Making a difference

They say charity begins at home and that’s certainly the case for Linda Drain from the School of English, Queens University, Belfast. A visit to her church by local firemen earlier this year inspired the Belfast-woman to get involved with a charity which is changing the lives of people in Kosova.

After hearing about the firemen’s experiences of working for the Kosova Support Group, Linda decided she wanted to get involved too.

Just four months later, the postgraduate secretary is now the publicity officer for the support group and has just returned from her second trip to Kosova.

Linda, who has worked in the School of English for four years, first visited the Balkan country in July this year. Travelling with a team from the Northern Ireland-based Kosova Support Group she spent ten days helping out with food deliveries to local families and running children’s clubs. But it was a visit to a women’s refuge which had the greatest impact on her.

“When we visited in the summer, the women’s refuge was housing 22 women, many of whom had children, but the building only has capacity for a dozen people. The building didn’t have a fence so the children couldn’t go out to play and they spent most of their time indoors.

“When I returned from the trip, the group were keen to do something to help the refuge. The KFOR troops in Kosova had agreed to put half the money for the fence if we were able to raise the rest. We managed to raise €1500 in a couple of weeks to go towards the funding of the fence and were so pleased that the project would go ahead so quickly.”On her return to Kosova in October this year, Linda was delighted to see that the fence had been built and that it had made a huge impact on the lives of the people who lived there.

“It was great to see the children playing outdoors and the women able to sit outside and have a cup of coffee or cigarette.”

While there, Linda, along with the founder of the Kosova Support Fund, Gail Dewar, identified other projects to get involved with.

“Our next project is to send an ambulance to the town of Kacinik. During our visit we spent a day there and met a local midwife and firemen.

“While the town does have a medical clinic, its A&E only has one bed, one doctor and four nurses. There is also only one ambulance for a population of around 50,000 and it isn’t very well equipped. The spare tyre sits beside the bed and the brakes have failed on a number of occasions. So, sending an ambulance out would make a huge difference to the town.

“We have already started fundraising for the project and have made contact with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to see if they can help us.

“It would be nice if we could help the firemen of the town as well as their appliance is over 33 years old. But we’ll make a start with the ambulance.

“I can’t wait to be able to deliver the ambulance to see the faces of the people who work in the medical clinic.”Kosova has certainly struck a chord with Linda who speaks passionately about the country.

“I had done some voluntary work before in Bolivia where I helped out at a home for street children and in prisons, but Kosova really appealed to me.

“It is a very tired country but what I really like is the fact that the people are so similar to here. There are many similarities between Kosova and Northern Ireland. They have a really good sense of humour and I just clicked with them. Kosova is like nowhere I’ve ever been before.”

Linda is so taken with the country that she has been taking Albanian lessons.

“It’s really important for me to be able to speak to people as the language barriers can be so frustrating. It’s nice to be able to say hello to people.”

Linda is planning to return to Kosova in February 2009.

“Once you have visited the country, you can’t walk away from it. The stories from people caught up in the war are horrific and everyone has a story to tell.

“We can’t help everyone but we do what we can. It only takes a small amount to make a huge difference. For example, sponsoring a family a month is only s60 but it can change their lives.

“Through my voluntary work, I’ve realised that I can make a difference.”