“Shout-out from Peja’s newest residents!” read the subject line of the email that Landon Yoder (SIS/BA ’07) and Lacey Phillips (SIS/BA ’08) Yoder sent to friends and family in June 2009. The SIS graduates are living in Peja/Pec, Kosovo (Peja is the Kosovar name, and Pec is the Serbian name), settling in for two years of work in establishing Qendra Qiriazi (The Qiriazi Leadership Center) for college and high school students. They have partnered with Qendra Qiriazi, which trains high school and college students in Kosovo to be leaders, no matter their future career. (The organization is named for Albanian leader Gjerasim Qiriazi, a proponent of women’s education in Albania.) During their time in Kosovo, Landon will serve as the acting director, and Lacey will act as the coordinator of social events and special programs.
Each summer, Qendra Qiriazi offers a Summer Leadership Program, an intensive, hands-on week of leadership lectures, simulation, and physical activity. Landon notes that the new program “could help both the employers and the unemployed graduates add more value to one another and to the overall market.” The developing country is in need, he adds, of trained workers exposed to Western business culture, “packaging together the skills and character traits that make leaders successful.” Lacey adds, “The Summer Leadership program is one of the biggest things we do (historically). Landon and I hope to expand the Center’s year-round activities.”
The Yoders are registering their programs as local non-governmental organizations with the government of Kosovo. The Center’s funding comes from U.S. businesses, churches, and individual donors, while the Yoders’ funding, in response to their extended efforts, has come from Lacey’s hometown of Columbia, MO, Landon’s hometown of Harrisonburg, VA, and other sources in Washington, D.C.
Throughout fall 2009, the Yoders will co-teach an English course, Lacey will teach a cooking course, and they will offer weekly girls’ nights (“to study character and leadership for women,” Lacey explains), leadership clubs specializing in community service and leadership training, and a seminar featuring tips to applying to the U.S. to study. An informal “Qiriazi Café” will be held for high school students looking to socialize, with a more structured internship program to begin in January 2010 called URA (Udhëheqëse Rinore në Aksion/Youth Leadership in Action), which means “the bridge” in Albanian.
Not only is the husband and wife team creating a program for others, much of their time is occupied with creating their own life in their new country, from looking for apartments and opening bank accounts to experiencing frequent power outages; they have been documenting the ups and downs of settling in on their blog.
“We’re only one week into this endeavor, but it is going pretty well so far,” marveled Landon and Lacey in June. Their words are tinged with excitement and possibilities: “It is quite an experience to arrive in a foreign city and know that it will be our home for the next two years.”