Born in Pristina and a survivor of the Beirut port explosion, Bujar Hoxha puts his heart to work

Bujar Hoxha

CARE US office grants its Lebanon Country Director the resilience award for the work of Titan he carried out after the blast

On August 4, when the explosion of the Beirut port occurred, BujarHoxha, Country Director of CARE International in Lebanon, had finished an ordinary day of work and had just arrived at the dentist’s in Gemmayzeh neighborhood, within the 1st perimeter of the explosion. Instead of running for his life, he helped evacuate patients. He went out of the building to find out the extent of the damage, called his family, walked home and started working, calling CARE teams in Lebanon and abroad to help organize the response for the affected population. 48 hours later, the CARE teams were deployed on the ground in Beirut.

His apartment, located in Achrafieh in the third perimeter of ​​the blast, was ransacked and all its windows shattered.

Bujar Hoxha acted like all the Lebanese affected by the disaster; he continued to live in his house for days on end until the INGO security team forced him to leave for a hotel.

“I can understand what the Lebanese are going through, I too, with my family, when I was younger, I suffered from war, currency devaluation, I saw my parents lose their savings,” says this 41-year-old Kosovar.

The impact award, a distinction awarded by CARE US to numerous stars, has just been attributed to him as an “everyday hero”, for his resilience and courage in particular for the work of Titan he carried out following the Beirut port blast.

Born into a Kosovar Albanian family, Bujar Hoxha grew up in Pristina the capital of Kosovo, ruled since the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991 by Slobodan Milosevic who died in prison in The Hague in 2006 while indicted by international justice with war crimes. It was at a very young age when he discovered the first taste of injustice.

 “As there was discrimination against the ethnic group to which I belonged, my father who was a university professor was fired from his job and my two brothers and I had to work to ensure an income for the family in order to survive. We did odd jobs, we sold ice cream, juice, cigarettes. Now when I think about it, I realize that it falls under child labor. At the time, I always thought that freedom is impossible to achieve,” he explains.

However, that didn’t stop him, even if his country was devastated by war, from pursuing his studies and attending university to major in physics.

Deported by train to Macedonia

In the spring of 1999, he,with his family and thousands of other Kosovar Albanians,was forced by the Serbian authorities to take a train that would expel them from the country. It was the second great injustice he witnessed.

“I was 19 when we were deported from Pristina to a refugee camp in Western Macedonia. We were piled up like sardines and during the journey the train stopped several times, each time men and young men were forced to get off a wagon. Some were insulted, others beaten, and others were never seen again. When I think about it now, I realize that it was really a matter of luck that I wasn’t chosen by the soldiers,”he says.

It is also this same luck that saved his life during the Beirut port blast last August when he decided not to take the elevator upon his arrival at the dentist’s clinic; the same elevator was completely destroyed by the blast.

“When I was young I loved the theater and read many Absurd writers. In the camp, I spent my time reading and rereading Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot”, he says.

And then, trying to find hope in the worst misery, he helped to put in place a primary school in the camp. “We were 48,000 refugees, we were locked in the camp, not feeling welcomed, rejected by everyone. In the camp, there were children of all ages and school and university teachers. By creating this school, I was able to bring hope and joy to the camp,” he says.

Today, BujarHoxha still believes in the hope of change even in the most dire of situations.

Where had he drawn his courage from back then? “It’s the solidarity and the unconditional love of my family and loved ones and it’s still the case today,” he said.

It was in this Macedonian camp that Bujar Hoxha began working for CARE International as a field assistant. He spent six weeks in the camp before returning to Pristina; he continued to work for CARE International and began to take an interest in humanitarian work, while the humanitarian world at the time was quite different from what it has become today.

He continued his studies and chose to specialize in international affairs. He climbed the ranks of CARE International one by one, and served from 2007 to 2010 as Country Director of the INGO in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia.

At that time, he was also preparing a Masters Degree in International Affairs at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the oldest institution for diplomacy in the United States.

“Invisible barriers between communities”

It was after completing his term as Country Director in his homeland that Bujar Hoxha decided to leave CARE International to go elsewhere, working notably with USAID and Save the Children, in several countries of the Middle East, a region he is fascinated by.

“It is a region rich in culture and civilization; it is a region where each country has its own particularities, history, habits and customs,” he says. Lebanon has fascinated him since his very young age, since war broke out in his country and the press and international experts spoke of the “libanization” of the Balkans.

“I can understand Lebanon, because in my country too you learn since you are young that there are invisible barriers that must not be crossed. When you are born in Kosovo, you know that there are invisible barriers between communities and people, you learn what you can and cannot say, you get used to seeing beyond what is happening in front of your eyes. Since my childhood, even before the war, in Kosovo, there were barriers between people. Serbs and Albanians coexisted without ever living together. They went to different schools, different cafés and restaurants. They spoke two different languages. There were things left unsaid and no-goes.”

In 2019, Bujar Hoxha returned to CARE International and remained in the Middle East. He was appointed Country Director of the INGO in Lebanon.

Like everywhere else, he puts his heart to work and manages to see what many humanitarians fail to detect. While everyone is working in Lebanon as just a country hosting refugees, Bujar Hoxha takes a closer look at the Lebanese situation. Long before the dizzying devaluation of the Lebanese Lira against the USD and the Coronavirus pandemic, which amplified the Lebanese economic crisis, he had been trying to bring projects for Lebanon.

Through him, CARE International in Lebanon was one of the first INGOs to sound the alarm on the Lebanese humanitarian crisis.

Having taken charge of a very small CARE International office in Beirut in 2019, he was able to expand and form new teams in a very short period of time.

During the summer of 2020, following the explosion of Beirut port, the budget of the Lebanon office has more than quadrupled. CARE International has become one of the largest INGOs operating in Lebanon, in terms of projects executed.

A vision and a strategy have been put in place; in the coming months and years, CARE International will work in four areas in Lebanon: food security, gender and women’s empowerment, shelter rehabilitation, and innovative trends in environment.

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