Student aid worker forgoes clubbing to teach English to eager Kosovars

October 15, 1999

DJAKOVA

Anand Mehta is now back at the University of Southampton, where he is a pharmacology student, after two tours of relief work in Kosovo followed a spell in the Albanian refugee camps.

A few weeks ago he was helping the charity, Balkan Sunflowers, to entertain the children of Djakova in southwest Kosovo.

He has been doing voluntary work for 12 years for the British Heart Foundation, St John's Ambulance, Comic Relief, Children in Need, Help a London Child Appeal, Lifeline, "Whizz Kids", and he even ran in the London marathon.

"I went to Albania to help with the refugees in June while all my student friends went to Glastonbury. I was working 16 hours a day, seven days a week at a refugee camp - emptying the refuse, distributing food and helping the kids' education and play.

"When I came home to a comfortable sofa I didn't feel like going to the pub - it was difficult to switch off and go out. All my friends think I'm mad but I knew I had to come back and find some families in Kosovo.

"This time the agency told me I might need to climb down wells to retrieve dead bodies. I said I'd rather do that than stay at home and go out to a night club."

He phoned 50 aid agencies but most wanted people with experience in danger zones so he volunteered again with Balkan Sunflowers and paid his flight out - Pounds 280 - and Pounds 100 for food and accommodation (a tent).

"When I returned to Kosovo I spent five hours tracking down one particular family in Deja. The kids were so excited to see me but their father and uncle had been killed in Kosovo and one of their aunts told me she was glad her son had been killed by a bullet to the head. When I asked why, she pointed out many had been tortured, mutilated or decapitated - so at least his death was quick. I was shocked."

It is not all grim tales. Anand helped out with Save the Children entertaining children and playing games or taking them on outings and picnics. He also taught English to a class of 87 Albanian children after they approached him. "It began with just a few but ballooned. Some spoke good English so they helped others. I taught the alphabet, numbers and phrases."

Two days after he arrived he broke a toe and then lost his voice for four days with tonsilitis.

"This time in Gjakova, I set up three English classes at the local school, Mustafa Bakija, initially attended by 25 students. This increased to 88 students in beginners, 67 students in intermediate and 15 in advanced. All lessons took place in the same classroom with a five-minute turnover for students to enter and leave. Hence, in two hours I had taught approximately 170 students, as part of my duties as a voluntary humanitarian aid worker. Lessons took place every day between my other tasks."

There was tension in the area between K-for troops and Albanians angry at the arrest of Kosovo Liberation Army fighters for killing Serb civilians, he said.

"Being unarmed aid workers, we often felt nervous when there was regular gunfire and there was a stage when we had to be prepared to evacuate at any moment.

"I intend to pursue a medical career after this, as I'd like to work as a doctor in war-afflicted countries in future, for example with Medecins sans Frontieres."

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