How We Began
by Lisa ThomasEarly one evening in April, 1999, I sat comfortably watching the news about the plight of those Albanians fleeing Kosovo. Until a few weeks earlier, I could not have identified the province where Pristina lay. But this night, struck with the horrors these people were enduring, I was mesmerized by the sheer geography.
By bedtime, after contemplating work I had done in Nicaragua and recalling that a little help does make a difference, I had decided to go there myself and try to help with the children in the camps. I realize now that I knew nothing about the situation. But by the next day, in an attempt to be more rational, I had decided to ask my daughter to go in my place, where her youth and greater strength might better qualify her to accomplish more than I could. She had always regretted not having been able to go and help Nicaraguans and El Salvadorans in their days of need, and she readily agreed to go to Macedonia or Albania. We both dug into the elusive, complicated history of seven centuries.
Then a concrete reality set in, and I concluded that we needed more physical strength than she could provide. Besides... this was my daughter I was sending into a war zone... So when my good friend Dana called that night, I blurted it out. Would he be willing to take on the job? He had skills that both my daughter and I lacked, namely in construction and automotive repair. At that time we believed there would be a great need for volunteers to help construct shelters. I expected that Dana would take a day or two to mull over it, but he met the challenge on the spot and agreed that he could be of use. It was the right time in his life to be able to contribute his skills, and the plan was set into motion within ten minutes.
The initial idea was very simple. Dana and I would gather whatever material aid we could and he would take it over, at the same time volunteering his time to do whatever work was required. If there was a need, I might go over later. We began mentioning it to friends, and my good luck was to get the word to internet friend Bobbye early on. Bobbye helped a simple plan become larger and more productive. Through her friend Peggy, the pastor of "The Light of Christ Center" in Huntsville, Alabama, we were able to put ourselves under an umbrella and allow all contributions to be tax deductible. Peggy began to contact her friends and congregation.
One of the greatest breaks came when I went to the new email account for the project and found a note with "go to Macedonia" on the subject line. Someone none of us had ever met was volunteering to go along with Dana. Dusty Rhodes' resume read like his name, a traveler with experience beyond what most of us could ever aspire toward. What a combination, a seasoned traveler who had been all over the globe and a gentle artist who had never owned a passport. The two complemented each other so well that I kept seeing the entire project as a well-wrought movie.
It was our good fortune to immediately make contact with the ERA TV station in Skopje, the owner of which had founded the Mother Tereza Organization, which we would later find to be the only Albanian source of help in Skopje. Our contact, Eddie, a Kosovar refugee himself who now worked in the TV station and for Mother Tereza, had been a friend and translator for Anthony Elgindy, whose ten-day trip to the area we had followed closely. Eddie assured us that our volunteers would have not only floor space to sleep on but beds.
While still preparing to send Dana and Dusty off, we were approached by Brad Barth, our third volunteer, who immediately raised funds to cover his transportation through his church. Brad, a multi-talented math teacher, was no newcomer to humanitarian causes.
The purpose of this site is to describe this project, keep interested parties updated on day-to-day developments, and continue our plea for aid for the hundreds of thousands of Albanian refugees who have lost their homes, their country, and in most cases, at least some members of their family.
We hope you will share our concern for what is probably the greatest human tragedy of atrocities since the Holocaust of World War II. This group is not a political entity and is not involved in the politics of war, only in saving the victims of what has become known as "ethnic cleansing."
On May 19, we sent Dana and Dusty to Skopje (see the regional map) to work with the Mother Tereza Organization. Our intention had been to have them contribute time and muscle to construction, but they found that due to the huge number of refugees there, such labor was not needed. What was needed were the observations they made, recorded and sent back to us. They took with them the donations made by many caring people, and the somewhat magical point to be made about these contributions is that they were given through people who know each other, with a few exceptions, only through the internet. One of our earliest contributions, which turned out to be our largest, was through a poster who participates on Anthony Elgindy's Silicon Investor thread, and I did not even know this generous person's real name for a couple of weeks, as he sent his check directly to the church. Thus, we are "Internet Friends."
An ethnic Albanian refugee
by Reinhard Krause/Reuters.
A Kosovar boy and his grandmother
Cegrane, Macedonia (AFP)
Welcome to the site and to the opportunity to participate in a relief effort where you will know where every dollar goes without the deduction of a cent for administrative costs. We don't even reimburse ourselves for stamps or long-distance phone calls. For further information than might be available here, please contact us at:
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