By Maya Phillips – daughter of David L. Phillips /
a fifteen-year old student who believes that bringing people together and
fostering dialogue can help solve some of the world’s problems. From the moment
I was born, my parents have taught me to be a force for good in the world.
Throughout my life I have done humanitarian projects with my sister and father.
This year we are helping to rebuild a library in Kosovo to restore relations
between Serbs and Albanians and foster reconciliation. I often talk about my
projects because they are a very important part of who I am. I feel proud
because I try to help our world, spread kindness, and have an impact on
My current project rebuilding the Mitrovica Library and Cultural Center is one of my favorites. In March 2019, we flew to Vienna, Austria. We stayed in Vienna for a one and a half days exploring the beautiful and historic city. The next day, we flew in a small propeller plane to Kosovo. While on this plane, we reviewed our schedule and talked about the history of the city.
Mitrovica is split in two parts, divided by the Ibar River. Serbs live in the north and Albanians in the south. Mitrovica was divided after the war of independence in 1999 when Kosovo Albanians rebelled against Serbia’s tyranny. Serbia cracked down and the United States intervened to save the Kosovo Albanians. Kosovo became independent, but Mitrovica was divided.
We envision the Mitrovica Library and Cultural Center as a place where students can meet, read and study together, sharing experience and joint projects. During our trip, we met many influential people in Kosovo who would help us with our project. We met the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. We toured the city of Prishtina and dined with many of my father’s friends.
It was time to visit Mitrovica, the place for our library project. After a long drive along a wet and bumpy road, we got out of the car. I could feel the frigid wind blowing against my cheeks. My family and I walked around all day viewing potential locations for the library, and we met with the mayor and community leaders.
Our appointment schedule in Mitrovica was arranged by Anesa, a local teacher with whom we are collaborating. She arranged for us to interview Albanian and Serb students to discuss the library project. We wanted to have a joint meeting with the Albanian and Serb students, but the Serbs would not attend. They did not want to come over to the Albanian side. They were wary of socializing together. Surprisingly, this was not discussed further in our meetings in the north and the south.
The group of Albanians was a big mix of college students, including both boys and girls. They were eager and excited. The Serbians were a small group of young men. We met with two of them before moving to a different café where more joined us. Members of the group on both sides were all eager to get involved with the project. They came with a lot of enthusiasm and ideas.
Before coming to Mitrovica, I was aware that Kosovo was still a divided society. Walking north across the bridge over the Ibar River later that day, I saw numerous rows of Serbian flags hung from lampposts and strung across streets on strings. That was when the division became a reality. I passed coffee shops with people sitting around because there are no jobs. My head was full of thoughts circling around me. I thought about these groups of people: how different they were yet very much the same. I thought about why they could not get along. I want the project to lead to reconciliation and new relationships between the two different groups of people. My goal is to promote reconciliation in this war-torn society and make a difference.
I am not Serbian or Albanian, but Kosovo has always been a very important part of my life. I have grown up knowing many family friends from Kosovo. I heard stories about the war and Kosovo as a divided country. I believe that I can make a change and help build peace. This is very important to me. The library is now being built and continues to grow every day. I hope the country will follow.
15 January 2020