Peace Corps Volunteers gathered in Tirana early in November to help out with the annual Special Olympics Albania. S.O. is fairly new to Albania, and I was extremely impressed with the event. It was sponsored by the Vodaphone Foundation and was well organized by a youth group based in the capital called The Animators. The Olympics kicked off early across town with a running of the torch and followed by a stunning opening ceremony. The 12 teams came from handicapped schools and centers all over Albania. The athletes competed in the events of basketball, soccer, ping-pong, bowling, and swimming. At the end of the day everyone involved was bused to a hotel for the night.
I think the most difficult part of the event was simply coming with an American perspective. Handicapped, disabled, mentally or physically: these terms are not well known by Albanians. These people affected are marginalized and neglected still in this country. A stigma still exists because people are uneducated; they are uncomfortable, and there isn’t many severely handicapped people in Albania. Some kids at the event were dealing with ADD while others were dealing with serious mental and physical disabilities making it hard to create a real competition. How do you think the match will turn out with all-star athletes versus a team incapable of fully understanding rules of the game? Also, most girls didn’t participate, and when I encouraged them to get involved the staff simply said, “girls don’t play sports.” It’s hard and it’s frustrating, but I DO KNOW that the kids all had a really great 3-day vacation, enjoyed some excellent October weather (I got a sunburn!), and felt very special. I can only hope to be more involved next year, and have a great time again.
Opening Ceremonies (yes, they unfortunately released those balloons into the sky)
The Berat team tearing up the futbol field
Berat vs. Lezhe on the bball court