GRÓ GEST and Erasmus+ Collaboration: Fellows from the Jamaica and Kosovo

14 March 2023
GRÓ GEST Erasmus+ fellows: Bleona Kurteshi from the University of Pristina, Kosovo and Orlando Javon…
GRÓ GEST Erasmus+ fellows: Bleona Kurteshi from the University of Pristina, Kosovo and Orlando Javon Pearce from the University of the West Indies, Jamaica

This year, two of the twenty-three fellows participating in the GRÓ Gender Equality Studies and Training programme, GEST, are Erasmus+ students: Bleona Kurteshi from the University of Pristina, Kosovo and Orlando Javon Pearce from the University of the West Indies, Jamaica.

The two Erasmus+ students arrived at the University of Iceland in early January to join the 2023 GEST cohort of fellows. Both Bleona and Orlando had learned about the GEST programme through professors at their home universities, Bleona as an MA student in Sociology and Orlando an MSc student in Gender and Development. Neither of the students had travelled much abroad before coming to Iceland: Bleona had never left Kosovo and Orlando had only travelled within the Caribbean. Both Bleona and Orlando shared that their professors had encouraged them to apply, as studying abroad would broaden their understanding and perspective of gender equality. For Bleona, it is not possible to study Gender Studies at the University of Pristina, so her participation in the GEST programme provides her with an opportunity to strengthen the gendered focus in her MA studies.

Until Orlando’s travel to Iceland, he had been engaged in policy development in Jamaica. Through his work, Orlando had become aware of several gaps in the policies, especially when it comes to gender. Orlando is currently working on a final assignment at GEST that he hopes to use as a basis for his MSc research in Jamaica. The assignment is a research proposal for assessing the LGBTQI+ community’s access to public health care in Jamaica. Through his work, Orlando has observed that members of the LGBTQI+ community, especially those with HIV and AIDS, struggle with accessing public health care due to stigma within the system and the society at large. He would like to study how public health care can be transformed to enhance its inclusiveness towards the LBGTQI+ community.

Bleona is also working on a final assignment at the GEST programme that she hopes will lead to an MA thesis. She is looking at collective memory and gender, with a focus on the sexual violence perpetrated during the war in Kosovo in 1998-99. Bleona shares that the women who suffered from sexual violence during the war are remembered as heroes, but she points out that women do not willingly contribute or sacrifice themselves for sexual violence during the war and Bleona therefore disagrees with the notion of referring to them as heroes, as it wasn’t their choice, and the seriousness of the situation cannot be softened by referring to the women as war heroes.

As a person who works on policy development in Jamaica, Orlando feels like he could use Iceland as an example of what is possible. Not only about inclusion but also sustainable development. Orlando points out that despite Iceland having such a small population, it has managed to accomplish so much, not only in infrastructure, but also inclusive legislation. “I think Iceland has shown me an example of what is possible, also in the Caribbean.” He continues and says that it has been a journey and that he didn’t expect to find a community so welcoming, which is very liberating. “That is the most fun part, it is a safe space compared to what I’m used to”.

Bleona says that this experience is amazing for her, both personally and professionally. That the experience has helped her grow, both field visits to Icelandic organisations and reading materials have influenced her, and she is sure that it will have an impact on her work back in Kosovo.

The Erasmus+ grant scheme has been a major source of financing of fellows and visiting scholars for the GEST programme. Since 2017, the GEST programme has welcomed 42 fellows from 13 partner universities who have all been co-financed by the Erasmus+. The fellows are nominated by their instructors and academic supervisors, providing the students with an opportunity to access diverse gender focused modules at the GEST programme. Furthermore, GEST welcomes international guest lecturers to Iceland through the Erasmus+ scheme, who either teach in the GEST programme or participate in public lectures.