A few years ago, when I was still a lifelong city dweller and quite content and even proud of that condition, I thought a simple countryside life was the very picture of boredom. Now that I’ve spent almost three months up in the mountains of Kosovo I see how wrong I was, and I could even say the complete opposite of what I then believed is true, because I can’t recall a period in my life as rich in experiences of every kind as this short time I’ve been here, in the minuscule village of Bozevce. While in the city you might be able to go to as many different pubs, theatres, shops and restaurants as you desire, where amongst those places would you find, however much you look for it, the sight of of flowers blossoming and drying and of fruits getting riper every day, the sounds of wind, of water and of birdsong, the joy of feeding plants and animals mixed with the regret of having hurt them so much through our thoughtlessness?

Very few of my close friends and relatives really understood my decision to become a volunteer. Why work if not for money, why do so in a field not related to my studies, which will hold my career back, why travel so far when not on holidays or making a business trip? Then I could only reply one should not volunteer for selfish reasons, that it’s not us but the people and ideals we serve that are important. But, if that was not convincing enough, now I could go further and add that volunteering has taught me for free things university could not, though they charge tuition fees, or that since I am a volunteer I’ve been to more places, met more people and witnessed more wondrous moments than in all of my past journeys for pleasure. We should of course not do what’s right just because we’ll feel good afterwards, nor should we avoid making mistakes solely in fear of the sorrow of regret, but it is nonetheless true that a clear conscience is the softest pillow, and I can say I sleep sounder here than when I was working for good grades or to save up for trips around the world.

After that, people would come up with the slightly harder question: and why in Kosovo?, because for most of us, myself included, that name only brought back to mind vague memories of a distant war, which was broadcast to us by television. But though there is still conflict and poverty on this land, those words don’t mean the same to me now that I live here. Today, Serbians, Albanians, Roma and other nations populate this country, and the sad reality is that they all tend to mistrust each other. So what? To me this is only the chance to help and get to know and love people of very diverse backgrounds, perhaps pushing them to overcome some of their prejudice towards strangers. It is also undeniable that Kosovo is one of the poorest countries in Europe. So what? We can certainly make do with less means than in the West, we just need to spend less and reflect more about which of our needs are real and which of our things we could do without.

In short: don’t let your fears put you off becoming a volunteer or charity worker, and not only because things are usually not as bad as we fancy they might be, but especially because the good you’ve done in this world is the one and only thing that nothing and nobody can ever take from you.

Ismael Lasanta, June 2018