Frontline lessons in human rights

May 14, 1999

Rachel Wheeler's PhD is on hold for a few weeks. In a Kosovar Albanian refugee camp near Tirana she adds two arrivals to her computer database.

She is working for the Christian aid agency MedAir as a logistics volunteer, but Ms Wheeler has been in Albania for two years and is in the third year of a doctorate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in development economics.

"I finished a masters and wanted experience so I came here as a six-month volunteer. I had to do something to help.

"The Serbs have deliberately targeted Kosovo's intellectuals and places of education, but out of the misery and squalor of the refugee camps in Albania a phoenix is slowly rising - education is still alive.

"I am a Christian andII believe I've got a purpose, though that's not a mission to convert. But if someone wants to talk about God and Jesus, I will," she said.

Many young students in Albania are putting their studies on hold while they pass on their knowledge to Kosovar refugees.

In a part of the camp run by the Greeks, three young Albanian law students are acting as primary school teachers to a group of Kosovar children. Alma Bejte, Inida Met-Hoxha and Iris Hysi are 20-year-old students working for the Albanian Centre for Human Rights.

"We are volunteers teaching them human rights as there are no books. But it is very important for them to know their rights because the Serbs have denied them any rights, even to learn their own language, since 1989," Ms Bejte said.

"We only have a space on the football field as a classroom, and we sing and play with the children to make them forget their traumas," Ms Met-Hoxha added.

Behind her, one of the children has drawn a picture of seven houses with seven black bombs above them - the healing process will without doubt be a long one.

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