by Helen Martin
In October, South Head resident Mick Smith was a volunteer in an international aid programme established 10 years ago to assist the people of war-torn Kosova (also known as Kosovo). The project, which was organised by the Cornwall district of Rotary in conjunction with the London Fire Brigade, has involved supplying ex-London fire equipment to the area. A former firefighter, Mick was initially signed up to drive a fire engine with five others from London to Kosova and to teach local people how to maintain and operate the equipment. But, when Rotary personnel in Gjakova heard he is a practising psychologist with training in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment, he was given the added task of reviewing the incidence of PTSD there– one of the many sobering things Mick learned on his trip is that while a few nurses and doctors have stayed on there are no psychologists or social workers there who can treat PTSD.
After a 10-hour ferry ride from Plymouth to France, followed by a drive through Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Montenegro, the team arrived in Kosova, where Mick, as a first-timer, was blown way by the plight of a people targeted to be annihilated by their Serbian enemy in a war that ended in June 1999. Cities have been wiped out, infrastructure and services like sewerage, water mains, electricity and hospitals have been destroyed and, to add to the misery, corruption is rife.
“We saw things you would not believe, and it was hard to take it all in,” says Mick. “We stayed in a hotel where the roof was blown off and covered with tarpaulins and the power points were hanging out of the walls. So much needs to be done but there’s a massive skill gap. In one terrible incident during the war the Serbian police put 1200 men in an old building and blew it up, wiping out two generations of men from 14 – 45. They also destroyed everything of cultural significance. The war’s been going on for 900 years and it wouldn’t take much for the fighting to flare up again.”
Mick and the team visited fire stations is Kosova and Albania, where they trained firefighters and fixed equipment. He also met people with PTSD and learned heard their stories through an interpreter. One was a traumatised woman whose husband and four sons had been taken from their house late at night and forced to watch the execution of male neighbours in the street before they themselves were taken away for interrogation and murdered.
Feeling unable to help, because he doesn’t speak the language, Mick has decided to go back as a volunteer and start by training doctors and nurses in PTSD treatment methods so that, hopefully, they can bring some relief to Gjakova’s 3,000 plus PTSD sufferers. Currently, Gjakova has no ambulances, so with fellow firefighter Graham Quensell, the assistant Fire Commander for Northland, he also intends to raise $40,000.00 to buy four vehicles, two for use as ambulances, one to be a mobile clinic and one to be a mobile dialysis unit. “Once people realise you’re there to help they’re very open and thankful for anything that’s offered. Given how they’re suffering, giving them a hand up is the least we can do,” he says.
by Helen Martin