In 1999, the war in Kosovo forced 7-year-old Krenare Jashari‘s family to leave their home and become refugees in Macedonia. Nearly 17 years later, Krenare returned to Macedonia, this time to help others now caught up in the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Krenare, now volunteered at a refugee camp in Tabanovce, Kumanovo, where Project HOPE continues to help with the donation of supplies, medicines and volunteer medical help. Recalling her own personal history as a refugee, Krenare reflects on the emotional considerations that refugees experience.
I would like to use this opportunity to thank Project HOPE for making it possible for me to be part of their volunteering community which allowed me to spend some time at the refugee camp in Kumanovo.
This experience took me back to the days in 1999, during the war in Kosovo, when I was a refugee in Macedonia. I now am able to use my past experiences to better understand those who are going through a similar situation.
My first memory as a young refugee in Macedonia begins with the sound of a crib rocking, as my mother tried to put her youngest to sleep while attempting to keep her two other small daughters warm. She was also just two months away from giving birth to another baby.
I remember being scared. I could hear people moaning and crying. My sister’s little voice was saying she wanted to go home now, where she could she see our nana. Two nights later, I lay down looking at the dark sky, pretending that I was asleep. All I could hear is what sounded like a happy voice: “They are here.” It was my father’s voice. As I lifted my head up, I saw a few men who were handing over blankets. As my father laid a blanket over me, I told him I did not want to sleep, so he took me into his arms.
We spent two months in Stenkovec, the refugee camp in Macedonia. Queuing for a piece of bread took forever. We would practically peel our skin off scrubbing it, a desperate attempt to get the ink stamp off our little hands so we could get back in line for more food.
I remember people coming to visit us; any sign of affection made me feel like I belonged somewhere. Often I wondered: Where did they come from? Why do they seem different -- a lot paler? Everything I had known was taken from me. One minute I had a big family – aunts and uncles that I would visit every weekend – and the next moment I was surrounded by strangers.
And now, as a 24-year-old adult walking around the camp in Tabanovce, Kumanovo (a municipality of Macedonia), I had so many questions: Who are those children playing with? Is it a brother or a sister or a complete stranger?
Going back in time overwhelmed me with memories I had as I went from living in a small tent at the refugee camp in Macedonia with my mom and dad and my two little sisters to then living in a big castle in Millstreet, Co. Cork, Ireland – a place for asylum seekers.
I began to ask myself more questions: Where will these people go? Who will be their salvation? As an adult now I see things differently. How does a parent feel when their child wants their favorite toy or wants to go home? What's the impact on a teenager who's already going through physical and emotional changes? How does the former teacher or engineer feel – now a refugee sleeping in a tent?
From my personal experience, I can truly say that being forced to flee your home and leave behind everything that’s familiar and dear to you is one of the toughest challenges anyone can face. However, seeing how various NGOs such as Project HOPE are working together to offer basic needs such as food, water, shelter and access to health services, really makes me proud of my colleagues who work hard day and night to help the refugees through the darkest moments of their lives.
Let’s all take a moment to reflect on the things that really matter and help a little every day to make the world a safer place.
Project HOPE has been supporting the Syrian Refugee Crisis through our program in Macedonia since September of 2015. Krenare hopes to be able to return to Macedonia to provide more assistance with volunteers.
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