Category Archives: Education

Labbox, Kosovo edtech startup teaching kids engineering, is looking to expand beyond the Balkans

For more than two years, edtech startup Labbox Education has been bringing science, electronics, and computer engineering closer to children across Kosovo, through fun and interactive ways that encourage thinking and finding new and innovative solutions for various challenges.

According to the startup’s founder Arta Zaimi, who has already founded a coding academy in Kosovo and also has extensive experience in programming and electronics, the idea about the company originated while she was searching for a solution that would solve both the difficulty of teaching and understanding the complex scientific fields. 

Enjoying the magic of creation

“Labbox aims to expose children to real-world electronics and engineering as early as possible. Based on our testing and general pedagogical advice related to child development, the best age to start exposing children to technology from a creator’s perspective is age 8. This is the time when their mathematical thinking is developing strongly and children have a grasp of the basic math functions, which if compared to how electronics work, are similar in difficulty,” Zaimi tells The Recursive.

“By learning and practicing engineering activities, kids not only start to enjoy the magic of creation, but they also develop crucial skills in the process. That form of thinking takes children a long way in life,” Zaimi points out.

Arta Zaimi combines more than nine years of experience developing complex systems for bank and enterprise use, as well as more than four years of experience in the field of education.

The main concept behind the startup’s products is using STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. Every month, kids that are using Labbox are getting boxes with new STEM projects and engineering tasks, through which they learn to understand ‘Why’ and ‘How’ things work. 

Expansion plans

While public schools in Kosovo have already started using Labbox’s curriculum, now the company is looking to expand on foreign markets as well.

In 2018, Labbox received joint-equity financing from the EBRD and the EU through the Western Balkan Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility (WBEDIF). Labbox is also a Techstars portfolio company, accelerated from Techstars Berlin in the first quarter of 2021.

This year, Zaimi and Labbox will also be featured in the Romanian investment platform SeedBlink. For Zaimi, this cooperation means that the startup will also gain more exposure and visibility.

“As Labbox is growing beyond the borders of the Balkans, and with the demand, we are seeing from European countries, we felt it is the right time for a crowdfunding round. We decided to share the opportunity of investment with smaller investors that usually don’t have the chance to invest in a startup at this stage,” Zaimi tells The Recursive.

“We also would like to give the opportunity to high-value individuals who are also parents, as we believe that the best supporters and investors we can have with us are those that will be our customers,” she adds. 

At the moment, with an investment of €300K the company has set up its own production line in Kosovo. And Zaimi points out that there is room for growth.

“There is an amazing opportunity for growth for Labbox and due to the economics that we are seeing and the market performance, I think the business is basically a no-brainer,” Zaimi explained during the SeedBlink presentation earlier this month.

“The other reason is, especially for those that understand the importance of our mission and the value proposition, I think that there is an opportunity to take joy in helping our world develop in the right direction and opening the minds of those that will hold our future,” Zaimi concludes.

This article was first published at The Recursive – an independent community-born online media focused on the emerging tech and startup ecosystems in Southeast Europe (SEE).

Mentorship Program for Kosovar Students

There is so much potential that students who live in Kosovo have. There is a lot of talent that needs to be nurtured and guided. The lack of access to platforms where they can channel their potential and achieve personal development is a huge barrier to them. But why does this only remain rhetoric? Why are so few Kosovar students achieving their dreams and goals? After racking my brain for an answer, I realized that the root of the problem was not the students themselves, but rather the lack of opportunities that are presented to these students. 

Upon attending the sixth form in the United Kingdom, I have noticed a large amount of differences between the schemes and programs available to students in the UK and in Kosovo. In the UK, we have various career meetings, opportunities to talk to professionals about their careers, we get chances to visit workplaces that we might be interested in, and weekly exposure to various different challenges and schemes. However, I have recently become aware that a large majority of schools in Kosovo do not have these opportunities. Economic difficulties may prove to be barriers for such programs, however, I’ve started my own initiative to give students who are interested in STEM a chance to a virtual network with professionals for free.  

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) are such important career paths for the development of humans but also for the development of a fledgling country like Kosovo. These careers contribute towards the formation of a better society, for example, medicine helps medicate ill patients and technology improves the methods of living by making processes more efficient. After witnessing the lack of support for students in Kosovo to achieve a STEM career, I decided to take matters into my own hands, and create a mentoring opportunity for these students. Kosovar-Albanian students who have an interest in STEM have the opportunity to sign up for a mentoring scheme that partners any interested student with a professional or researcher from their field of choice. After the coordination of dates and times, the student and mentor will be able to participate in one-hour weekly Zoom calls, in which the mentor will be able to explain the pathways for entering their career, and any other relevant information that the student might need. The program is three weeks long and has begun on August 3rd, and any interested students can sign up by clicking the link and filling out the form. (https://forms.gle/Tg4yHrR813bugpsN9)  

I am very lucky to be a part of the Kosovo diaspora in the UK, because I am aware that I have opportunities here which youngsters in Kosovo most likely don’t have. Not only do I have the possibility to encourage positive change in Kosovo by voicing my opinions here in the UK and abroad, but I also have the chance to gain support from a wider variety of people here in the UK and promote awareness of a lack of opportunities for Kosovar students. I aim to use my power to create a positive environment in terms of career development for students in Kosovo because going into STEM requires students to have a lot of knowledge about the subject. Making informed decisions in terms of a career and commitments is also a key aspect to having a successful career, so I hope that this program provides these students with the right amount of knowledge, and to have any questions answered about their future. No student should be left without support, and this is what I hope to promote through the creation of this mentoring program. 

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My name is Ideja Bajra, and I am a 16-year-old currently living in the UK. Since the age of 7, I have aspired to become a scientist, and I wish to fulfill that dream by studying biochemistry at university, focusing on the importance of protein structure for the function of proteins in the human body.  

It has always been a particular passion of mine to encourage more youth into STEM, therefore, I have created a non-profit, ‘Based In Science’, that aims to encourage more of the youth in the UK and Kosovo into STEM-related careers. As part of the non-profit, I will be offering free activities, events, and opportunities to students interested in STEM who are from the UK and Kosovo. Aside from organizing a non-profit, I am a student at Drapers’ Academy Sixth Form in the UK, studying Biology, Chemistry, and Physics for A Levels.  

In my spare time, I enjoy reading and writing and am currently writing a book about the contribution of the 21st-century female biochemists to the field of biochemistry, and the major scientific developments that have occurred in the last 50 years. I also co-authored a featured article about BAME women in STEM for the Biochemist magazine, as well as having written a book review for the Biochemist. As the Ambassador for Biochemistry at the Young Scientists’ Journal, I regularly write articles and interviews for the journal, to promote a love for science and to encourage more people into biochemistry careers.

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.

The Biberaj Foundation Inc. announces $1.1 million scholarship for 40 students at Rochester Institute of Technology – RIT in Kosovo

The Biberaj Foundation Inc. announces a new academic scholarship, in the amount of $1,160,000, for 40 students to study to obtain a Bachelor’s degree at Rochester Institute of Technology in Kosova/American University in Kosova Foundation (“RIT Kosova (A.U.K)”).

The competitive Biberaj Family Scholarship provides for a total of 40 scholarship awards, granted over four years, to students with strong academic records and demonstrating financial need. Thirty-six of the scholarship awards will be granted to students of Albanian descent from Tropoja, Plava, Gucia, Presheva, Tetova, Shkup, and rural parts of Kosova, and four to students from minority groups in Kosova. It is the goal of the Biberaj Family Scholarship to grant a minimum of fifty percent and up to seventy-five percent of the scholarships to women.  Preference in receiving a scholarship will be given to students interested in Science, Engineering, Technology, Math and Journalism concentrations.

Mr. Ken Biberaj, a spokesman for the Biberaj Foundation stated that: “The Biberaj Foundation is proud to support this innovative and exciting program. Like countless other families that emigrated to the United States, our family is very appreciative of the opportunities that America has given us and the success we have achieved.  This scholarship aims to provide a truly global experience for these young people, with a strong emphasis on women and those prioritizing course work in science, engineering, technology, math and journalism.”  

RIT Kosova (A.U.K.) will administer the scholarship and be responsible for recruiting the students. The College will provide Room and Board.

The RIT Kosova (A.U.K) President, Dr. Kamal Shahrabi, upon establishment of the Biberaj Family Scholarship thanked the Biberaj Foundation by stating: “I am very happy and appreciative that the Biberaj Foundation has selected RIT Kosova (A.U.K) to be the institution of their choice to provide the education to the recipients of the Biberaj Family Scholarship. The generosity of the Biberaj Foundation will enable 40 youngsters of Kosova and the region to receive an exceptional American education near home with the opportunity to get U.S. experience as well. The Biberaj Foundation generosity is a clear indication that the Biberaj family counts on our graduates for a better future in Kosova and the region. Thank you for placing your trust and support in RIT Kosova (A.U.K.) to turn the passion of the recipients of the Biberaj Family Scholarship into a career.” 

As requirements of the Biberaj Family Scholarship, each student will spend one month each summer between each academic year, working to support community service in their home region, and each student will be required to complete a Capstone project by the end of their fourth year. Additionally, each student will spend one academic semester studying in the U.S. under RIT Kosova (A.U.K.) Global Scholar Program at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s New York campus. To maintain his or her scholarship, each student will need to maintain a superior grade point average.

Mr. Ken Biberaj, a spokesman for the Biberaj Foundation stated that: “The Biberaj Foundation is proud to support this innovative and exciting program. Like countless other families that emigrated to the United States, our family is very appreciative of the opportunities that America has given us and the success we have achieved.  This scholarship aims to provide a truly global experience for these young people, with a strong emphasis on women and those prioritizing course work in science, engineering, technology, math and journalism.”  

RIT Kosova (A.U.K.) will administer the scholarship and be responsible for recruiting the students. The College will provide Room and Board.

The RIT Kosova (A.U.K) President, Dr. Kamal Shahrabi, upon establishment of the Biberaj Family Scholarship thanked the Biberaj Foundation by stating: “I am very happy and appreciative that the Biberaj Foundation has selected RIT Kosova (A.U.K) to be the institution of their choice to provide the education to the recipients of the Biberaj Family Scholarship. The generosity of the Biberaj Foundation will enable 40 youngsters of Kosova and the region to receive an exceptional American education near home with the opportunity to get U.S. experience as well. The Biberaj Foundation generosity is a clear indication that the Biberaj family counts on our graduates for a better future in Kosova and the region. Thank you for placing your trust and support in RIT Kosova (A.U.K.) to turn the passion of the recipients of the Biberaj Family Scholarship into a career.” 

As requirements of the Biberaj Family Scholarship, each student will spend one month each summer between each academic year, working to support community service in their home region, and each student will be required to complete a Capstone project by the end of their fourth year. Additionally, each student will spend one academic semester studying in the U.S. under RIT Kosova (A.U.K.) Global Scholar Program at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s New York campus. To maintain his or her scholarship, each student will need to maintain a superior grade point average.

This merit-based financial need scholarship is open to anyone who meets the following requirements:

  • Is of Albanian descent from one of the following regions: rural parts of Kosova, Tropoja, Plava, Gucia, Presheva, Tetova, and Shkup, or is from one of the minority groups of Kosova.
  • Completes RIT (A.U.K)’s application specifically for this program.
  • Able to demonstrate an outstanding academic record and achievements.
  • Has been active in extra-curricular activities.
  • Must have completed a High School Degree by the time of scholarship award.
  • Able to demonstrate financial need.
  • Proficient in spoken and written English at the time of application. The application, selection process, and interview are all conducted in English.
  • Able to demonstrate strong mathematical skills.

An announcement with more information and access to the online applications for the 2021-2022 academic year, will become available at https://Kosovo.rit.edu/

Source: 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.

Summer Camps in BONEVET are joining the Diaspora in one place

Diaspora, Summer Camps in BONEVET are waiting for you!

After months of work and engagement, holidays spent back home are fun when children are part of Summer Camps at BONEVET.

These camps allow you to create new companionship in your homeland and learn Albanian, explore and create the games you like.

BONEVET welcomes children from Diaspora in three centers in Kosovo;

BONEVET Gjakova, BONEVET Prishtina and BONEVET Kaçanik.

Starting from July 1 to August 30, all children between the ages of 7 and 15 will have the opportunity to become part of our camps.

The camps that are being organized this summer are;

  • Imagine, Create & Play 1 – 5 July 
  • How do I work? 8 – 12 July 
  • Mission in Space 15 – 19 July 
  • ART on the map 22 – 26 July 
  • The Little Scientists 29 – 2 August 
  • Artists Week 5 – 9 August
  • Outside the Box, From the Box 13 – 17 August 
  • Creators Re-Create 19 – 23 August 
  • Academy “Children Spy” 26 – 30 August


For more information about Summer Camps please click HERE.

REGISTER NOW!

Sokol Malushaga - Albanian Architectural Talent in New York

Sokol Malushaga – Albanian Architectural Talent in New York

Text & Photography by Ilir Rizaj 

The new wave of talented architects of Albanian origin, living and working in Western countries, is expanding each day. This is not a surprising trend, if we consider that the most influential architects in the Ottoman Empire were of Albanian ancestry, with Mimar Sinan at the helm. More latter-day examples in the 1800s Europe are Karl von Ghega, the most prominent of Austrian railway engineers and architects, and Luigi Giura, an Italian engineer and architect who built the first suspension bridge in continental Europe.

Architect Sokol Malushaga lives and works in New York, and in partnership with Eduard Malushi, owns Ari Group, an architectural-construction company specializing in ultra-luxurious projects in Manhattan.

Sokol Malushaga - Albanian Architectural Talent in New York

Sokol has studied architecture at Cooper Union, one of the most respected schools in the world. His Thesis project (1997) was selected to take part in Archive and Artifact – The Virtual and The Physical, an exhibition that celebrates the school’s pedagogy, by presenting projects completed at the school over the past 50 years.

Curated from vast materials in the school’s archive, the exhibition includes 35 chosen Thesis that includes physical hand drawings, born-digital drawings, and models. Sokol’s work conceives its inspiration from the concept of the wall and the brick and is presented among the projects by graduates of the school who have become prominent architects and educators, including Stan Allen, Peggy Dreamer, Elizabeth Diller, Diane Lewis, and Daniel Libeskind, among others.

Sokol Malushaga - Albanian Architectural Talent in New York

According to Sokol, his project is “a study that began as an exploration of boundary/threshold conditions defined by the presence of walls and their continuous rebuilding: the boundary of a room, house, street, and city was always defined by the wall…walls are alive, they have roots…in order for a new wall to be erected, a sacrifice is made”.

Sokol pays homage to his birthplace of Peja (Kosova) – known as a town of many artisans, one of them of brick makers – “the brick and the wall symbolize the dialogue between the old and the new, allowing for structures that are never finished”.

From the mason of the antiquity to the modern day designer, from Mimar to Karl to Sokol, the talent of the Albanian architect continues to enrich the world heritage.

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.