Here at The Fabric Social, we are lucky enough to have an intern from Kosovo. A digital media virtuoso, Blertina is the creator and curator of fashion blog Brite Souls. Blertina did an interview on our behalf with an incredible group of Kosovar women, who use knitting and needlework as a source of income, working co-op style to pull themselves out of the devastation of war. Sound familiar?
Here is her interview. Enjoy.
Fab Sosh Team.
I was 7 years old when I had to leave my home and flee Kosovo with my family. For those who don’t know, Kosovo is post-conflict country in Eastern Europe, still recovering from the brutal 1998-99 war against Serbia, a war that broke out after decades of occupation. I was too young to comprehend how vast the tragedy of the war was.
What I do remember is the pain of families being torn apart – usually men going into the mountains to fight while the women fled, trying to keep the children safe. With Kosovo being a very patriarchal society, being in control of the family was something new and difficult for women. Many of the men were killed in the war and never made it back, so these women had to become the breadwinners, while raising their children and trying to recover from the emotional toll of war.
Miss. Lule Salihu - Current Open Door staff. Former Open Door beneficiary.
As I became involved with The Fabric Social and learnt about the women of Assam, it reminded me immediately of the Kosovar women who - even 15 years after the war ended – are being held back economically, struggling to survive with what they have.
Many of these women are uneducated, often doing kitchen or sanitary work. But, like the women of Assam, they know how to hand make clothing, as a cultural legacy passed down from their mothers and grandmothers.
I decided that the best way for me to learn about the state of these women and what they do is through an NGO that has worked closely with post-war women since the war first broke out. Sharing their story is a building block towards recognising these amazing women, with the aim of improving their reality and giving them recognition for their struggle. It also highlights the importance of projects like The Fabric Social, which is needed in many parts of the world. Kosovo is just one example.
Miss. Belgjyzare Muharremi - Founder of Open Door
The main NGO operating for the last 16 years in Prishtina is called Open Door. The founder Miss. Belgjyzare Muharremi (Beti) accepted my invitation for an interview at their office. She is a lovely welcoming woman, who sat down with me and told me everything about how Open Door started, and its journey since the war. There were many female activists during the war, and Miss Beti was just one of them, dedicating her time to humanitarian support. She founded Open Door to support the refugee women of Kosovo in Skopje, where her and her family had migrated temporarily during the war.
After the war, Miss Beti returned to Prishtina along with many of the women from the refugee camps. The name Open Door refers to Miss Beti opening her doors to these traumatized women, with the goal of rehabilitation through therapy. The programs were categorized in three ways – psychosocial therapy for post traumatic stress, women’s rights training, and most importantly, physical and mental healthcare.
Part of the therapy at Open Door was buying fabrics for these women, and allowing them to express their inner state through sewing and knitting. Miss Beti explained how the craft activities had great therapeutic value, particularly for women who were already highly skilled at knitting and needlework, and whose work was unique. As an educated woman, Miss Beti emphasized and encouraged the women achieve economic independence. As the number of women in the NGO kept growing, so did sewing creations, so Miss Beti started to look for ways to sell them.
Initially, their work was being sold out of their office and in local fairs. Keeping in mind that most of these women were unemployed, selling their needlework was an avenue through which they could get back on their feet financially. Unfortunately, most of the customers of their work were international workers in Kosovo, whose numbers have been dwindling in recent years. As the number of expats dropped, so did the sales at Open Door.
In the past year, Open Door have started to work with fashion designers in Kosovo, looking to diversify. Their biggest success was the collection of well-known designer Krenare Rugova, who designed an entire collection based on traditional Kosovar clothes recreated with a modern twist. The whole collection was sewed by members of Open Door, and Miss Beti described to me the excitement this created, with most of the pieces being completed at home, out of passion for the work.
Unfortunately, these projects come quickly to an end and there’s no continuity in income generation. I explained the work that The Fabric Social does, and Miss Beti agreed that was exactly what was needed at Open Door: a fresh concept with a modern marketing strategy. She knows that Kosovar women have great skills, attention to detail and are passionate about their work. The creativity of these women is undoubtedly high, judging by all of the pillows, tablecloths and other accessories I saw in their office. Adding to Miss Beti’s suggestion, there is a need for these women to make a transition into clothing. They possess all of the skills needed to create a perfect piece, they only lack the equipment.
Listening to Miss Beti narrate the story of the Kosovar women at Open Door so genuinely and passionately was very inspiring for me as a young woman. She expressed her worries for the fate of these women after she retires, which she plans to do as soon as somebody younger is willing to take over. She feels responsible for each member, since she is the strongest motivator; the one who organizes every activity they participate in.
The lack of confidence in and opportunity for these women is really low. If Miss Beti were to close the office, they would all stay at home. These women are doing great in getting past their war traumas by creating handmade work. I hope their talent won’t go to waste and that these women will one day have a place where they could work regularly and build their way into becoming a strong economic influence, as they deserve.
“Open Door work for a Kosovo where the opportunity to prosper is for all, and inclusive society is shaped with active participation of women”
You can find out more about Open Door at opendoor-ks.org
You can make a donation here.