Celebrating Kosovo’s independence

Iowa’s sister state declared independence nine years ago

A delegation from Fort Dodge will celebrate the independence of Iowa’s sister state, Kosovo, in Des Moines today.

Nine years ago today the small Republic of Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. The consulate in Des Moines is hosting a reception for the occasion.

Two Fort Dodge Senior High School students who may be on their way to a summer camp in Kosovo this year are going along for the experience, said Dawn Larson, economic development specialist for the city of Fort Dodge.

Larson has been to Kosovo herself, and is one of the members of the steering committee on the partnership between Fort Dodge and the Kosovo city of Gjakova.

Fort Dodge and Gjakova officially became sister cities in December 2016, after Iowa officially became a sister state to Kosovo in 2013.

Iowa has long had close ties with the country, which is less than one tenth the size of Iowa and has 60 percent of its population.

“It was in 1998 and ’99, there was a brutal war with Serbia which led to Kosovo’s independence,” Larson said. “Iowa sent more than 750 Iowa National Guard soldiers to serve as peacekeepers since 2004.”

Since 2011, the Iowa National Guard and Iowa Sister States have helped facilitate more than 75 military and civilian exchanges between Iowa and Kosovo.

Since the official partnership with Iowa began, Kosovo has sent military units to Camp Dodge to learn tactics. Also, Iowa State University animal science researchers have been working with veterinarians in Kosovo to improve the genetics of the nation’s livestock.

Now a committee is working to help four Fort Dodge students travel to Kosovo for a youth exchange program.

Larson and Fort Dodge Police Officer Chris Weiland, a former National Guard soldier, traveled to Kosovo in August 2016 to serve as counselors at the TOKA international students camp

“The goal was to assess the value of the camp, and the safety, to make sure it would be a beneficial initiative to pursue,” Larson said. “I have to say our expectations were far exceeded.

“It was wonderful. It was a beautiful, beautiful country,” she added. “There is an extreme appreciation for the U.S., especially Iowa.”

The two chairs of the committee are Jolene Hays, counselor at FDSH and Melissa Voigt, youth program specialist for 4-H, Larson said.

Committee members will serve as liaisons for TOKA and the youth exchange to interested students and their parents, Larson said. They will oversee the application and selection process as well as the fundraising and scholarship awards. The required service learning and ambassador roles will also be coordinated by this committee.

The youth exchange program is intended to teach students to be “citizen diplomats” and agents of positive social change, Larson said. Students should learn leadership skills and self-esteem, and learn how to appreciate different cultures. “We hope to build up a group of past TOKA participants to grow this youth exchange,” Larson said.

There are also plans for new programs from Iowa being sent to the sister city.

“Melissa Voigt… is working with the hopes of starting 4-H in Kosovo,” Larson said. “We’re really excited about that opportunity.

“Other initiatives with Fort Dodge and the city of Gjakova are in the works. Daybreak Rotary and the Rotary club in Gjakova are working on projects,” she said.