MUSCATINE, Iowa — A group of visiting Kosovo youths got a a little slice of home this past weekend when a teacher from their home country arrived for a visit to Muscatine.
Burim Vraniqi, 26, who last visited Muscatine in 2004, returned on Oct. 12 — in part to visit his students, see the sites and hear some music, but also to help say thank you.
Vraniqi is a teacher and director with the Kosovo Children’s Music Initiative, part of the Shropshire Music Foundation, a group that strives to help children overcome the effects of war and violence by experiencing the joy of working together to create music.
Over the weekend, Vraniqi and Liz Shropshire, an American composer and music teacher who founded the Kosovo Children’s Music Initiative, rounded up the Kosovo students attending school here. The students are: Bujeta Vokshi, Ereza Vejsa, Nita Bicurri, Kaltrina Luzha and Ali Shehu, all Muscatine Community College students; and Lum Hajdari, a Rotary Exchange student who is attending Muscatine High School.
Vokshi, Vejsa, Bicurri and Luzha’s stays are sponsored through community support and scholarships. The Muscatine Children’s Choir, which is directed by Smith, and the community, are sponsoring Shehu.
The group went to Taco Bell and the village of Nauvoo Saturday. Monday, Vraniqi and Shropshire attended a Muscatine Rotary Club meeting. That evening, they went to a concert at Muscatine High School to see Hajdari sing with the choir.
And there was another reason for the visit.
“We want to say thanks to everybody that’s helped,” said Shropshire.
How it all began
Since 2004, a pocket full of young people from the war-ravaged streets of Kosovo have found a haven of friendly support in Muscatine.
The friendships began when Kristin McHugh-Johnston and Keith Porter of the Stanley Foundation in Muscatine traveled to post-civil war Kosovo to make a documentary in 2002.
McHugh-Johnston, a program officer and radio producer for the Stanley Foundation, and Porter, director of communications and outreach, were moved by the great difference a fledgling music school, the Kosovo Children’s Music Initiative, was making in the midst of Kosovo’s recovery process.
Shropshire founded the school in 1999 after spending time in Kosovo as a volunteer
Shropshire began giving music lessons to the girls in Kosovo and soon, the boys promised to subdue their rough-and-tumble ways if Shropshire would teach them as well.
“These kids were the best music class I ever taught,” said Shropshire.
Inspired by the difference the school was making in the lives of the children, teens and young adults who were attending and volunteering there, McHugh-Johnston and Porter brought the story back to the people of Muscatine, who were also intrigued.
In August 2004, Shropshire, along with three volunteer teachers and 10 students, visited Muscatine at the invitation of Ric Smith, music director of Muscatine’s Wesley United Methodist Church.
Porter and McHugh-Johnston, returned Kosovo in 2005 with a group of adult and children volunteers.
“If you can imagine: telling a kid, ‘there’s no computers, it’s very hot and there’s no electricity and very little hot water, yet you’re going to have this incredible experience … ’” said Porter. “When it was time to go home, the kids didn’t want to leave Kosovo.”
Porter said a group of Muscatine residents plan to return to Kosovo in 2008.
Shropshire said The Shropshire Music Foundation, has received many donations from Muscatine residents over the years. The Foundation, which is based in Arizona, has established two more music schools in the war-torn regions: Child Song in Uganda and Peace Through Music in Ireland.
Shropshire said seeing the difference the Foundation has made in Kosovo inspired those projects.
“I’m still changing,” he said. “And I like knowing I’m one of the people helping my students change.”
“He runs everything in Kosovo,” Shropshire said, referring to Vraniqi. “He’s incredibly respected in the community.”
“I can’t imagine my life without being part of this program,” said Vraniqi.
She said providing loving support for children who have coped with life in war zones is an important global issue.
“A lot of kids who are exposed to war turn into terrorists and suicide bombers,” said Shropshire. “So much hate is being preached in the world. And the worst, most long-lasting effect, is if they feel nothing they do makes any difference.”
Shropshire said there are 300,000 child soldiers in 33 countries, some as young as 5.
“We have to do something,” she said. “The victims of war are now becoming the targets of war.”
Shropshire said children who know they are cared for do strive for success.
“I have young volunteers who say to me, ‘I want to do this the rest of my life,” she said. “These kids are amazing. They don’t smoke or drink. They work 20 hours a week during the school year and 40 hours a week in the summer.”
Porter said the success Vraniqi and his peers have had provides hope for the world.
“They know what it feels like to reject hatred,” he said.
Reporter contact information:
Cynthia Beaudette 563-262-0527
Online: The Shropshire Music Foundation, http://www.shropshirefoundation.org/
Donations for the Shropshire Music Foundation may be sent to:
The Shropshire Music Foundation, 1123 E. Torreon Drive, Litchfield Park, AZ 85340