The Value of Money

by tkos on August 17, 2012

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“I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but there are a lot of people that are questioning whether this is just a holiday for you guys”. The sound of Kieran’s well intentioned but painful message still stung, despite three weeks passing. It’s true that we’ve had a great time. It’s true that we have put photos on Facebook that might suggest that life is not all miserable. Our intention was never to conduct any projects in France or Italy but just to cycle through it. To hear that our integrity was being questioned by people in the UK, hurt us deeply. But it was only ever questioned by people who never donated, by people who had never believed in the first place. And despite cycling all the way through France and Italy, nothing had changed.

Now we’re in Prizren, Kosovo. Unfortunately, the people of Kosovo are yet to fully associate themselves with a united national identity. Rarely do people consider themselves Kosovars. If you ask anyone on the street what their nationality is, it will usually be Albanian or sometimes Serbian, despite living in Kosovo their whole life. It seems a bit backward to me that the people want the world to see Kosovo as a separate country, yet the same people within it are yet to identify themselves as such.

But there is another community in Prizren that have no trouble with their national identity, yet they have no borders to associate a country. To be politically correct, they are the Roma-Ashkali-Egyption community. Otherwise known as gypsies. This community is spread all over Europe, largely through the Eastern parts but have one main commonality in that they all seem to live below the poverty line.

“Let’s explore the idea of helping the gypsy community”. I said to Kimmi on a sunny afternoon, sitting in an outdoor cafe enjoying one of the world’s best macchiato. She looked at me like I was on crack. To most people from the UK, myself included, gypsies are the people that send their children to your table when you are having lunch in a restaurant while one asks you for money via a poorly translated sign and a sad face while the other child steals your mobile phone. They are thieves, robbers and con artists. OK, that may be a bit of a generalisation about the British public, but one that I think is not too far away from accurate. “They must come from somewhere, they must have some sort of home, some sort of family, some sort of structure. Let’s just look into the where they live and explore who these generally private people are. People that don’t normally let anybody outside of their community in, to see their real life”. Kimmi pondered for a moment. “OK, let’s do it!” she says, as a smile of excitement sweeps over her face.

Through our new couch surfing friend, Roma, we’ve been able to make some amazing contacts through EULEX. And from this, we find ourselves in a house turned office/education facility on the outskirts of town. EULEX introduced to a number of self starting, independent ‘gypsy’ based NGO’s around Prizren, all of which impressive in dedication and passion, but none more so than Initiative 6.

Initiative 6’ was started by 5 Roma’s who wanted to better their community, the founder having his son in school along with only one other from their community wanted to change these statistic and set about doing just that. Knocking on doors one by one, with no funding, they began educating the people in his community and helping them to understand the need to send their children to school.

This was in 2002.

The statistics today speak for themselves, there are now 800 Roma children in primary school, 37 in secondary school and a further 56 in University, his son being one to graduate last year. These statistics blew us away and showed that whether or not they had the funding they were going to go out there and change their community.

Under the ‘Initiative 6’ umbrella there is a ‘Girls group’ headed up by Gyltan a 22 year old girl from the Roma community. She truly inspired us. Saving all of her salary over 3 months (a total of 100 euros) she bought materials such as leather and wool to set up a handicrafts workshop at weekends. Fifteen young women from the community would attend, learning sewing and knitting on Saturday and educational courses such as health and women’s rights on Sunday’s.

The money ran out and the capitalist ideas of selling the goods were not set out for them, having only sold one piece. The spark and passion as well as the initiative to set up this project inspired us so much that we wanted to help.

Spending money is easy. But spending other peoples money is a lot more difficult than we could ever imagine.  A lot of people believe in us. A lot of people have given us their hard earned cash without question, with pure faith that we would use it wisely. So here we are, with the perfect opportunity to invest in something that we can be proud of. Something that we can say, with hand on heart, is going to a valuable cause and has a real chance of helping real people, with complete faith that all the money is going to the people that need it and has a chance of growing. This is the chance of our first real self sustainable project.

Problem is though, we are not staying to see it through. So we have a good think and come up with a few options. Do we:

  • Give 100% of the donation to the potentially self sustainable ‘Golden Hands’ project of manufacturing handicrafts for selling opportunities, knowing full well that they could fall apart after the first purchase of materials
  • Give 100% of the donation to the education facilities that have taught so many wonderful bright children and has a proven track record of success, but it is not self sustainable, will not grow because of our donation and will just continue to exist.
  • A combination of the above

And then the everlasting question…. How much should we give? We have £12k in the charity bank account but we are only in Kosovo. There is a whole world out there. How many places will we see a great need and opportunity in Asia? If we spend too much here, we might not have enough if we see too many other options in too many other countries. And then there is the problem that, as we are passionately public about all our financial incomings and outgoings, what will the people who have given money to ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ think. Giving money to Gypsies? Really?

We debated, flipped, argued and exhausted every option. There are only two of us to make this decision and if we disagree, then we come to a stalemate. There is no room for compromise. So, we created the Famous Five. Five people back in the UK who are all independent of each other that are our jury, should we disagree. Five people that we can present the ‘evidence’ to and that they can make a decision or a ‘vote’ as to what ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ should do.  In this case, Kimmi and I actually agreed but we wanted to test the Famous Five out anyway.

And as it turns out, we decided to invest in what we believe in. Self sustainable projects that help people to grow. To help themselves help themselves, not to provide a band aid solution. So that is what we did. We did a bank transfer to Initiative 6 for the sole purpose of ‘The Golden Hands’ project.

After many meetings and translations they understood what they had done wrong last time and were ready to try again. We have suggested that the half the money we provide would be used to make the products and the other half to secure sale of the products, whether that be by paying for a stall at the market or marketing. We also realised that without guidance of someone with a business understanding the likeliness of this project succeeding were slim.

Nevertheless we have secured a donation of £250.

It’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things and perhaps we were being a little cautious. But I am pleased to say that Initiative 6 now have a handicraft workshop with classes and ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ has its integrity.


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