Now that I have settled in my home for the next two years, I have started my volunteer work. Let me describe Albanian work in the shortest explanation possible: summer is too hot for work, winter is too cold for work, while fall & spring are JUST RIGHT. Now that you have the Goldilocks explanation, you can understand that we as new volunteers are starting in summer (the too hot period), so beginning work is rather difficult. As mentioned previously, we were all assigned counterparts with whom to collaborate over the upcoming 24 months. My first Monday at site, I set out for my first meeting with my counterpart Dorina with much enthusiasm. After waiting an hour in the office, she finally sent me a text that she was ill from pregnancy and would not be at work for summer. Enthusiasm- crushed. Plan B- full speed ahead. Luckily, I had met people around town during my site visit and had their phone numbers. After a few phone calls I was back in action. Apparently I had met the few people putting in serious work hours over the summer and therefore they were extremely excited about my help.
I am now working every morning with the Bashkia (municipality) where I helped with an ecotourism project. Basically, we trained a group of 30 high school students to be tour guides around the city of Berat. We went on hikes around and outside the city to show them all of the great features the city possessed. Now we are operating a tourism office for the very first summer, and we’re keeping busy updating all hotel information, restaurant hot spots, bus schedules, local hiking trails, information on all monuments in town, and of course updating information on our infamous castle atop the mountain. And although this project is not so health related, there are a couple other volunteers gathering tourism information and we are all working hard together. I am finding myself getting very involved and I think it is the start of something exciting for all of Albania should tourism be a hit for the country- it definitely has a lot of potential.
On the health side of things, I have found myself working at the Residential Center for Development called Une Jam Si Ju (I am like you). The center houses 27 people living with disabilities- mainly because having a disabled child here is still extremely stigmatized. The residents are anywhere from 10-40 years old, and the incredible 29 person staff are probably the most amazing and patient people I have met in Albania to date. I volunteer at the center just hanging out with the kids, they rarely have guests visit and to have someone around is special for them. They are also having an upcoming 15th Anniversary in December and I am working with them to release an informational pamphlet on their services. It is really an incredible site and I am fortunate to be able to work there.
Hopefully come Fall I will start teaching health classes within the schools and work more with my original counterpart. As for the Albanian perspective of work in the Summer… they are right. It is a scorching 100+ here with no escape to AC anywhere and I literally feel like I’m melting at all points of the day. BUT, I still keep on working because being busy is better than feeling miserable from heat all day. Keep cool on your side of the world America!
The ecotourism students on a hike up to St. Michael's Church The Mayor of Berat presenting the students with certificates for completion of training! The Development Center!
Staff and Children of Une Jam Si Ju