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For Valbona, the war in Kosovo destroyed everything she and her family had. “We tried to stay in Kosovo for as long as we could. My husband and I fled our village to escape the violence. In April 1999, things became too unstable and dangerous, so we left for Albania.
When we came back, everything had changed. Most of the houses in our village were empty shells that had been abandoned, looted and burned. Everything that we had was destroyed. Everything that we owned was stolen. We were lucky that they didn’t burn our house,” recalls Valbona.
“Learning how to grow food – and how to make an income through horticulture – were the most important lessons I learned from joining Women for Women International’s program. We traveled together around Kosovo to see different fields and greenhouses that could be used to grow vegetables all year long. I learned how to create a garden and grow seedlings. This inspired me and took my breath away. I saw that I could do it myself.”
Today, Valbona employs six of her family members and sells the cucumbers and peppers they grow in the local markets in and around Pristina. Inspired by her success, four other women in her community have started gardens of their own. “Horticulture gave me an escape and a sense of pride,” says Valbona.
Reinvesting her business profits in her family’s future, Valbona began to save money regularly. “Before, we didn’t have enough money, and we didn’t know how to save up money. Now, I am never without money. Even if we do not have much, we have something. Now, I have a personal bank account.”
Valbona and the other women in their village have found a new sense of independence. “Before, we didn’t really go out of the house because we were housewives, and we didn’t have a reason. And without a reason, we couldn’t go out of the house. There was always someone to go out and run errands for me, and I would only leave the house to visit family members. Now, I am connected with my neighbors and we formed a community. We can go wherever we want, and it’s not such a big deal anymore.”
Inspired by her success so far, Valbona has set new goals for herself. “I want to have a new greenhouse, and I want to keep getting more women involved with building an irrigation system,” she says. Tapping her new network, Valbona is confident that together she and the other women in her community will be able to achieve any challenging goal they set for themselves.