When I was five years old I was asked the classic question, what would you like to be when you grow up?I replied with a short word that was in many waysgoing to determine my destiny: “pilot”.
To my parents, my childhood objective must have seemed untenable, approaching the deluded, or at least naively optimistic, given that growing up in Kosova in late 1980s and early 1990s – then part of Yugoslavia – broughtimmense challenges to me, my family and all people in the region. Looking back now though, I think that brave little manlet this big dream motivate, inspire and energize the Veton of today.
The war in Kosovaended in 1999. By that time, I had finished primary school and moved to a Technical High School where I began to learn the basics of aviation.The young aviators dream was becoming more real – I was proving to myself that I could actuallyunderstand this stuff; I could do it – I could be successful! My passion for aviation would only grow in the years to come and I had my first flight ever at the age of 19 in March 2008. This experience inspired me and gave me confidence to continue pursuit of the ultimate dream, of becoming a pilot.
I went on to do further aviation training in Turkey andwas selected to go to the UK as Kosova’s first, and to date only, Aviation Ambassador in the UK in 2009. I was trained by the Royal Air Force Air Cadets as a Glider Pilot and had my first solo flight on 27th Aug 2009; it lasted only 7 minutes, but represented a milestone I had set for myself fifteen years previous. The sole purpose of this experience was far greater than the little man’s dream, though. I was determined to returnto Kosova to share the knowledgethat I hadbeen lucky enough to receive and to establish a similar air cadets organization for the young people in Kosova. Afterwards, the adventure continued with trips to Germany as a youth ambassador and to France, USA, Turkey and around the Balkans as Kosova’s Aviation Ambassador.
I am now 25 years old, a motivated and tenacious aviator, I have ran Prishtina’s International Half Marathon three times, I continue my volunteer work towards establishment of an air cadets organization for the young people of Kosova with the main objective to help produce the next generation of aviation professionals.In this context, I have had the privilege to brief both the Kosovar and Albanian Presidents on the potential of youth development through aviation, regional cooperation and reconciliation.
Recently I was selected as one of Kosova’s Youth Reconciliation Ambassadors toSerbia, in a project established by the UK Embassy in Serbia and Youth Reconciliation Ambassadors Organization. I spent a week in Serbia, the country I had heard so much about throughout my life, the country I had even feared so much when I was young. Despite this, I was clueless. I did not know what to expect. I was about to embark on another personal challenge to go to Belgrade, to meet and discuss history, the present and the future with people whose nationality was until recently amongst some people considered as “the enemy”. After much thinking I said to myself: ‘go for it’. I, like all other participants, had assumptions, thoughts, emotions, fears, expectations… but rather than letting all of these feelings stew, we came together in the spirit of openness and learning, to look forward not back, to discuss and compare experiences and perhaps even, to make new friends.
During the trip I got to meet Serbia’s Ministers and MP’s, local and international experts on human rights, conflict, reconciliation, regional cooperation as well as European integration. I realized that we have an opportunity to collectively move forward. We choose our future and nothing is “inevitable”. We have to be brave in our openness, and stick steadfast to our collective values. At the end, this unique experience finds me with a lot more friends from around the region, including Serbia and that gives me much hope that the future is bright. After all, it is us the younger generations that can bring sustainability to the region but only with contact, partnerships and tackling our joint problems together.
We are the pilots of our own journey.
I am proud to say that thisvisit to Belgrade has helped me to challenge myself; with that, I have managed to change my thinking.
Per Ardua Ad Astra (through adversity to the stars)!