LG COUPLE REACH OUT TO KOSOVO
By Dick Mason
Observer Staff Writer
It is a mid-life transition of global proportions.
And it is one that Jim and Fuji Kreider of La Grande cannot wait to make.
The husband-and-wife team will leave La Grande in early January to begin a six-month stay in Kosovo.
There the Kreiders will be part of an international effort to rebuild the war-shattered region and help it develop the laws needed for a "civil society.'' The Kreiders will work for the Kosovar Center for NGO Law.
The Kreiders' visit to Kosovo will be followed by a stint in the Peace Corps and will mark the start of an international service career.
"We want to reach out and become part of the global society working to create a more just global community,'' said Fuji Kreider, an administrator with the Center for Human Development for 15 years.
Jim Kreider, Eastern Oregon University's director of student activities for 15 1/2 years, said that he and his wife had planned to pursue careers in international service after they retired. However, they decided to push up their timetable after talking with friends who had made similar moves.
The Kreiders were impressed when these people discussed the excitement and adventure one experiences while taking part in meaningful world changes.
"They had a real passion for what they were doing, and we wanted to share in that passion,'' Jim said. "When someone likes what they are doing, it is contagious and you feel the energy bubble from them. We wanted to experience some of that.''
In Kosovo the Kreiders will encounter a region that is still recovering from the 1998 crackdown by the Serbian government against the Kosovo Liberation Army. After 1998, Serbian security forces conducted a scorched-earth policy in Kosovo, burning villages to the ground. The war in Kosovo left over 300,000 people without shelter Â— and an estimated 10,000 dead.
NATO and the international community are now making efforts to rebuild Kosovo, revitalize its economy and establish laws that will help it develop a civil society.
Kosovo is now a United Nations protectorate. After several years the U.N. will decide whether Kosovo will be an independent country or an autonomous region within Serbia.
Kosovo's roads are filled with holes created by shells, electricity is on just 16 to 18 hours a day and the countryside is littered with mines, Fuji said.
Still, people there are safe because the mines are marked and there are 80,000 United Nations peacekeeping troops
and 20,000 to 25,000 international aid workers.
In Kosovo, the Kosovar Center for NGO Law is helping the region develop laws that allow for open meeting policies, public votes and hearings, a freedom of information act and more. The Kreiders will help Kosovo develop an infrastructure that would allow it to keep such things in place without having to call in consultants.
Following their six months in Kosovo the Kreiders will take positions with the Peace Corps. The Kreiders will be assigned to a country once part of the former Soviet Union.
Jim will work as a small business development consultant, and Fuji will serve as an organizational development consultant.
While working overseas the Kreiders want to convey to others that Americans are good people.
"There is the image that the United States is a big bully,'' Fuji said. "We want to show that Americans are concerned with making the world a better place for everyone.''
The Kreiders have traveled throughout the world. They are used to the challenge of trying to fit in, in a foreign land.
"In your country you may be a smart guy, but when you go somewhere else all of a sudden you are an idiot. You don't know the language and the values of the culture. It is a very humbling experience,'' Jim said.
The key to mixing in is following a few simple rules.
"If you try to speak the language and accept the customs, you will fit in faster,'' Jim said.
Extending a generous hand also helps.
Jim will never forget the time he was in China in the back of a pickup. The truck was filled with Chinese people traveling over a rugged mountain road.
"I pulled out a pack of cigarettes and passed it around. The next thing I know I was buddies with everyone,'' Jim said.
The Kreiders are keeping their
La Grande home and will return here periodically between assignments. For example, following their six-month stint in Kosovo they will come to La Grande for a month.
"We plan to make it our retirement home,'' Kreider said.
Jim and Fuji both say that deciding to leave their positions with EOU and CHD was difficult.
Jim will miss his many friends at EOU and working with students. He was responsible for overseeing student activities such as the operation of government, the radio station, the newspaper and much more. He enjoyed seeing students progress to the point that they could run things with Swiss-watch efficiency.
"I always said that if I did my job right, I would be able to sit back spring term with a cigar and let the students run everything,'' he said.
Fuji also takes satisfaction in seeing the progress people made while working under her.
"I have been inspired by how people who worked for us have developed professionally and personally,'' she said.
Fuji has been particularly happy to see how people have learned to apply to their personal lives things such as the communication skills they learned while working with CHD.
Memories of their experiences make the process of leaving more difficult.
"There are mood swings. When you focus on leaving and getting ready, you gain an adrenaline rush. Then you think, Gee, I won't be seeing these people for six months. Then I get sad,'' Jim said.
He noted, though, that friendships can remain strong despite gulfs of many miles.
"Distance doesn't dilute friendship.''