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Volume 9, No. 3WINTER 2006

Return to Kosovo: IOCC Programs Continue as Province’s Status Remains Undecided

Left: Today, the village of Velika Hoca has about 200 families, less than half the number that lived there before the 1999 conflict in Kosovo. Right, above: The 14th century Visoki Decani Monastery, today under guard by UN peace-keeping troops, is a spiritual and humanitarian oasis in Kosovo. Right, below: Father Marko of Decani Monastery shows IOCC Study Tour participants the winery that provides economic opportunity to isolated communities in Kosovo. Photo by A. Morcos/IOCC

KOSOVO (IOCC) — Having driven for hours by the scenic and lush farmlands of Serbia, a busload of IOCC staff and supporters arrive at the United Nations checkpoint where passports were inspected before permission was granted to enter Kosovo. Crossing into Serbia’s troubled southern province may have had some risk, but the eleven IOCC supporters and staff visited beneficiaries last September to demonstrate IOCC’s continuing commitment and solidarity with the people of Kosovo, even as the province’s final status was being discussed by diplomats in Vienna.

IOCC has been active in Kosovo since 1993. During the NATO bombing campaign of 1999, IOCC was one of only three international relief organizations to maintain an operational presence in the region, providing continuous humanitarian assistance to refugees and displaced persons in both Serbia and Montenegro.

After crossing the checkpoint, the Study Group made their way to the village of Velika Hoca. Local leaders explained that the situation remains very tense, with most villagers restricted to their homes, making access to health and education facilities difficult. More and more young people are leaving Kosovo because of the isolation and the lack of jobs.

IOCC has been implementing community development programs in Kosovo designed to give people in such isolated communities hope and opportunity. In cooperation with Hellenic Aid of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IOCC is building a community center in Velika Hoca with a special meeting place for youth clubs, a gym facility, an internet center, and computer-equipped classrooms.

Participants also toured a winery run by the brothers of the Visoki Decani Monastery, who have been making wine in the region for 600 years. The Decani brothers are looking forward to an innovative project with IOCC that will not only increase their production capacity, but will also provide more jobs to villagers and promote peaceful cooperation through the purchase of grapes from local farmers of all ethnicities. “We should be here as long as the people are here,” said Father Marko, who runs the winery. “We can give them a tool so that their future will be secure,” he said.

Participants finished their tour with a visit to Decani, considered the largest and best preserved medieval monastery in the Balkans. United Nations peace-keeping troops escorted Study Tour participants through the monastery’s heavy metal doors. The brothers of the monastery welcomed their guests with a tour of their church’s stunning 14th century frescoes. “Our role is not a political or a national program, but to care for the soul and the body” said Father Sava, one of the monks who speaks often to visitors about Decani’s role in Kosovo. “IOCC does this as well, and we hope that this economic interdependence that IOCC is helping us to establish with the Albanian community will help interethnic relations.”

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