“Why are you going to Albania?” This was the common reaction I got when I told somebody about my plans. I started explaining the short term EVS project in Tirana, about voluntary work with disabled children. But it seemed to me like it was not a convincing answer for many people. When I asked them what they know about Albania they became quite silent.
After I was living and working in Tirana for two months I don`t know one reason why you should not visit this country and this city. Our group consisted of 13 people from Italy, Turkey and Germany. We were all living together in one house in the student`s area and work in different special institutions for disabled children. We also presented and promoted our work in high schools and universities and inform pupils and students about volunteering in general and how they can participate. Before I went to Tirana, I tried to imagine how my work in these special institutions could look like. We also had a first theoretical preparation during our on-arrival training. But it was still difficult to have a realistic idea in mind what our exact duties could be. Now I know that the best preparation is not working out if you don’t have an idea how much daily working conditions can distinguish from one country to another. But even though the circumstances were not always easy I think that our work with the children was not only a good experience for us as volunteers. Also the kids enjoyed it a lot. We painted with them, did handicraft work with different materials and we played in the gym or in the garden. Depending on the children’s physical and mental possibilities, we always found activities which were fun for everybody.
Looking into the details of our daily work, it was quite different to what I know from German institutions. The schools and institutions looked different, and sometimes it was challenging to communicate. But luckily there were always local volunteers with us to translate and help us in our duties. Volunteering is more than just doing a normal job. Everybody who is involved can broaden his or her mind so easily and learn more about different cultures, mentalities and ideas.
During my free time I travelled a lot, always in a good company with other volunteers. Travelling means taking old discarded buses from other countries. The railroad system in Albania is not far enough developed to be used for trips. I saw a lot of buses from Germany and the Netherlands. But not the buses are the biggest challenge while travelling. Many streets are in a poor condition. And sitting in one of these shaking old buses while driving very fast along the curvy paths of the Albanian mountains was an experience I will never forget.
In Albania I visited Berat, Kruja, Saranda and Shkoder, and I also went to Greece, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro. Everywhere, I met friendly and helpful people and I saw a lot of impressing and beautiful places, and I learned a lot about historical and recent happenings.
It is normal that not everything is perfect for two months but most of my experiences were very good. Anyway, every experience helped to get a first insight into the surface of incidents in the Balkans and also into the every day’s life there. Now I am back home with a new understanding and I have so much more questions than I had before. But the most important question is not “Why Albania?”
It is “Why not?”