Love: Crossing the Line in Kosovo

Season 2, Episode 13

“There’s a line in every city…” We start every Serving Stories episode with this manifesto, challenging each other to cross the lines that exist in our cities with love. But in Mitrovica, Kosova, the line is a bridge—a bridge that has been barricaded and guarded by international police for a couple of decades, and has become the symbol of a divided city.

On one side live ethnic Albanians, on the other, ethnic Serbs—many of whom personally remember the savage war fought for possession of the country only 25 years ago. Many organizations have tried various means of reconciliation, but a team of Serve the City volunteers is beginning to build a bridge in a unique way: through Albanians and Serbs serving together and loving across the line.

In this episode, we talk to volunteers on a Big Volunteer Weekend in Mitrovica about how loving across the lines can begin to heal their divided city. And we follow them as they cross yet another cultural divide—serving in the Roma community, normally a marginalized group in the Balkan region. As volunteers learn about and respect Roma culture and work with them, Jay Benfante, the leader of Serve the City Kosovo, hopes to begin to bridge this gap as well.

Listen to this Love Episode here:

By Allions – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Above and at right is the Ibar Bridge that separates North and South Mitrovica; on one side of the bridge live mostly ethnic Serbs and on the other, ethnic Albanians. It was bombed during the war and rebuilt by the EU afterwards, but it has never been open to traffic since the war ended 25 years ago.

Some of the volunteers who came out to the Big Volunteer Weekend in Mitrovica this April. In addition to local volunteers, there were visiting volunteers from Serve the City chapters in Maastricht (Netherlands), Dublin (Ireland), Paris (France) and Brussels (Belgium). Some of the voices from the podcast include Jay (bottom left corner), Dion (next to Jay), Peter and Iren (far right, standing), Ede (far right, second row on stairs) and Ema (right, second row, next to Ede).

At left (centre) is Serve the City Kosovo director Jay Benfante with Ede Taire (left), a local volunteer who did the interpretation for the weekend, and Matthew, a visiting volunteer from Maastricht. After many trips to Kosovo, Jay came to live there two years ago, and started STC Mitrovica almost a year ago. On the right, Peter DeWit of Serve the City Paris gives the opening charge to love across the lines to some of the volunteers assembled for the Big Volunteer Weekend. (You can hear Peter talk about his experience serving the city of Paris in our episode Compassion: Nourishing Change through Kindness.)

At the end of the first day, STC Kosovo hosted a dinner for the volunteers where they could share some of the amazing things they had experienced. Below, you can listen to a roughly edited version of testimonies about the Kids Camp from Jay, Peter, and Iren, with Ede interpreting into Albanian. Prepare to be encouraged in your own serving as you listen!

In this project, volunteers build picnic tables for the playground at the Roma Learning Center. (You can see a few happy children sitting at the finished product!) Jay talked to us about how Serve the City doesn’t do anything in the Roma neighbourhood without partnerships—because outsiders just coming in to “fix” they needs that they perceive is an easy way to shame the people that they hope to love and serve. The Learning Center, which provides homework help and language instruction to kids in the neighbourhood, is one of their main partners.

A student named Amir from the Kosovo Leadership Academy (a private American-run school) organized, through Serve the City, a weekend Sports and Arts Camp as his senior community project. Invited to this camp were children not only from KLA, but also from a local Albanian school, and from the Roma community—which is directly across the road from the school. Here you can see some of the kids and leaders playing basketball and pickleball on the beautiful school courts!

Ema, the project leader of the Arts Camp, was a big hit with the kids, who made her lots of personal drawings to express their love for her! About 30 kids spent time making bracelets and mosaics one day, and the next day painting pots that they then planted with seeds.

At left, next to Ede, is Jeffrey, who teaches English at the Roma Learning Center. Jeff shared with us the importance of deep engagement in a marginalized community like the Roma, learning from them and working with them over time to develop love and trust. (Note the values in multiple languages on Ede and Jeff’s T-shirts!) Shannon Deal, the producer of Serving Stories, is seen at right talking to two Roma girls and a volunteer that you can hear in the episode.

If you want to see some of the fun things STC Kosovo is doing, check out their Facebook page or their Instagram here!

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