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Covid-19: Interview with Dr. Marsela Ceno, Leader of the Association of Albanian Doctors in Germany

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty and instability in its management in terms of health, even in the most powerful states, all this due to its extremely rapid and widespread. This rate of spread of infection has taken many developed countries unprepared by not having sufficient capacity in hospitals to treat all infected patients. Given the situation created, we considered it very important to conduct an interview with Mrs. Marsela Ceno who leads the Association of Albanian Doctors in Germany, in order to provide lessons and information on how Germany as a developed country has managed the situation with Covid-19, as well as what we (Kosovo and Albania) should do as countries developing, that we have limited capacity compared to a developed country such as Germany.

KD: Could you tell us about the situation in Germany regarding the Covid-19?

Dr. Marsela Ceno:Well, the situation here in Germany can be said to be under control, of course, the number of those affected is increasing, especially those who return from vacation, but here the health system has shown stability, even in the pursuit of people who are confirmed as affected or in finding persons who have been in contact with the latter. Tracing is a very important process in Germany as well as mass testing, so a map is created of people who are affected, and those who have had contact, then self-isolation is required for 14 days until the onset of symptoms. You should also know that the health system has very large capacities, so even if a significant number of patients go to the family doctor or are in serious health condition and need intensive therapy, the capacities in Germany are very large, so at the moment the situation is under control and the trust that the Germans have in the health system of their state made them experience the situation without the panic that characterized it at the beginning of this pandemic.


KD:As you may know, in Kosovo and Albania, in recent days and weeks there has been an increase in the number of people infected with COVID-19. What do you think are the main reasons for such a thing?


Dr. Marsela Ceno: I think the reasons are several. The pandemic in Europe has reached Italy probably since December, while it became official in March. Even the Balkan countries, here referring to Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania suffered a very heavy lockdown and very large restrictive measures, and this was different from the reality we experienced in Germany. It is true that in Germany most of the public services, schools and kindergartens were closed, but life in a way “continued normally”, so there was no curfew. The person who went to work if he was not obliged to do home office, leaving the house was not forbidden, going to the markets also, so there was no closure of life, complete isolation of life and this made the wave of spread of the disease to be not in the highest numbers, but to be continuous, while in our countries both in Albania and in Kosovo perhaps the lockdown caused the postponement of the spread of the disease in the population. Then with regret, I want to point out a phenomenon, which I have actually followed through the constant contact I have with my family in Tirana, but also through my short visit I had in Albania a month ago, and the awareness of the general population, at least until recent weeks has been very small. There have been people who questioned the existence of this virus, and by not really appreciating the importance of the situation they also showed negligence, either in respecting the distance or also wearing the mask, so it is unfortunate, in a way irresponsible or the easy taking of the situation by a large number of the population, caused that by not observing the necessary measures, the spread of the virus increases in the months or year we are observing. Then we must take into account the regulation of movement between countries, so we who came from Germany to Albania, and also the possibility of movement from the Balkans to European countries, certainly increases the risk of spreading the virus. I say the reasons are multifactorial and I believe the time has come for us to reflect on each of these reasons together so that the pandemic passes as easily as possible.


KD: It has been emphasized many times that citizens are neglecting the danger of the virus, maybe this fact needs research…


Dr. Marsela Ceno: I think those coercive measures are in fact against the instinct of every human being because the main principle of every human being is to be free, free in living daily life. So indeed the figures of the countries we had at the border like Italy with a very large number of deaths per day made it a little easier psychologically for people to accept the lockdown when in fact the figures of the persons affected or those who had lost their lives were not dramatic so it was a precaution which people because of the danger they thought might come easily accepted, but seeing that the level of those affected fortunately remained very low, then people believed that all this great measure of restraint, prevention was probably not necessary, so for this reason, some thought it was just a game or it was a lie or it was a conspiracy theory, so they thought it would not find them which the danger had passed. If now they think it is just a fabricated situation, a situation created for certain purposes, of course, the vigilance decreases, they do not start taking care of themselves, they see no reason why to wear the mask, to maintain physical distance. But I have an appeal for all those who doubt the existence of this virus, to see the persons who are hospitalized. Even young ages who may not have concomitant diseases fail to win the battle against this virus, so it is fortunate for the part of the population who are not to see these sights. People should be aware of respecting the minimum distance of 1.5m to each other, to keep the mask especially in environments where physical distance can not be preserved, large gatherings should also be given up whether on holidays, engagements or even at funerals. We are in a pandemic situation and solidarity between us is the only way to emerge victorious in this situation.


KD: How do you assess the work of state institutions in Kosovo and Albania in pandemic management?


Dr. Marsela Ceno: I do not have very accurate first-hand information to say or I am not in a position to judge the work of institutions. I think that both health systems in Albania and Kosovo have done their best, but now it is felt that the situation is slowly getting out of control.

KD:How do you see the contribution of the diaspora in combating the COVID-19 virus pandemic? Is there room to do more? If so, how can such a thing be done?


Dr. Marsela Ceno: I have mentioned in other interviews also that every evil has a good, and the good of the pandemic caused by Covid-19 was the emergence, the advertising of the Albanian diaspora as an extremely powerful instrument, with dignity and personality. I am referring here to the contribution given by a very large number of Albanian doctors working in Germany, who within the initiative of the association since mid-March 2020, so we just realized that the pandemic or virus had arrived and in Germany, and many Albanians, whether from Albania, Kosovo, or Northern Macedonia, remained confined to Germany, and perhaps lacked a family doctor or, due to a lack of knowledge of the language were unable to find out how they should act like. We set up our own support groups for each German Bundestag, made our telephone numbers and e-mail addresses available, and tried to give as little support as possible to all Albanian citizens who needed our advice. In fact, this is a part of the great contribution of all other Albanian doctors everywhere in the world. You may have followed on almost all TV channels or also in the print and radio media, there have been interviews from all Albanian doctors everywhere who have faced this virus in their countries where they live, and tried to share with their countries of origin a way of strategy in the first place how diseases could be identified, secondly what are the preventive measures, to give an appeal to the Ministry of Health in the way of testing patients and providing therapies, what are the alternatives, what has resulted in effective therapy, ie has been a mobilization or is still ongoing extraordinary life of the diaspora, at least in the prism of Albanian doctors who are in the diaspora, and also we have noticed or heard that in recent months the economic aid that has come from Albanians living in the diaspora to their families has been higher than ever. Then we have the philanthropist, for example, the director of the international firm Ecolog, who has donated free tests for COVID, whether in Kosovo, Northern Macedonia, as well as in Albania, so it is a mobilization and an extraordinary commitment. So I can not say at the moment what there is room for improvement, I have the impression that each of us who is in exile either individually or even organized, we have managed to give the maximum of what we have had the opportunity.

KD:It has often been pointed out by infectologists that in case of an increase in the number of infected, there may be a shortage of anesthesiologists. In this aspect, how much could the diaspora or the doctors there have contributed?


Dr. Marsela Ceno: Yes, this is a very fair remark because all those patients whose condition worsens and need treatment with intensive therapy, ie integrated, to give them enough and necessary oxygen, which they can no longer realize lungs affected by Covid-19, they all end up in intensive therapy and anesthetists are the ones who mainly give the first treatment. What has been done in Germany and so far has been very successful, has been the mobilization of other medical forces which means all doctors regardless of their field of action, so it does not matter if they are internists or surgeons, you should to be trained so that at the moment the situation becomes such, that anesthetists are no longer enough to provide assistance to these patients, to have the opportunity for doctors of other profiles to come to the service of treating these patients. Many universities in Germany have also invited students who are engaged in the treatment of these patients, certainly not in making the main treatment but in providing assistance, such as assistance to the anesthetist. There have also been people of different profiles who have given their free contribution through hospitals, whether for moving beds from one ward to another. Before turning our eyes to diaspora doctors, it is important for me that the medical and non-medical staff present in our countries be trained in such a way that if the situation reaches such a level that the situation gets out of control, then other staff be prepared to provide first aid. Perhaps what can be thought and that would be very good, is that some of the doctors who are in the diaspora come and give their contribution in Kosovo or Albania, but we hope that this point does not reach, and also probably would be a very good alternative for the respective countries then come in contact with countries such as Germany that have very large capacities in intensive care, that cases in which are difficult that can not be treated to the end in Kosovo or Albania then to be sent by special transport and treated in Germany. Germany provided such assistance to France, it also received some of the patients who were in very bad condition from Italy, but these are agreements that must be concluded at the state level between these two countries.


KD: What would you suggest to prevent the spread of the virus in Kosovo and Albania, based on the experience of the country where you live?


Dr. Marsela Ceno: Then I refer to the experience as well as reality or actuality in Germany. Starting from the individual behavior of each of us, i.e. maintaining social distance and also wearing a mask in all those environments where maintaining distance is not possible, i.e. in the supermarket, post office, or restaurants which are not well ventilated. I must also emphasize that wearing a mask is something that has two medals of its own, i.e. if textile masks are used they should be washed occasionally if disposable ones are used they should not be worn for days, but even after 4 hours of use should be changed, because in recent days there are announcements which talk about the complications caused by wearing the disposable mask for a long time. They make up a very favorable terrain through the moisture and warmth that comes from our breath and the placement of fungi for causing inflammatory lung diseases, which lungs are just as at risk as pneumonia caused by Covid-19, so I take the chance in this interview to emphasize this appeal, i.e. textile masks should be washed regularly and those that are disposable should not be used for days, weeks or even months, but should be changed after 4 full hours of use. I also want to appeal to all people, to give up the holiday, the big family gatherings, no matter how great the reason to be happy or even sad. We are in a time of pandemics and therefore we must show solidarity, not only to protect ourselves but also to protect others, especially the ages who are most at risk of this virus are people over the age of 55 or 60, people who are polymorbid, ie suffering from diseases such as diabetes or hypertension, or persons who have other systemic diseases of the immune system. I also want to urge people who feel they may have signs of COVID, cough, or fever to isolate themselves for 14 days and see a doctor only if their condition worsens.

DokuFest offers an exclusive package for Diaspora

In its 19th edition, DokuFest is rolling out for the first time in an online format due to COVID-19. However, despite all challenges, the festival is being successfully organized virtually under the theme “Transmitting”. Same as in previous years, DokuFest has thought about the Albanian diaspora.

“Knowing that a large number of migrants could not come to Kosovo due to the pandemic and given that this year the festival will not be held physically, the organizers in cooperation with the directors of Albanian films have enabled all emigrants access to the online platform of DokuFest”, said Mr. Eroll Bilibani, one of the team, in an interview for “Albinfo”, a diaspora-based media outlet. Although virtually, our festival has created special programs which will be accessible only to our diaspora “, adds Mr. Bilibani for albinfo.ch.

A competition section with shorts and documentaries made by Albanian filmmakers from around the world, most of them premiering at DokuFest, will be exclusively available for Diaspora in Germany & Switzerland from 7-15 August. Diaspora Package can be accessed via this link, while all other packages and films are accessible at online.dokufest.com.

Gazmend Freitag – Portraits of the Famous

Fascination and respect – portraits of the Famous by Gazmend Freitag

What motivates an artist to draw the portraits of historical and contemporary figures? Fascination and respect, is the opinion of the painter Gazmend Freitag, whose portfolio celebrates the successful, courageous, kind, creative and beautiful people of the world.  A special place in the heart and the ever expanding collection of the artist is reserved for those poets, fighters and philosophers, whose life and work is crucial to the identity and history of the Albanian people.

  1. Aleksandër Moisiu
  2. Ali Podrimja
  3. Bekim Fehmiu
  4. Behgjet Pacolli
  5. Çun Lajçi
  6. Dua Lipa
  7. Gjergj Kastrioti – Skënderbeu
  8. Havzi Nela
  9. Ibrahim Rugova
  10. Ibrahim Kodra
  11. Ismail Kadare
  12. Klara Buda
  13. Krist Maloki
  14. Lasgush Poradeci
  15. Martin Camaj
  16. Shën Tereza
  17. Nexhmije Pagarusha
  18.  Pjetër Bogdani
  19. Princesha shqiptare Fevzia Fuad
  20. Rita Ora
Alexander Moissi
Gazmend Freitag: Aleksander Moisiu, 2017
Ali Podrimja
Gazmend Freitag: Ali Podrimja, 2016
Bekim Fehmiu 1
Gazmend Freitag: Bekim Fehmiu, 2014
Behxhet Pacolli.jpg
Gazmend Freitag: Behgjet Pacolli, 2016
Çun Lajçi
Gazmend Freitag: Çun Lajçi, 2017
Dua Lipa
Gazmend Freitag: Dua Lipa, 2018
Skanderbeg
Gazmend Freitag: Gjergj Kastrioti – Skënderbeu, 2013
Havzi Nela
Gazmend Freitag: Havzi Nela, 2016
Ibrahim Rugova
Gazmend Freitag: Ibrahim Rugova, 2013
IK
Ibrahim Kodra by Gazmend Freitag, 2017
Ismail Kadare
Gazmend Freitag: Ismail Kadare, 2014
Klara Buda.jpg
Gazmend Freitag: Klara Buda, 2016
Krist Maloki
Gazmend Freitag: Krist Maloki, 2016
lasgush-poradeci
Gazmend Freitag: Lasgush Poradeci, 2016
Martin Camaji
Gazmend Freitag: Martin Camaj, 2015
Mutter Teresa
Gazmend Freitag: Shën Tereza, 2013
Nexhmije Pagarusha 1.jpg
Gazmend Freitag: Nexhmije Pagarusha, 2013
Pjetër Bogdani
Gazmend Freitag: Pjetër Bogdani, 2016
Princess Fawzia Fuad
Gazmend Freitag: Princesha shqiptare Fevzia Fuad, 2016
Rita Ora
Gazmend Freitag: Rita Ora, 2014

Original link here

In a corner building in East Village, New York City, the entire uppermost floor has been turned into a photography studio. It is the studio of the renowned Albanian-American photographer, Mr. Fadil Berisha. Surrounded by windows and an abundance of natural light, there’s a certain positive energy that you feel the moment you step foot inside. The walls are covered in giant photographs of Halle Berry, Tyra Banks, Emina Cunmulaj, etc., and countless awards, autographed photos, and souvenirs from people that have worked with Fadil over the years.

When I arrived at Fadil’s studio on a sunny Saturday afternoon, he was adding some final touches to one of his recent photoshoots. Once he finished editing, he suggested going to a pizza place around the corner where we could talk more about his life, and I gladly obliged. Over delicious Italian food, Fadil began his engaging storytelling about his early life and career.

Born in Kosovo to Albanian parents, Fadil Berisha moved to New York City with his family at the age of nine. His upbringing was similar to that of any average immigrant family. Every major decision, he recalls, revolved around personal finances. So, when he chose to major in men’s fashion design, his family was not particularly thrilled. He graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology, but the degree did very little to quench his thirst for art. Put simply, Fadil didn’t feel like he was in the right career path, yet.

Driven by the desire to be exposed to different forms of art, Fadil, along with his friend, Donna DeMari, a photographer he had met in New York, traveled to Italy. Fadil would spend hours styling and observing her photoshoots, secretly wishing he was the one taking the photos, until one day he finally asked her if he could borrow her camera for a session, and she agreed. “I set up the camera and the moment I heard the click, I found my power. The next day, I packed my bags and moved back to America,” says Fadil with enthusiasm and sheer joy in his face.

“As a kid, I loved faces, all faces, and I was genuinely curious about them.”

—Fadil tells me.

Being the first person in the family to pursue art, he struggled to convince his family members that it was the right thing to do. Fadil is kind, polite, and understanding when he talks about them. It’s almost a non-verbal acknowledgment of their struggles. Most beginnings are often hard and his was no different. He soon found himself at a dead end. Evicted from his apartment shortly after becoming a father, he was forced to return home to his parents where he drowned himself in work. At one point, Fadil was working three jobs that brought some financial stability and very little joy. He could have chosen to lead a more comfortable life, but that was not in his plans. Within six months, Fadil got himself a big studio and has not looked back ever since. “The best advice I ever got was that you can never run away from yourself.” And for Fadil, not attempting to run away from his true self did pay off.

Today, we all know Fadil Berisha as the Albanian-American photographer whose work has graced the pages of some the most prestigious magazines such as Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Nylon, etc. He’s photographed the likes of Roger Federer, Kendall Jenner, Placido Domingo, Carmen Dell’Orefice, Sharon Stone, Nick Jonas, Zendaya, Michael Bublé, Kris Jenner, etc. for clients including Rolex, Estée Lauder, Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Lexus, Peugeot, Bulgari, Miss Universe, Sherri Hill. His work has been featured on the major networks, such as MTV, NBC, CBS, CNN, E!, etc.

Among the sea of celebrities whose beauty Fadil has greatly captured, there are many Albanian stars. Bebe Rexha, Era Istrefi, Inva Mula, Xherdan Shaqiri, Robin Krasniqi, and Heidi Lushtaku, Ermonela Jaho, Eliza Dushku, Saimir Pirgu, Blerim Destani, Rame Lahaj, and Nik Xhelilaj are just some of them.

When you hear Fadil’s stories, you wouldn’t know that there was ever a time when Albanians were not part of his life, but such was the reality. At the beginning of his career, Fadil tried to distance himself from his fellow Albanians, in fear of being ridiculed for his career choices. However, that was a short-lived attempt. With a noticeable change in his tone, he recalls the day a couple of young students, refugees from Kosovo, showed up to his studio, unannounced. He refers to that day as the day that changed his life completely.

It was around 1997, Fadil does not remember the exact year, and the early signs of war in Kosovo had already started to show. These kids had heard about him and were seeking his help in raising awareness for the dire situation back home. They even brought along photos documenting the massacres that were happening back in Kosovo. Given that his work revolved solely around fashion and beauty, Fadil couldn’t fathom how he could possibly help them. “That night, I went home and told my Mom what had happened. We had a long chat where she shared emotional stories about her upbringing and she spoke to me about the importance of helping these kids out,” recalls Fadil. The next day, he got back to his studio and picked up the phone. “You have ruined my life,” Fadil told them. “I cannot eat, I cannot sleep, I had nightmares. I know I have to help you, but I don’t know how,” he continued. Despite the hopelessness, he vowed to help in any way he could.  

Around that time, along with Avni Mustafaj, Tracey Aron, Gary Kokalari, and Donika Bardha, Fadil co-founded the Kosovo Relief Fund, an organization that aimed to help families who had lost loved ones in the war. He recalls nightly meetings; frequent post- Broadway show visits from the famous Hollywood star, Vanessa Redgrave, who had expressed desire to help; and the way Albanians had come together for a greater cause. In his voice, I almost sense a little bit of nostalgia as he recounts countless interesting stories.  

Fadil goes on to explain how, together with other volunteers, he had planned to use the photos he had received and created an awareness campaign. They solicited help from Stan Dragoti, the Hollywood film director of Albanian origin. Having previously been deemed too graphic, they worked their magic and turned the massacre photos into a campaign. However, despite raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, they couldn’t quite cover the fees to run the campaign on a major newspaper. However, one of those days, a peaceful protest was organized in front of the White House in an attempt to draw attention to the Kosovo cause. It wasn’t much different from other protests, or so they thought. Nevertheless, the following day, Fadil woke up to see the photo on the New York Times. A man was holding the sign they had created and a reporter happened to take a photo of it. The photo ended up in the print version of the newspaper. Fadil believes it was the sign and the push they needed to continue the fight for a free Kosovo.

“I haven’t thought about this story in such a long time, I just got goosebumps talking about it,” said Fadil as we got up to leave the restaurant.

Back in his studio, I asked Fadil if he has any pictures or videos from the events he used to organize in his studio. They must be somewhere, he tells me, but who knows where they ended up when he moved studios. “I like to recall these moments without dwelling too much in the past. I don’t like focusing on the past because you can get stuck. Remember the past and look to the future,” he says to me.

His phone rings. A famous Albanian couple, friends of his, were stopping by. The number of Albanian artists, sportsmen, political figures, and ordinary people that come to his studio, even just for a chat, is astonishing. I have heard people refer to his studio as the unofficial Albanian Embassy. “It became a duty to me,” says Fadil about his willingness to help others. “I asked myself, ‘Why don’t I help my people?’ To give is gratifying!” Whereas, for Albanians, he has one important advice: “Albanians are great to other people, but not always kind to one another. We need to change that.”

Fadil Berisha has been the official photographer for Miss Universe since 2002. With his help and guidance, both Albania and Kosovo became successful Miss Universe participants. Then he points at the picture of Marigona Dragusha, the 2nd Runner Up in Miss Universe 2009. With a big smile on his face, he explains how everyone loved her, the same way they loved Zana Krasniqi the year before. “When Gona walked out on that stage, tears starting flooding. I was so happy but also so scared of her. People loved her and they compared her to Audry Hepburn. But I was afraid of a possible backlash from other countries who may have thought that I favored her. So, I had to keep a distance.”

Fadil began working with talent in Kosovo as soon as the war ended. He took it upon himself to showcase the Albanian beauty to the world. “I always asked myself, ‘How can I get a girl that will never otherwise get a chance?’” says Fadil. And those photos around his studio are proof that he gave the opportunity to those who indeed would not have another opportunity.

So, what draws Fadil to people? “Smile, eyes, a good heart, and soul,” the answer rolls off his tongue.

Fadil talks about his career and his beliefs with a passion you don’t often encounter. He believes that arts and sports are of crucial importance as they have the power to change people’s hearts and minds. He leads me around the studio as he points at different photographs hung on his walls, telling a story about each of them. When I asked him if he could single out a person who has made a significant impact in his life, he grabbed a framed picture of him with a gentleman and says, “Without a doubt, this guy. He’s the former owner of Rolex. In 2005, he gave me a lifetime contract and was a close friend till the day he died. That opened so many doors for me.”

From sitting at his desk to running to get a bowl of seeds from the kitchen for the birds on the fire escape, Fadil Berisha never stops moving and never stops talking.

A couple of hours had passed and I did not once sense any regrets in his voice, which got me curious. So, I decided to ask him: Does Fadil Berisha have any regrets? He is human, after all. “Not taking pictures of Mother Teresa. I will always regret that” he says pensively. “You know, she was in New York City in 1997 with Princess Diana, and I could have taken pictures of her then, but my plan was to go to India and capture her and the environment in which she worked, so I put it off. She died before I got the chance to do it and it will always be something that I wish I had done,” says Fadil. I could easily sense the disappointment and sadness in his voice as he finished saying those words. It almost made me regret asking the question in the first place.

In recent years, Fadil Berisha has been doing a lot of self-reflection. Nowadays, he enjoys a day off, long walks, and meaningful chats over coffee with friends and family. Whether it’s about his siblings, his mother’s flowers, or his grandson, there’s an overwhelming sense of adoration in the way in which he talks about his family. Spiritually, he does believe in higher powers, in God. But there is one thing he has no doubt about: “We are all energy. Our souls never die, only our bodies do,” he tells me. The energy of New York City is what he claims has kept him there for so long. The crystals scattered around his studio are a testament to this.

And although there are plenty of reasons to be discouraged by people, it doesn’t seem like he’s going to let that happen anytime soon. “Whenever I’m ready to give up, whenever people disappoint me, there’s always someone that comes along that shows genuine appreciation and makes everything worth it.”

The doorbell rings. His guests are here and he greets them with the same smile and hugs that he greets everyone, ready to dive into another deep but lively conversation.

The Future’s Syzana Kajtazaj says DSK can “create dreamers” in Malisheva and beyond

The Diaspora School in Kosovo, or DSK, hosted its first edition in October of last year. The program brought young adults from all over together to collaborate and create initiatives to better Kosovo.

Syzana Kajtazaj, a Computer Science and Engineering major at the University for Business and Technology in Kosovo, was one of those young adults. Together with her team, she created “The Future.”

“The Future” set out to better Kosovo’s future by working directly with the youth. The initiative took form as a club at Lasgush Poradeci high school in Kjevë, a village in the municipality of Malisheva. Through various activities, “The Future” connected with the students and helped them with health education, self-confidence, schoolwork, and more.

We interviewed Kajtazaj on her experience with the Diaspora School in Kosovo and her initiative.

KD: What was your experience as the leader of The Future initiative? Was it valuable or not?

SK: The Future initiative, for me as a leader, was one of the most beautiful projects I have ever participated. During the project, we successfully achieved to instill hope and motivation in our participants. As a leader, my job was to grow new leaders and not say “I” but “we.” In our project, our staff held the leader’s role. The experience was very valuable and inspiring. We not only worked for the problems of the youth but also to include the youth to solve the community problems and go further together.

KD: What did you gain from the process of the implementation?

SK: From the implementation process we learned more of how to manage time, students, lecture lessons, and other little things that sometimes are very important for a project to work. I gained more thoughtfulness for my surroundings, learned how to manage difficult situations, and I can say that I am now more prepared to lead any other projects. I can find smarter ways to help students, especially how to remember the lectures they will learn.

KD: Do you think your work has had an impact on the target group and community?

SK: We analyzed the results of our surveys and found that 95% of the students answered that they gained benefits that they will need and use in their future journey with education and life in general.

By the end of the program, everyone had become friends with each other and they were free to speak their mind without the fear that someone will judge them or think badly of them. They learned to use their freedom to express themselves by asking questions and sharing their opinions.

KD: Do you think that these kinds of initiatives should continue in the future?

SK: We strongly support the idea that these kinds of projects should continue for our youth. These projects will help our youth to become more open-minded, open doors that they did not know of before, expand their horizons and create big dreamers out there. No one achieved something big by dreaming small.

As the saying goes “Dream big but start small.” The students will start small by participating in projects like this and work hard towards their goals.

The Future team working together at the Diaspora School in Kosovo. Photo provided by DSK.

From Prishtina to London: Visar Statovci’s First Office Was In A Hallway

Creativity works in mysterious ways. It can be found in the most conventional of places, but also in the most unusual of places. Visar Statovci, born and raised in Prishtina, was merely 13 years old when he first became interested in the field of design. It’s news to none that, because of the war, the 90s in Kosovo were not particularly friendly towards the creative world. Visar built a dream that was far bigger than his reality permitted, but one that paid off in the end.

A co-founder of Waster Creative, Visar Statovci is our persona of the day, and his story is one filled with dreams, risks, and success.

Growing up in Prishtina, Visar was first introduced to design through his older brother Arber. Only a year after he moved to London in 1998, Visar landed his first job as a junior designer for Perception DM, a local design company. He attributes his initial success to friends who guided him. Through the new experience, he expanded his skills by working in the digital field, which he hadn’t done before. For a short while, Visar worked as a freelance designer leading different projects and further exploring the field of design. It was during this time that he took his talents back to Kosova and worked as a designer and consultant for Ipko.net for over a year. 

He later returned to London and attended Chelsea College of Art and Design while simultaneously working for New Media Maze, a digital creative agency specializing in the entertainment sector. From there, Visar and two friends joined forces to build their own company, which they named Waste Creative.

This company is an offspring of hard work and dedication from three young men with big dreams. The company’s first office was the hallway of their flat in Camden Town, but that did not pose a problem. They had made a good impression on New Media Maze which led the company to begin deferring to the powerful trio for help with different projects. Waste Creative became their overflow agency.  Soon after this, more and more brands started approaching Waste, attracted by the quality of the work they were doing, and the speed with which they took it to market.

The next challenge for Visar and his team was to work on something they had not explored before—the gaming industry. One of their first projects included collaborating with the gaming industry giant, Sega, who continue to be one of their clients 12 years later. Waste Creative was able to transition from a small makeshift office in the hallways of a converted church to a large office in Clerkenwell, the design and creative hub of London, attracting many world-renowned companies such as Supercell, Sega, British Gas, Camelot, Warner Brothers etc.

So, what drives their success? Visar claims that learning and growing together as a team is the key to moving and growing. He is a firm believer in his team who are not only capable but also positive and dedicated. His team is also his greatest joy and proudest accomplishment. It’s these long-lasting relationships with their clients and the team bonding that have given Visar and Waste Creative the strength and skill to compete with the giants of the industry and have made them a household name.

While Visar continues pursuing his business dreams, Kosova, as he knew it almost two decades ago, has changed a lot. The positive energy and the talent of the youth of Kosova give Visar hope that the country’s future is bright.  In fact, there are a number of talented young Kosovans now working at Waste Creative.

However, he wishes that the local government would do more to put that energy to good use and establish institutional support for foreign investments.

“If we want to help Kosova, we need to do our bit and contribute to the countries and communities we live in… we need to try to become influential in our individual fields and use any opportunity to showcase what we have to offer to the world as people and as a country”, he explains.

Visar believes that the world needs to hear more success stories coming from Kosovo, as it is, according to him, the best way to create a positive image in the world. Moving forward, Visar thinks communities abroad should be more structured and engage in PR strategies that combat negative press about the country. 

Suzanna Shkreli gives a voice to the voiceless with her motivation and success

The daughter of Albanian immigrants from Montenegro, Suzanna Shkreli is the embodiment of the American Dream thanks to her hard work and dedication.  After finishing law school at the age of 24, she became a lawyer in Macomb County, Michigan prosecuting homicide, drug crimes, assaults, and domestic violence. Her determination propelled her in the national limelight when she ran for the U.S. Congress in 2016.

The congressional race for Michigan’s 8th district was important, not only for Suzanna but also the community that she sought to represent in Washington.  When asked about the main points of her campaign, she said:

“I fought for Michigan’s middle class families by focusing on the issues that affected them. I wanted to help grow the economy, by supporting small businesses that would create good-paying jobs, and strengthen our middle class. I spent my childhood helping my family’s diner grow and I know that small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities.

I fought for the full development of our renewable energy sources, and sought to move us closer to full energy independence. By utilizing new technology and reconfiguring our energy sources, we can create new good jobs and serve as an example on combating climate change without sacrificing economic growth.

Another major issue that was foundational to my platform was fighting to build a strong public education system that will provide students with the skills they need to compete in the 21st century global economy. Improving schools and ensuring the best education possible for Michigan families starts with investing in our schools from pre-kindergarten to high school graduation and beyond. Access to quality educational opportunities is key, but affordability issues must also be addressed to ensure every child in Michigan can succeed. As a product of Michigan’s public schools and universities, I believes we must make college and higher education more affordable for everyone who wants to earn a college degree.

I fought for women. In Congress, I wanted to vote to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which protects domestic abuse survivors. I wanted to pass legislation like the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, which further prevents discrimination in the workplace. Most importantly, I believe women are able to make their own health care decisions and am dedicated to fighting back against politicians who want to outlaw a woman’s right to choose.

Suzanna has since returned to her job to give a voice to the defenseless by prosecuting crimes against children in the Child Protection Unit. When asked about her job, she says this with full confidence: It is a difficult job and heavy on my heart, but I find a great sense of fulfilment in being able to advocate for children in the courtroom. I am in a position to defend the defenseless, to give a voice to those who might not otherwise have it, and to give those children a piece of mind that their perpetrator won’t be able to hurt them again. That work has been the honor of my life.”

Suzanna is thankful for her parents who worked hard to ensure that their children could pursue in a high-quality education that would open doors to a bright future. As an Albanian-American, she is conscious and proud of her heritage.  Her background shaped her political identity from an early age. As a child, she watched President Clinton’s statement and commitment to end the ethnic cleansing and humanitarian crisis in Kosovo. This solidified in her the values and principles of what it means to be American – that a democratic, free and independent nation would stand to protect those in need.  

During her congressional campaign, Suzanna was endorsed by President Obama, who understood and appreciated the history of friendship between Albanians and Americans. She also introduced President Clinton at a rally in Michigan during Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.  

Many young Albanians, especially girls, reached out to Suzanna to tell her the positive impact she had made on their lives by emboldening them to fight for what they believe in.  “Losing is hard, but moments like that fill me with pride and remind me of how vital it is to keep going,” she said. “The fight for justice and a better tomorrow is an honorable fight, and an achievable reality no matter where you live, and that we owe it to one another to pursue it together.”

Albanian Diaspora in America

Suzanna believes that the role of the diaspora in America and abroad should be to create organizational support for Albanians across the world to advance in all areas of life such as growing businesses or running for public office.

“The diaspora should be unified as first and foremost, we are all Albanians, regardless whether we are originally Malesia Madhe, Macedonia, Albania, or Kosovo,” she said.

She remembers how the diaspora came together to help during the war in Kosovo and calls for similar mobilizations for other causes. “The diaspora has not coalesced around a cause of that magnitude since, and it is time to do so again. There are many causes for Albanians to fight for, whether it be integration into the EU or access to medical treatment in Albanian lands. These issues need the attention and dedication of the diaspora, and we cannot wait until there is a tragedy to spring into action. There is a new and vibrant generation that is eager for change and opportunity, and with the commitment of the diaspora, a better tomorrow exists for Albanians worldwide.”

She suggests that Albanians should strengthen their own networks by providing opportunities to the younger generation, their communities and abroad. For example, business owners can provide the chance for young Albanians to work at their facilities and have them learn their trade and hone their skills.

It is evident that Suzanna is committed to contributing to making the world a better place. She has the will to fight for what is right and the fire to carry on.

Diaspora Flet Conference

Diaspora: Partners Towards Better Futures

“Sometimes we feel we straddle two cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools.”
― Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991

 

I start with this quote as it resonates well with what it feels like being someone that left Kosovo 26 years ago. Upon reflection on the years behind me, I have experienced a lot of change and gone through a number of identity transformational eras. You learn to live with the process of being in between, either straddling between two cultures or lifting yourself up from between two stools.

So, this journey has taken me to the doors of Germin. They found me on Google and their offer to be part of ‘something bigger’ grabbed my attention. They speak my ‘language’ and they listen very carefully to my critical remarks. Strangely, they don’t want money out of me or a ‘freebie’ service. They want to give voice to all diaspora members, and it’s not all about politics or investments but more about us, the ‘inbetweeners’, who juggle their identity between the concepts ‘foreignness’ and being of ‘jasht-ness’.

What do I mean?

‘Foreignness’ is the struggle to be accepted in the lands that continuously reject you, whether through immigration policies or socio-economic exclusion. It is about moving forward, working hard and creating ‘owned’ opportunities, while developing a resilience that comes from the burden of ‘foreignness’. Besides the goal to survive and support families back home, our children need to grow, to succeed and return to their homeland and to make it better for all! Dreams are handed over to our children, along with the burden of being already-born-and-torn between the ‘foreignness’ and ‘jasht-ness’.

‘Jashtness’ is about me, the activist, the changemaker and dream chaser – I go back and I push hard for positive change, regardless of the ongoing discriminatory comments (‘shatzis’ or ‘darlingat’) or sometimes consuming a very expensive ‘fli’ because of my ‘richness’. I give back, despite being frustrated by the investments and freebies I’m expected to give, blackmailed by the guilt of having left my country behind. It is about me, the mother of my immigrant children, who are sometimes laughed at because of their immigrant traceable accents. It is about my kids, the less-famous immigrant children, with their diplomas and dreams to make their homelands better, for themselves and their parents.

So, Germin becomes the essential middle-ground, the enabler, the negotiator, the voice of all. Germin understand the traceable-accents of the inbetweeners and provide us with a voice through ‘Diaspora Flet’. This is the very first organisation that allows me to shine my own beacon, for my own dreams. It removes my ‘jashtness’ and my ‘foreignness’ and bring me into the state of being ‘Kosovare’ – the state I long to be.

More importantly, it protects my children, it welcomes them and offers them inclusiveness. It offers them opportunities to shine their own beacons and to create their own dreams through the ‘Diaspora School’.

Germin is a community run by the power of the ‘in-between’ forces, tackling barriers and creating opportunities for connections, for integration of diaspora journeys and for joining dreams of greater value creation.

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Indira Kartallozi is the director at Kaleidoscope Futures and founder of Migrant Entrepreneurs International. Indira’s expertise ranges from sustainability, social enterprise, human rights and leadership. Indira’s work in sustainability has taken her to various countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Previously, she was President of the judging panel for the Social Enterprise Reporting Awards (The SERAs), an initiative of CSR Nigeria. Indira is also engaged in various positions supporting the work of ‘Impacto’, a Malaysian social enterprise, Women for Peace and Participation (WPP), a non-profit organization promoting social and political inclusion of women, GERMIN and ‘Mentoring Our Future’.