Diary Entries From Catholic Relief Services' Staff
During the Christmas and New Year Season, agency Catholic Relief Services staff in Pristina helped a local organization, Students' Creative Group organize a holiday distribution of presents to children around Kosovo. The Students' Creative Group was supported by local businesses and media, and was funded in part from ticket sales to concerts before Christmas.
Agency staff volunteered their time and money to help with the gift distribution. Starting in Pristina and then traveling out to villages, more than 3,000 gift bags containing food, notebooks, pens and toys were distributed to children in war-affected areas throughout Kosovo.
Pristina, Kosovo - December 25, 1999
It's raining and the CRS truck and driver have just arrived from Prizren. CRS/Pristina staff finalized the delivery schedule with the "Students Creative Group" for the coming days.
Raçak, Kosovo - December 26, 1999
It's sunny today with lots of snow. This morning we went to the Students Creative Group office and we started to load the presents into the truck - all 446 of them. The convoy included two CRS vehicles, one Kinderberg vehicle, and two vehicles from Students Creative Group.
We left Pristina at 9:00 AM and arrived in Raçak at 11:00 AM. Since it was Sunday and the day was sunny most of the children of the village were playing in the snow. We planned to deliver nearly 225 presents to each school but as more children showed up than expected, we decided to give presents to all 350 children. There was no power in the school so we used the stereo in CRS vehicle to entertain the children.
Once inside the school, the children were afraid to go near Father Christmas because it was the first time they saw him in person - Father Christmas had never visited their village before. However, there were only smiling faces at the end of the day's distribution.
There were a couple cute situations, one of which when we were telling the village children that Father Christmas would come and give presents, a young boy about 5 years old asked us, "Should I wear better clothes when I take my present?"!!
Malisheva, Kosovo - December 27, 1999
We departed Pristina at 9:30 AM and arrived in Malisheva at 11:00 AM. It's raining again and there is lots of snow.
In the primary school we met more than 500 students. We delivered presents and left another 30 presents with the director. These would be given to children who lost their parents during the conflict.
The second village that we visited was Gurrëbardh and it had just over 500 pupils. We did not have enough presents to go around, so the school staff and the children decided that the youngest children should receive the presents.
The smiles of the children and their sharing spirit more than compensated for the mud and the rain.
Likoshan, Kosovo - December 28, 1999
Wow, even more rain and mud than yesterday. We picked up more toys and left Pristina late. The roads were in very bad condition and the heavy rain made everything worse. A traffic accident delayed us more than an hour. The roads were so muddy that some of the team wanted to turn the convoy back to Pristina. But for the sakes of the children, we decided to continue.
Finally we reached the primary school in Likoshan with 130 pupils. The school is still being repaired from damage during the war and everything here was covered with mud. The director of the school was very surprised to see us and to learn about the purpose of our visit to this village, especially given the weather and road conditions.
The children were very excited to see Father Christmas and sang for the group.
One of the cars got stuck in the mud as we were leaving the school; it took over an hour to free it. It was a good lesson to all of us what it means to be a team. Arriving back in Pristina we were all tired and dirty but our faces glowed from the children's happiness.
Prekaz i Ulët, Kosovo - December 29, 1999
No rain today, in fact the sun is really bright. But there is still a lot of mud. We visited the region of Drenica, one of the most destroyed areas of Kosovo. The village that we visited today is near the ammunition factory and suffered a lot of damage during the bombing. The houses are burned out and are covered only with plastic sheeting. Amazingly people are living there, as evidenced by the smoke from the improvised chimneys. People are even working in their yards.
The primary school has nearly 200 children who were very happy about our surprise visit and could have sung for us all day. Unfortunately, Father Christmas got lost finding the village so we had Mother Christmas with us instead. This caused a lot of joking. Despite the mud, the children played in the yard with Mother Christmas.
Next we visited "Halit Geci," a school in Lausha named after a teacher who was killed while teaching at the school. We distributed 300 presents.
Junik, Kosovo - December 30, 1999
More rain and more mud. We had to drive a long way to get to Junik, one of the most destroyed places in Kosovo. Prior to 1989, there were 1300 pupils in this school. Now there is less than half that number. Father Christmas had car trouble on his way to this village so after a three-hour wait, we started with the distribution and explained that we were Father Christmas' helpers. The children weren't too disappointed.
The distributions went well, despite the weather, travel and roads. All the staff agreed that it was one of the best ways to spend the holidays. The children are happy and we are happy.