“Colors of Nature with Uta and Miljana”: Bilingual Children’s Book Celebrates the Diversity of Kosovo

25 Aug 2021

“Colors of Nature with Uta and Miljana”: Bilingual Children’s Book Celebrates the Diversity of Kosovo

When it comes to the next generation, building a framework for a more trusting, collaborative society can begin in the simplest of ways, including through storytelling.

That’s the guiding principle behind Colors of Nature with Uta and Miljana, a bilingual children’s book about a friendship between two children from different communities, published by the NGO Utalaya Foundation with support from UNMIK in 2021.

Fresh-off-the-press copies of the bilingual picture book, ‘Colors of Nature’ on display at the launch event.

A picture-book with a mission, Colors of Nature is written by Pristina-based author Flutur Mustafa and is the product of collaborative storytelling between Gjilan/Gnjilane-born alpinist Uta Ibrahimi and North Mitrovica-based artist Miljana Bulatović-Dunđerin, who served as inspirations for the two primary characters in the book.

 Uta Ibrahimi and North Mitrovica based artist Miljana Bulatović-Dunđerin at the launch of ‘Colors of Nature’

A spin-off from Uta Ibrahimi’s first book Uta and the Mountains, which illustrated young Uta’s real-life ascent of Mt. Everest in 2017, Colors of Nature follows Uta and her bicycle to Mitrovica, after months of being cooped up indoors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is in the Mitrovica region, introduced through its beautifully illustrated cultural and natural wonders, that Uta meets Miljana. They exchange their love for hiking and painting, kicking off a spontaneous new friendship that involves teaching each other phrases in Albanian and Serbian, cleaning up garbage in the mountains, and even saving a baby bird.

The Utalaya team recognizes that sometimes small encounters, like Uta and Miljana’s in the book, can leave an impression. “Sometimes it takes just one speech, one book or one hour of activity with a child to trigger thousands of new brain connections that shape their life in a positive way,” they say. The book focuses on shared values to raise awareness on protecting nature, being engaged with outdoor activities, trying their talents in arts, and making new friends.

Uta Ibrahimi with some young readers at the launch event. Photo courtesy: Utalaya Foundation.

Championing diversity and put together by a multi-ethnic team, the book simultaneously unfolds in both Albanian and Serbian, representing the ‘Uta’s and ‘Miljana’s among young Balkan readers.

Launched on the occasion of Children’s Day in June, the book was printed into1000 copies, which were distributed for free to children in Mitrovica and other parts of Kosovo through civil society partners, schools, and after-school programmes. On 10 June, the Utalaya Foundation team, with Miljana, also held a live reading and distribution event with children from K-Albanian, K-Serb and K-Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities at North Mitrovica’s Aquarius Gallery (which is, in fact, the gallery illustrated in the book).

Uta, who grew up hearing different languages spoken and credits her mountaineering adventures for continually introducing her to people from different backgrounds, is a champion for environmental conservation and a bright future for all children in Kosovo. “I realized there are so many strong and inspiring persons doing great work for all communities,” Uta said, adding that the project introduced her to North Mitrovica from a different angle.

Books provide a window into different worlds, and with it, an opportunity to become familiar with new ideas. However, there are very few children’s books available in Kosovo, and even fewer than those are books produced or set locally.

“UNMIK was pleased to support this project, especially one that embraces multilingualism, environmentalism, and promotes locally-produced literature,” Sarah Schaffer, Head of UNMIK Dialogue and Reconciliation Unit said. “Children are innovative and have a willingness to learn and grow. It is up to adults to create spaces that encourage their curiosity.”

“Not only is important for children to have local heroes, it is also important for them to see their environment and identities reflected in their entertainment,” adds Ms. Schaffer. “Books set in local contexts are critical to building literary culture and literary identity in a place — not only for children, but also for budding writers, illustrators and storytellers.”

Trushaa Castelino, Civil Affairs Officer, UNMIK Dialogue and Reconciliation unit, on RTV21’s ‘Bon Bon’.

Tuba Safciu, an Utalaya project manager, who helped to conceptualize the storyline, deliberately chose the themes of geography, environmental protection, and a curiosity for every language and culture, which she described as a “celebration of the beauty of diversity.”

Could Uta and Miljana have contributed to breaking the barriers of discrimination through a children’s book? Uta hopes so, and hopes that this most recent project inspires other similar ideas. “I think this education starts from the beginning — with children,” she said.

‘Colors of Nature with Uta and Miljana’ is written and conceptualized by Pristina-based author Flutur Mustafa and Utalaya Foundation’s Tuba Safciu, illustrated by North Macedonian artist Katerina Nikolovska, translated by North Mitrovica-based Aleksander Dundjerin, and designed for publication by Pristina-based Arber Matoshi. It is currently being enjoyed by children Kosovo-wide. You can access the eBook version of Colors of Nature with Uta and Miljana for free here.