National Advocacy Advisor and Educational Advisor SOS Children's Villages in Kosovo
photo: © Stefan Lechner Photography
The journey to self-reliance!
A story that made me strong and did not stop even when there was no sign of hope!
2015 was the final year when we had SOS subsidies for operating the SOS Kindergarten as part of SOS Children’s Village Kosovo. By the end of 2015 it was necessary to find other resources to ensure the financial sustainability of the SOS Kindergarten. To ensure this sustainability, we had three options for finding the best way to continue the work of the SOS Kindergarten. Two of the options were to transfer the kindergarten premises to another service provider or to hand the kindergarten over to the municipality. Both options were unacceptable to us as SOS, so we decided to keep the kindergarten and to take action to find financial resources from the municipality or other sources.
Naturally it took many years, many endeavours and efforts to achieve this sustainability. Negotiations with municipal authorities started over a year ago and were not easy as the political structures changed twice. In 2013 we were very close to an agreement with the Municipality Education Directorate but, unfortunately, the Education Director died and this returned us back to point zero. We had to restart negotiations with new people in these positions.
Back to point zero
At the beginning of 2015, a new government was formed in the municipality whose programme included supporting marginalised children and families. This gave us hope that we could reach an agreement with the municipality. At that time I was very optimistic that within a few days we would manage to have a meeting with the mayor that would soon lead to an agreement. Our request to the mayor was clear and very straightforward. We needed support from the municipality to cover the expenses of marginalised children and the kindergarten had more than 30 such children out of a total of 130 children who attended kindergarten. With their support, we would be able to impact children’s lives by helping them to develop, socialise and integrate with other children.
A light of hope
The meeting with the mayor gave us some hope that we would find a way of getting support, based on the earlier negotiations we had had with the Education Directorate. However, the meeting went in a different direction and getting support from the municipality was difficult because they have many other priorities. This is because the SOS Kindergarten is able to provide its own funds, as it has many donors and is one of the best kindergartens in the country. However, they promised that they would review their budget plans at the end of the year to see if they could provide any funds.
We spent months exploring other funding options but it was difficult to find something stable and sustainable. The end of the year was almost there and we had still not had a response from the municipality. December became more uncertain and worrying, as we had 25 days to find funds or to sign an agreement because, from January 2016, the SOS Kindergarten would not be supported financially by SOS Children’s Villages. Those days were very stressful and difficult to face, physically as well as emotionally. We spent the days trying to find solutions of how to cover the costs and even how to provide the salaries for the staff.
Positive side-effect of TV campaign
While attending a conference, I met the Minister of Finance who had a son who had attended kindergarten several years previously, and told him about the financial difficulties the kindergarten was having. He promised that, by the end of the week, he would look into the possibility of finding a fund that would overcome this situation. After 10 days, I still had no news. As usual in December, during those days we started a Christmas campaign and released an awareness-raising video to collect donations. We also had a high presence in some TV programmes in that period.
After a few days, the Minister of Finance called me and told me that he had seen a video that SOS had broadcast on TV and this video had reminded him of the promise he had given me to find a fund for the SOS Kindergarten. Fortunately, after a few days, financial support from the ministry was obtained. However, this was just a fund to cover some expenses and did not provide any long-term financial sustainability.
There were 10 days left before the end of 2015 for the final efforts to find funds. I met the kindergarten board and some kindergarten parents to discuss how we could do this. We also decided to hold a meeting with the President. At the meeting, it was mainly the parents and the board who presented our request. My petition was that the municipality is obliged to provide education and support for the children who need it and that children who are in the SOS Kindergarten should receive this support.
A twinkle and a tear in the eyes
The meeting went on a long time with lengthy discussions which, this time, ended with an agreement. The SOS Kindergarten needed to be registered as an NGO separately from SOS Children’s Villages in order for the municipality to cover the expenses of marginalised children. This agreement also led to the subsequent changes for the SOS Kindergarten to be established as an NGO and to be monitored by SOS Children's Villages Kosovo. The period of registration as an NGO, as well as the beginning of the legal separation from SOS were difficult. We had emotional memories of our 16 years as part of the big SOS family and now a new path as an organisation in its own right was beginning.
Being involved since the opening of the SOS Kindergarten, which offered quality education and had a good reputation in the country, means that I saw it as a growing child that was now ready to become independent. This brought me many mixed feelings. On the one hand, I felt lonely and challenged, and on the other hand very proud. When I saw the SOS Kindergarten three years later, self-reliant and strong, my eyes filled with tears of joy and happiness for the fact that this had happened.
Working in SOS Children’s Villages Kosovo for so many years now has become a very important part of Remzije’s life and professional growth. When she first started, she felt like a child of a big SOS family that gave her a great number of opportunities to learn and develop as a human being. As a trainer and consultant, Remzije gets to see and be part of the changes that people make for themselves and others, and to find motivation and courage for work that is not always easy.
For Remzije, family is life itself. She is one of four children in her family, where they were taught the values of kindness, generosity and self-respect. Remzije lives in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, which she describes as a very loud but attractive city. Kosovo has a population with more than 65% young people.
Outside of work, Remzije loves walking in the mountains and forests. Reading by the sea also gives her tremendous joy. The exploration of nature in different parts of Kosovo has become a new inspiration for her life and work.