Monthly Archives: September 2012

A refugee from Kosovo: selected for the UK Government’s competitive internship programme

Endrita Salihu – another story of success of a young lady from Kosovo, who fled the country with her family during the war of  1999. She was one of the sixty among the thousand applicants to be selected to intern at the United Kingdom government and shadow the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State.
Endrita Salihu of Kosovo origin, was one of the 60 students in the UK to be selected to participate in the competitive Whitehall Internship program organized by the Social Mobility Foundation. Thousands of students across the country have applied. The aim of the program is to increase diversity within the UK Civil Service. An objective that is supported by Lady Warsi, something she expressed during her speech at the opening ceremony held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Endrita Salihu said: “Being chosen to be one of the 60 interns was prodigious and overwhelming! I was allocated to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) where I worked in the office of Peter Schofield, Director General for Neighbourhoods.  During my time at DCLG I was also given the chance to shadow Andrew Stunnell OBE MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, at a meeting about housing plans and then attend an extremely informative question and answer session where I was able to find out about the work of a minister and how to become a minister. As a young person who moved to the UK as a refugee fleeing the horrific war of Kosovo in 1999, I felt privileged to meet the decision makers who have helped me so much. Being from Kosovo, my parents have always taught me about the history of Kosovo and it’s fight for independence, something, which I believe, has inspired me to want to study International Politics at university.  As it is a small country in the Balkans, it felt great to be able to represent my country and put Kosovo back on the map!”
Below you can read an article that the Guardian has published:

Whitehall intern gets a taste of the service

Whitehall intern, Endrita Salihu, on escaping the Kosovo war, meeting Sir Bob Kerslake and being inspired to join the civil service fast stream

Coming to this country as a refugee after escaping the Kosovo war in 1999, I never believed that I would be given the chance to meet those who made the decisions that have, in essence, changed my life.

From a young age, through learning about the history of Kosovo and it’s fight for independence, I’ve been taught how important it is to have positive relations between countries. This is what has fuelled my desire to study international relations at university and embark on a career in politics – an area that has interested me since the age of 12.

I’m currently studying A Levels in government and politics, modern history, English language and law at Cardinal Newman College, in Preston.

Having embraced my passion for politics, and my desire to enter the political work field, my politics teacher informed me about the Whitehall internship, which he believed would help my future prospects. When I found out about it my initial reaction was to find out more and apply.

The aim of the internship, set up by the Social Mobility Foundation, is to promote social mobility and increase civil service diversity by targeting under-represented groups. It’s an aim which is supported by Baroness Warsi, minister without portfolio, who showed her enthusiasm for the internship at our opening ceremony. Head of the civil service Sir Bob Kerslake, who fully supports this scheme and who I got to meet, has also spoken up about how important it is for the civil service to be diverse.

From numerous applicants, 60 year 12 students were chosen to participate in the scheme. All of us were split across the different government departments in Whitehall. I was allocated to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) where I worked in the office of Peter Schofield, director general of neighbourhoods. The department has had heavy focus in the media in recent weeks due to the Portas pilot scheme, tackling council tax fraud as well as looking how economic growth can be increased via the regeneration of cities.

During my time at DCLG I went to a variety of meetings, shadowing both directors and director generals who were discussing how to tackle the issue of economic growth. I was also given the chance to shadow Andrew Stunnell, parliamentary under secretary of state, at a meeting and then attend a question and answer session where I was able to find out more about minister’s workloads and the type of jobs they have to complete day to day.

Having attended these meetings and met such influential people, I gained an insiders knowledge of what it was like to work for the civil service and the pressures placed upon civil servants. Furthermore, I was also able to shadow members of DCLG’s legal team and also meet litigation lawyers at the Treasury’s solicitors department as well visit the supreme court. The people that I communicated with have stimulated me to widen my horizons and aim high. They were all immensely encouraging and helpful, and were always willing to answer any questions that I had.

Being in the environment that, in the future, I would like to work in was astounding. I was able to learn more about the civil service and the different career options within it. All the information that I obtained was enormously beneficial and helped me come to the decision that I would like to become a fast streamer in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office once I have graduated.

The experience has been overwhelming, inspiring and definitely enriching and I would recommend everyone, especially those interested in politics, to apply.

Endrita Salihu is 17 and studying for her A Levels at Cardinal Newman College in Preston. You can find her on Twitter: @EndritaSalihu

This article was published by Guardian Professional. Join theGuardian Public Leaders Network free to receive regular emails on the issues at the top of the professional agenda.

Mark Gjonaj: Making History… Running for NY Assembly

By: Ermira Babamusta, Ph.D., New York for Gazeta

Mark Gjonaj is the Bronx commissioner of the New York City Taxi &Limousine Commission, serving since 2011 and is potentially the first electedAlbanian-American official for the New York Assembly. It is crucial that allvoters, especially the Albanian-Americans registered in the 80thdistrict (Pelham Parkway, Pelham Gardens, Allerton and part of Bedford Park) comeout and vote on September 13th 2012 to decide this historic moment.

“I have a successful business; I don’t need this job. I got involvedbecause of what I saw as the inaction of our present elected officials and theunderutilized resources that we have in the Bronx. You get out of a communitywhat you put into it. I need the support of every Albanian-American voter onSeptember 13th, and this will be a significant achievement for our community,but this is about the entire 80th Assembly District. My only promise is to workas hard as the people of our district do every day, because that is what the peopleof this community deserve,” said Mark Gjonaj for Prishtina Press.

As the Democratic Primary is getting closer, it is important for the NYvoters to know what choices they have to represent their voices at the stateAssembly and make an educated vote. Incumbent Naomi Rivera is currently facing allegationsof corruption and use of taxpayer money for personal expenses. The othercandidates including Adam Bermudez and Irene Estrada-Rukaj are calling for thewithdrawal of Rivera from the political race. Mark Gjonaj’s victory in theelection would be a triumph for the Albanian-Americans living in Bronx.

The Gjonaj Plan is designed to increase opportunities for both young peoplefor higher education opportunities and elderly senior citizens, promoting theirneeds. His plan also promises to expand affordable housing incentive programsproviding stabilized rent and affordable housing. His commitment to protectingthe Medicaid and Medicare reveals his care and interest for advancing thehealth, safety and wellbeing of the local communities in New York.

Mr. Gjonaj is running this year with the promise to improve the economy inthe Bronx community, to help create and improve community education programsand intends to make health care available for all families.

“The support for Mark Gjonaj during the campaign has been extremelystrong, and it continues to build. His message of creating good jobs,supporting local businesses and keeping the neighborhood safe is resonating. Itis imperative that every one of Mark’s supporters come out to vote on September13th, as we believe it will be a very close race. Call your family and friendsand remind them because every vote will make a difference,” said EmmettHare, Campaign Manager. Mark Gjonaj has extended himself out of concern for the local community toprotect each resident living in the Bronxborough. As co-founder of the Albanian-American Community Association Mr. Gjonaj has organized several historical events for theAlbanian-American community, enriching the cultural diversity environment inNew York. As Bronx commissioner of the New York City Taxi &Limousine Commission Mark Gjonaj has established himself as an influentialleader regarding public safety concerns. The 80th district in NewYork can surely trust and depend on Mark Gjonaj to protect the people of thedistrict.


Source: Ermira Babamusta. Mark Gjonaj Making History: The Political Race for the NY Assembly. Sept 6, 2012.

Shkumbin Mustafa: President of New York City Handball Team – NYTimes

Taken from New York Times.

On a makeshift court in Minneapolis, victorious players locked arms around one another’s necks and broke into an unusual cheer.

“Everyone count in your language,” Shkumbin Mustafa exhorted. “Let’s see how it sounds.”

What followed was a raucous chant redolent of the Tower of Babel — “un, deux, trois!” “eine, zwei, drei!” “ena, dyo, tria” — and then the jubilant hollering of two words that unite men and women from more than 20 countries: “New York!”

The men’s squad from the New York City Team Handball Club had won its fourth national title in five years in May, bolstering its reputation as the best team handball outfit in the United States, where the word handball often evokes two leathery, sun-baked men smacking a blue rubber ball against a wall, not the rapid-firing Olympic team sport that has been described by the club’s players as water polo without water, lacrosse without sticks or soccer using hands.

These players, who hail from five continents, would not need to put the sport in such terms in their home countries, where handball — the preface “team” exists only in the United States — is popular. Although most are European, members of the club also come from Senegal, China, Colombia, Japan, Egypt and the Dominican Republic.

“Not everybody has an easy story coming here or why they came here and who they left behind,” said Mustafa, the club’s president and starting center back. A political refugee from Kosovo, he moved here in 1999 with “a small bag, a tennis racket, a pair of jeans and two T-shirts.” Initially he did not expect to stay long, but now he calls New York City home.

“Everybody needs something to fit in,” he said. “We have the Olympic sport of team handball.”

The team includes a German doctor and a Montenegrin custodian engineer, a French financial analyst and an Egyptian cook/personal trainer, an Italian travel agent and a Greek hairdresser. Despite their various backgrounds and myriad languages, “we understand each other in the court,” said the top scorer, Sayed Shalaby, the Egyptian. “Handball is the same. Different language, but same handball.”

More than 41 million people around the world are involved with team handball, said Mustafa, an ambassador for the game as much as a player. Nearly 20,000 fans packed an arena in Belgrade, Serbia, to watch the finals of the 2012 European Cup. But the sport is relegated to the fringes of American consciousness, if it exists at all. Only 800 people play competitively in the United States, said Mariusz Wartalowicz, the USA Team Handball technical director.

Team handball is one of three Olympic sports in which the United States has not won a medal, the other two being table tennis and badminton. USA Team Handball did not qualify for the London Games; in fact, the national team has not competed at the Olympics since the Atlanta Games in 1996, when the hosts received an automatic bid.

Lewis Howes, the “token American” on the New York City team, said he was frustrated by his country’s ignorance. When he saw the Olympics of handball in 2008, he said: “I got mad because I’d never seen the sport before. I was like, ‘Why don’t Americans play this?’ ”

A former collegiate all-American who went on to play in Arena League football, Howes packed up his life in Columbus, Ohio, and moved to New York City to pursue his handball ambitions and chase his childhood goal of playing for Team USA.

“A lot of people say they want these things, but they don’t take action,” Howes said. “I want to be an example, go after my exact dream.”

Though he has been playing competitively for less than a year, Howes recently made the national team and competed in the Pan-American Championship in Argentina in June. The United States placed seventh out of 10 teams.

Although Howes, 29, still fantasizes about Olympic handball stardom — 2016 might be his last chance — the rest of the team plays for the love of the sport and the community it provides.

Many players were professionals in their homelands. Shalaby won 10 Egyptian League titles with Cairo-based Zamalek Sporting Club, and claimed three African Championships as a member of the Egyptian national team. The former French professional goalkeeper Martin Strub-Hidalgo played against international superstars like Nikola Karabatic (2007 International Handball Federation player of the year) and Luc Abalo, who have each won two Olympic gold medals and two world championships with the French national team.

“I remember very well having to deal against them as a goalie was never an easy task,” Strub-Hidalgo said.

Whatever their backgrounds, team handball players in America find it is a humbling and unifying part of their immigrant experience.

“It’s totally different,” said Strub-Hidalgo, whose European teams used to provide housing, transportation and food, as well as a paycheck. “Even my shoes, I never bought shoes,” he said, flashing a pair of simple black-and-white Adidas. “Maybe my second shoes I bought of handball in my life.”

Also gone are the days of well-maintained arenas. Here, they play on high school gym basketball courts, where they use masking tape to outline a handball court.

Despite the material differences of team handball in America, the players say they would not trade their team for anything. Not only do they play on the best squad in the country — many of them argue that they could beat international teams — but they also say that they have found a family. The players are not shy about public displays of affection; they hug and kiss seemingly any chance they get, whether before practice, during breaks in game action, or at the bar. The team goes drinking together every Saturday night in a Hell’s Kitchen bar that proudly displays a signed team jersey framed on the wall.

Sport as connective tissue is nothing new, but Mustafa says his team is unique. As he tells it, the team was founded in 1973 by the United Nations so that immigrant employees could continue playing their beloved sport. The club no longer retains any affiliation to the United Nations, but Mustafa said it still promoted the ethos of its parent organization.

“You put in a team, 16 guys from 16 different countries,” he said. “Each one of them has a different culture, different tradition, different language. “Some of our guys don’t even speak English, but we get on the court and we communicate somehow.”

Right wing Djole Radovanovic and goalie Ivan Ignjatovic are two stalwarts. As Serbians, history might consider them enemies to Mustafa, an ethnic Albanian Muslim, but “here we’re best friends,” he said.

Mustafa then smiled wryly, his twinkling eyes punctuating his rugged, handsome features.

“Peaceful conflict resolution is part of our plan,” he said only half-joking. “Wider plan: solving all the problems of the world.”

Source: BEN TEITELBAUM and MONICA ALBA. “Unified in America by an International Sport.” New York Times. September 2, 2012.