Roma Mahalla Women's Group presents their work at Green Drinks Prishtina

 
Selvete Gashi-Director of NGO “Lulebora” making a brief presentation about the project

Selvete Gashi-Director of NGO “Lulebora” making a brief presentation about the project

On Thursday, 15/08/2013, NGO “Lulebora” and three women from the “Vullneti I Grave” group, have participated as the main guests of the Green Drinks event organized by The Ideas Partnership, at Shuala Bar, Pristina. Selvete Gashi-Director of NGO “Lulebora” made a brief presentation about the project. Beside project presentation, the Green Drinks event was a good opportunity for “Vullneti I Grave” to present and to sell their products. 

“Vullneti I Grave” is a group of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian women, skilled in handicrafts. “Vullneti I Grave” are part of the  Social Business Incubator established by the  Danish Refugee Council Kosovo under the ‘Stabilization of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian Communities Project in Roma Mahalla, Mitrovicë/a’. The project integrates  economic development  and  community development  activities and is funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) and implemented by the Danish Refugee Council and NGO Lulebora.

“The Ideas Partnership” is a Kosovan NGO working on educational, cultural and environmental projects. “The Ideas Partnership” is working with partner organizations and local institutions, supporting the people of Kosovo to protect a unique cultural heritage, nurture the environment, and educate a new generation of citizens.

The “Green Drinks” event is an international concept, which takes place in hundred cities around the world. The idea of Green Drinks, is to bring people together once per month. People with professional involvement in the environment, people with personal interest, and people who are fancy of a drink of two (locally produced), are invited, for having good company and stimulating conversation. Lately, Pristina is one of those world cities. For each event, one or two guests are invited, to present their projects, and their products.

 

Watch the documentary: Environment protection in Roma Mahalla

This short film documents the activities of a community Environment Protection project carried out in Roma Mahalla, Mitrovicë/a in 2012. The film shows the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities’ efforts to improve their environment by organizing clean-up days, building a park and educating the community about recycling, garden maintenance and environment protection in general. Workshops and activities for children, women and men were implemented in partnership with Caritas Kosovo, Danish Refugee Council and the RAE LNGO Ardhmeria RAE.

Today, Roma Mahalla is home to around 300 Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian families and is located in the southern part of Mitrovicë/a town, south of the river Ibar.

Before the conflict around 7000 to 8000 Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians lived there. In summer 1999, all inhabitants of Roma Mahalla fled to Northern Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro, and Western Europe where they lived in lead-contaminated camps for the following 8 years.

In 2005 a political agreement was reached between the Mitrovicë/a Municipality, OSCE, UNHCR, and UNMIK to allow and support the return to Roma Mahalla. The reconstruction of Roma Mahalla officially began in April 2006 with the foundations being laid for two apartment blocks on municipal land, implemented by NCA, followed by the reconstruction of 54 houses on private land, implemented by the Danish Refugee Council.

With the support of the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and the European Agency for Reconstruction (EAR), DRC facilitated the return of 48 families to Roma Mahalla in 2007, most of whom have continued to rebuild their lives there. Roma Mahalla is one of the most challenging return sites in Kosovo, as it is the first significant return project in Mitrovicë/a and the first large-scale urban return of a minority group. DRC’s work with the community in Roma Mahalla continues and today focuses on economic development and community development measures.

 

When plastic is fantastic

Member of the Roma Mahalla women's group, Mitrovica

If you’ve been in Mitrovica recently you’ll have seen bright yellow cages in strategic locations in the city centre. You may also have seen women swinging classy crocheted handbags or tote bags in funky colours and made from a strangely familiar material.

It’s a new project being led by the NGO Lulebora with the Danish Refugee Council (and the support of the municipality for the placement of the cages) to recycle plastic bags by collecting, washing, drying, cutting and… crocheting them into new and gorgeous creations. The cages have been set out as collection points where the citizens of Mitrovica can leave the plastic bags they would otherwise throw away to landfill, choking Kosovo’s natural environment. Instead, the bags are now collected as valuable raw materials for a project set up in the Roma Mahalla in October last year.  Twenty one women have been trained in how to crochet, shown examples of products that can be made from crocheting plastic yarn, and have set up a small enterprise turning Kosovo’s ‘national flower’ - the plastic bags which bloom in every field and across every piece of waste ground – into something useful, and income-generating.

It requires a lot of plastic bags to be cut and knotted into these new uses, and a lot of work. The women say that they can get on with the crocheting at home in between other obligations with their households and family but working like this takes about three days to make just one of the bags. They produce a range of designs, some following patterns they’ve borrowed from abroad, and others using their own imagination to create shoulder bags, purses, baskets and floor mats (particularly useful for the bathroom because of course the feature which makes the cancer of plastic so toxic to the environment, where it takes 400 years to break down, is what makes it waterproof). They have been clever with the colours they use, sticking to single tone or two-tone designs, and – in the case of one particularly chic evening bag – using old black bin bags. They tell me they’ve even experimented with cassette tape and video tape for finer work. I love the idea of an iPod pouch made from old cassette tapes I can’t listen to any more.

As well as working individually at home, the women also come together three times a week for a few hours to talk and work together. In the UK such chances for women to work together on their handcrafts and have a gossip have been nicknamed ‘stitch and bitch’ sessions, but these women are serious, telling me about the psychosocial support and health education they’ve received through the project when they’ve come together each week.

The bags are reasonably priced, at four or five euros, depending on size and the complexity of the design. They’ve gone on sale at various handcraft fairs where the women have exhibited, and to visitors at the centre in Roma Mahalla. They’re also available in two shops in Mitrovica, and the women hope to expand the project, especially as the weather warms up later in the year and customers will want to have waterproof bags to take to the seaside with them. ‘We could go on a work trip to Durrës and sell along the beach,’ suggests Bukurije, the natural leader of the group, with a smile. She is from Roma Mahalla and has worked on the project as a volunteer to develop sales and marketing opportunities for them all. She says she doesn’t mind putting in the extra work because ‘the person who works most gains most’. Each woman only gets paid when a product she has made personally gets sold which encourages hard work and careful craftsmanship - and a moral dilemma for me trying to choose what to buy as I’m watched carefully by the group of jealous producers. I walk away with six different bags all knitted and knotted from a waste product that would otherwise be thrown away. Plastic has never been so beautiful.

Elizabeth Gowing is a founder of The Ideas Partnership, a Kosovan NGO working on educational, cultural and environmental projects. She is also the author of Travels in Blood and Honeybecoming a beekeeper in Kosovo (Signal Books, 2011). She can be reached at theideaspartnership@gmail.com

Originally published in Prishtina Insight.