounds of the people are certainly still fresh. That is why the citizens of Kosovo find it very important to help people from other countries who are going through the same things.
Since October 2021, 13 YES Alumni in Kosovo have been volunteering at Camp Bondsteel in Ferizaj, where Afghan refugees continue to reside after the fall of Kabul last August.
At first, myself and my fellow alumni were unsure about our role in helping Afghan refugees. It all started as a conversation club – a club created by the YES Alumni to engage with refugees about life in the U.S., and how they can overcome homesickness, how to support children and teenagers emotionally, and answer any questions they had about the American culture. The alumni were glad to be selected by the embassy to assist the refugees. However, there was always this sad atmosphere, because we could see how the refugees were still in shock about how their life had changed so quickly.
After a while, the alumni started to work with the children, in hopes of cheering them up and teaching them some English words. There were a lot of fun activities going on such as water games, drawing with chalk, making slime, bubbles, kites, wooden airplanes, puppets, etc. The children were very excited to see us and play with us. We would communicate in English and with different hand movements to explain the meaning of a few words. These activities played an important role in the atmosphere change at the camp. Our relationships soon evolved over time, and both sides felt the impact of the experience.
When we started volunteering at the camp, many of us did not know what to expect or how to react. But today, all of us feel richer culturally, emotionally, and we feel like we now have new friends. All of the alumni feel honored to have been part of this experience and this journey.