From Kent to Kosova with Smile International

Categories: Care and Fundraising.

Reverend Clive Doubleday welcomes me into his office on the first floor of the Smile International headquarters in Orpington, UK. The founder and director of the organisation shakes my hand, and immediately puts me at ease, projecting the gentle conviction of a man of faith, that he is sure of what needs to be done and equally sure that the Lord will provide the means to do it.

Smile International was established in 2000, following the war in Kosova. Reverend Doubleday was, as he puts it: ‘minding (his) own business’ working as a pastor in a church in Kent, during the time of the ethnic cleansing in Kosova, and wishing that he could help in some way.

He received an email from friends in neighbouring Macedonia, where he had spent some time working in their church. They told him about their difficulties in helping the huge numbers people who were flooding into their country from Kosova, and asked whether he could do anything to help.

At that time he was the president of the London Baptist Asssociation, which has over 300 churches in it. He sent an email around to see if the group could raise some money. They raised £6000 pounds in one week.

“I travelled to Macedonia with the £6,000 cash in my pocket, flying from London to Paris, and then onto Sofia in Bulgaria, then catching a 6 hour bus over the mountains to the Macedonian capital, Skopje travelling the last stretch by road and hoping I didn’t get robbed.

“I went into the refugee camp which was home to 240,000 people in 30,000 tents, and I couldn’t believe what I saw. At that point I said to myself: ‘We have to do more than this’.”

So Rev Doubleday returned to the UK,  raised some more money, and drove with his family in two seven-tonne trucks filled with supplies across Europe, from Kent to Kosova.

“My wife, Ruth, drove one of the trucks. She had never driven a truck before, or since, for that matter. Our children sat beside us navigating. It was like the Doubleday von Trapp family. But it was scary, really scary, especially going over the Greek Mountains.

“We arrived and delivered the supplies, but we just felt God saying to us: ‘You need to do more than this’.

“So we came back, gave up our jobs, gave up our house. We became homeless for six months. We lived in a caravan in the garden of a friend of ours in London. We became homeless to help the homeless in Kosova. God provided for us.”

13 years later, and Smile International has seen 3000 volunteers going out to work on our projects in Africa, Europe and Asia. The organisation has seven staff in England and 44 staff overseas.

The Smile International base in Kosova is a purpose-built palliative care conference centre in Gjakove, and the palliative care team based at the centre serves a 50 mile radius. Often it is difficult for the palliative care team to reach the patients who live high up in the mountains.

Scoping meetings with local and national government revealed support for palliative care development, however it was clear that when it came to fundraising, responsibility would lie with Smile International. This they did through fundraising events such as musical evenings and even an Arctic trek from Tromso in Norway.

It was just a few months after the Arctic trek, when Rev Doubleday received some news that would have a profound impact on his life: “I had just come back from a couple of week flying all over the place, when my leg swelled up. The doctors at first thought that it was deep vein thrombosis, but we did test after test and could not figure out what was wrong.

“One day my doctor called me and told me that I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, grade 4 aggressive.”

Although reluctant to start chemotherapy, Rev Doubleday agreed to the treatment, advised by his doctor that, without it, he would not see the end of the year.

“So I embarked on my own cancer journey,” he said. “I saw it from the patient’s side, what you go through, the pressure on my wife and the family. Thank God, the following January, they gave me the all-clear.”

He went on: “That experience gave us true insight into what patients go through, the pressures on the families. We were seeing some of the widows that we were helping in Kosova dying at 30-40 years on average. There was no diagnostics, no MRI, no medicines. And this all happening in Europe. This drove us forward.”

One of the main challenges in providing palliative care in Kosova is the need to raise awareness, not only among the general public, but also to educate healthcare professionals, many of whom still equate palliative care with euthanasia.

Funding for medical supplies and medication is scarce. Consultations will result in advice from doctor to patient, but following the appointment, the patient is left to source and pay for what they need. Often people will simply not have the money. The national unemployment rate is huge at 70%, with people surviving on remittances from family members working abroad.

A recent breakthrough by Smile International has been to employ a social worker to help people access the social grants of 50 euros per month available to terminally ill patients.

Rev Doubleday emphasised the importance of international partnerships in providing palliative acre in Kosova, encouraging healthcare professionals to visit the centre in Gjakove to share their expertise. He said: “Partnership is crucial. Talks from international colleagues encourage our staff considerably. They are ploughing a lonely furrow out there.”

In the future, the organisation plans to build a hospice. Originally the feeling in the community was that an in-patient hospice would not be used. In Kosova, it is the family’s duty to look after their sick family members but, as Rev Doubleday reports, this has changed to the point where they’ve realised families can’t give 24/7 care: “They are saying: yes, we do need a hospice now.”

Plans are underway to raise £250 000 to build the hospice and cover the next few years of staff costs. Anyone interested in contributing can contact the organisation.

Read more about the work of Smile International on the organizations’ website

Twitter @Smile_Int

Smile International palliative care website –

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