In honor of Mother's Day, I'd like to share with you some words from my dear friend, Iliriana Gashi, who is the Kosovo Country Director at Women for Women International.
In Kosovo, we have a saying that "The foundation of a home rests not on the ground, but on a woman." I like that saying, because it reminds me how strong mothers are, and how much we all depend on them. Mothers provide us love, guidance, stability, and encouragement, giving us the strength to dream and grow.
Since becoming a mother of two boys, nothing has been more important to me than their safety and happiness. Motherhood changed my perspective on life, and the things I wanted before no longer mattered as much. All I wanted was what was best for them.
I think this is true for most mothers -- wanting the best for their children. But life doesn't always give us what we want. For the mothers of Kosovo, and myself, war took away the things we wanted most for our children: peace and life free from fear and want.
Growing up in Kosovo, my mother and grandmother taught me tolerance and love -- that there was no difference between people and no difference in how you treated them. My neighbors came from very different ethnic backgrounds -- Serbian, Croatian, Albanian, and others. I am an Albanian Muslim, yet there was a Christian church behind my parent's house. Despite our differences in language, religion, and ethnicity, my mother taught me that being good to each other and honest was most important.
As a little girl, I never imagined that one day the differences I embraced would divide my country.
When war broke out in Kosovo in 1999, my two sons were very young, just four and six years old. I wanted so much to be strong for my children, to protect them from the war. I wished they could have known the Kosovo of my childhood, a place of tolerance and peace. I didn't want them to grow up with hatred and fear. Each day was a struggle to pretend everything was fine, and to prevent the war from taking away their childhood. My sons were too young to fully understand what was happening to our family and country, but they knew their lives were changing.
One week after the NATO bombs began to fall on my city, I was forced to flee my home in Kosovo with my children. CNN made a false announcement that my husband, a politician, had been killed. We assumed the announcement was an attempt to protect my husband. But because many politicians had been targeted for assassination along with their families, my husband and I decided it was too dangerous for us all to live together as a family, and that I should leave with the children.
I remember being so afraid, not for myself, but for those around me, and most importantly, my sons. That night, we fled to Macedonia by car. As we drove, our car window was shattered. And still I had to keep pretending, to reassure my boys that everything would be alright, not knowing whether that would be true.
My boys and I were lucky to make it safely across the border into Macedonia. So many families like ours didn't. Although we were safe, I couldn't stop the war from becoming a part of my boys' lives. My youngest son grew to be terrified of soldiers, and hid behind me every time he saw a man in uniform. Years after the war ended, I overheard my sons talking to each other about the sound of bombs falling. I was shocked, and never realized they remembered the details of war. As their mother, it hurt me to know I couldn't protect them from everything.
Thankfully, my husband was able to safely escape Kosovo, and he joined us in Macedonia several weeks later. More than a year passed before we could return to Kosovo and begin the long process of healing and rebuilding our lives.
It's been 13 years since the war, but my country is still trying to recover. This is especially true for the women I serve, who come to Women for Women International's program looking to rebuild their lives. Many of these women are mothers who lost everything during the war -- husbands, homes, and loved ones. They are survivors of rape, who struggle to move past their pain to deal with the hardships their families face, all without community support. Finding work is a challenge, but for widows, whose children rely solely on them, the scarcity of jobs is even more burdensome.
What inspires me most about the mothers I work with is how eager they are to take another chance at life. They lost their chance to get an education. They lost their chance for a peaceful life with the war. But now they see they have the opportunity to do something for themselves and their families, and they courageously take it.
Mothers, especially in war, find the strength to ensure life goes on when everything around them is destroyed. They never give up on the hope that life will get better. I think all mothers are dreamers when it comes to their children. And we need the dreams of our mothers, to comfort us and see us through those hard times.
This Mother's Day, and every day, my greatest dream for my children is peace and stability. That may not seem like much, but to me, it's everything.
You can support the work of Iliriana and Women for Women International this Mother's Day and help mothers around the world provide for their children and families. Please visit www.womenforwomen.org to learn more.