“What we need is friends. If I have a friend he will care about me. My friend will pray for me” Prison chaplain, Albania October 2010
During the largest part of the 20th Century the small country of Albania, with borders to the former Yugoslavia, Greece and the Italian coastline had very few friends. Living under a closed, repressive communist dictatorship that declared itself the first godless state people existed in a xenophobic utopia (fear of other cultures) with the country borders firmly closed for over 25 years.
First travelling there in 1992 I was unable to forget the splendid mountain and coastal scenery this gem of a country offers the visitor. Memories of visiting the homes of people in the full throes of post-revolutionary change, cities filled with young unemployed men and everywhere those who were tentative but hopeful that the changes from the old communism to the new Albania would provide new freedom and opportunity. I had the impression that Albanian people take nothing lying down! They are a people of action….no matter what it takes.
I held Albania and its people close to my heart for almost 20 years when suddenly I had opportunity to return there in October 2010. “Come over and Help Us” is the familiar Macedonian call in the bible’s book of Acts. The Albanian call was “Come over and take a look. Let’s see what we can do together”. I returned to the new Albania.
Little of what I saw in Tirana reminded me of the city I visited in ’92. Then we were constantly being knocked over by bicycles which were the predominant transport of the time. Today bright busy city streets teem with fast cars and modern comfortable restaurants, cafes, hotels and shopping areas co-habit with street sellers and market places.
However the fact remains that Albania, despite its development within cities and prominent areas, is Europe’s poorest country and is home to many of the world’s poorest people. Driving into rural areas, not so far from the city, the worldview alters dramatically. In a world of commerce, smart phones and social networking rural Albania knows little of that. Women toil under hot sun to have enough to feed families while health and maternity care remain primitive, if existent at all! Strong family units threaten to be torn apart by sons, fathers and even daughters leaving the country to find a better life. Alcoholism, corruption, criminality, unemployment, blood feud and relentless poverty seethe through many towns and villages. Located in some of the most beautiful spots in the world they are sadly places of terrible despair and hopelessness.
It was from such places that we received a joyful shout from our Partners in December 2010 “We really did the PovertySwap, Thank You”. Working together our friends in the UK and local Partners in Albania were able to hold a number of cultural, social and church events in a number of locations in the run up to Christmas 2010. Community leaders, school children and staff, Romany Gypsy families and their communities, the young and the old were drawn together by a very special project developed around the Christmas story. Parties and presentations brought so much joy and developed strategic networks and relationships within each community.
Our Partners are currently developing work with the following:
We look forward to linking skills, knowledge and resources to make the dream happen: