I was born in Kosovo at the time when Yugoslavia still existed. I was very young when the political troubles started, when the country started falling apart and when the Serb regime took over Kosovo under Slobodan Milosevic. I was due to start high school, but Kosovo Albanians were banned from entering the school premises - that was in early 1990’s and my education was disrupted on several occasions throughout the years. I was always interested in art history and the great painters, but given the political turbulence in which I lived I was forced to go in a completely different direction. I ended up studying International Relations and Conflict Transformation, at the School for International Training Graduate Institute in Vermont, US and the Transitional Justice at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
Subsequently, I decided to study law and I chose Lucy Cavendish because of the fact that it’s a women’s college. I immediately related to some of the Lucy Cavendish women, whose history and attitude towards improving access to education for women is unique and very impressive. In fact I didn’t consider any other college after my initial research on Lucy Cavendish College. Furthermore, given that I had studied and worked before, I wanted to be in an environment where I could also contribute to the college. Lucy Cavendish takes her students’ backgrounds very seriously and the college community appreciates what students bring to the collective experience.
I very much enjoyed my time there. Studying law in Cambridge is very challenging but what makes Lucy such a very special place is that students come from very different cultural and educational backgrounds and bring with them a wide range of experience and knowledge at a global level. An ordinary afternoon in the Lucy common room could mean that conversation varied from trade laws in India, to illegal arms control in the Balkans, to details on what it is like to be a woman soldier at the Israeli army, or feminism, philosophy and poetry!
After I graduated, I went to Los Angeles to pursue a specialized course on Art Law with Sotheby’s Institute, in recognition of my early interest in art. Then everything changed again and in January 2015 I started up Cambridge Academy of Global Affairs with the aim of providing executive education on specific topics that address current global affairs. The Academy has been supported by a number academics and its board is comprised of incredible individuals from different backgrounds. In November of this year I have managed to pull together an art exhibition with the aim of raising awareness and supporting the current Syrian refugee crisis, and in December 2015 the Academy will host a seminar discussing International Intervention on State-Building. We expect speakers from the Chatham House in London, The Financial Times, former United Nations officials and two academics from the University of Cambridge.
My long-standing connection with the refugees is twofold. My immediate response to the refugee crisis is very personal because in 1998 when my extended family was displaced from Kosovo, so was I. We flew to Canada and ironically the family that hosted us for a while was from Syria; they had migrated to Canada in early 80’s. Secondly, I have worked with the United Nations in several conflicted parts of the world and I have been to a few refugee camps and seen firsthand what it is like to live in uncertainty. Regardless of my own experience, the fact is that most of these refugees are people who had lives very similar to ours; they had a profession, children, dinner parties and walks in the park, but they were displaced as a result of the unimaginable brutality that is going on in their country. I fear that it will take the world many generations to recover from the current crisis.
Within the Cambridge Academy of Global Affairs we have a programme on Art and Cultural Heritage with the aim of supporting emerging artists who come from conflict-affected parts of the world; some of the most powerful art I have seen comes from artists whose work has been affected by the conflict they have experienced. As a result, I have developed relationships with artist from the Middle East, the Balkans, the USA and the UK, so I decided to bring their work to Cambridge. All the participating artists are highly accomplished and their work is with private and public collectors. Then I approached a few pharmaceutical companies at the Cambridge Science Park, who were very willing to help the cause, and even though it all started out by sheer impulse, the event grew to become a significant exhibition with ten artists, from Syria, Lebanon, Germany, UK, USA and Kosovo. The proceeds of the exhibition are destined for the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan; the pharmaceutical company Mundipharma has also provided medication for the refugee camp. Winter is approaching and it is very important to facilitate an agreement which will provide some relief to the elderly, the newborn and the women in the camps.
I am very much looking forward to keep the Academy growing and through this work to possibly continue to tackle issues that are affecting the world we live in today. My next project is on women’s participation in peace-building, with the aim of highlighting the importance of women in these decision-making processes, which often lay the foundations of rebuilding and recovering societies after conflict. I will certainly also extend the platform for art and cultural heritage and continue to support the artists.