Archives for posts with tag: Elbasan Youth Council

On Wednesday, May 28, 2014, at the Skampa Theater in Elbasan, Albania, the second class of high school youth graduated from the Elbasan Youth Council and received certificates of accomplishment for their work throughout the year and contributions to the city of Elbasan.
Created in 2012, the Elbasan Youth Council (EYC)  is a partnership between Peace Corps volunteers and the Muncipality of Elbasan established to provide high school students from fourteen local high schools (including private, public, and vocational) a unique leadership development opportunity.

This year 26 EYC members finished the 7 month program of weekly sessions focusing on topics that connect to municipality operations affecting youth, such as Environment, Social Services, Culture, Transportation, Health and Fitness and Recreational programs.  Session designs varied from group exercises, discussion forums and guest speakers.

In addition to the weekly sessions, participants of the Elbasan Youth Council also developed, planned and implemented projects that bring positive changes to the community. Along the way they develop important life skills such as leadership, public speaking, time management, fundraising, teamwork, creative thinking, flexibility and patience.

This year EYC developed 4 community projects including:

  • 2nd Annual art competition for high school youth, to increase awareness of cultural arts in the city and among youth.  Youth raised just over $1,000 to for awards and related costs and got the in-kind support of a local hotel restaurant to provide for a small award ceremony.
  • Anti-Drug and Violence presentations conducted in area high schools increasing education about the negative effects of drugs and violence and reaching nearly 250 high school students each.   Informational brochures were shared in all the schools and the Anti-Drug group is in discussion with a local television station to have their video aired.
  • Public Spaces groups organized the first Elbasan summer film festival, and got the in-kind support of the city and local business to use the cities big screen.  Movies will air in the evenings this June.


The success of the program has received national attention as other cities are taking lessons learned from the EYC and applying them to their own youth programs or attempt to replicate it.

A graduate this year said that, being part of the Elbasan Youth Council, was the best experience of his life.  The youth are held to high expectations and they quickly realize all the many things they are capable of.  They graduate from the program having tested themselves in different ways forging along the way with new skills and friendships.



Elbasan Youth Summer Camp

“Oh! how I love, on a fair summer’s eve,
When streams of light pour down the golden west,
And on the balmy zephyrs tranquil rest
The silver clouds, — far, far away to leave
All meaner thoughts,…”
John Keats

day in Librazhd

I work with youth, which is to say I am normally exhausted and yet continually inspired.  During the month of July, my fellow volunteers, alongside our local Albanian counterparts, organized a month-long summer camp for youth.  Decried as folly by some, I would have thought them right when on the first day we had only 5 participants, but 5 is 5 and I would have been happy with any number, great or small, of attentive young minds.  Ultimately we had about 25-30 participants with a strong core of 15 that persisted weekly to seek out what knowledge and activities we had imagined.  Take that nay-sayers.

A small smidgen of the things we did included: English Discussions, Health Discussions, Drawing classes, Salsa dance classes, Personal Development, Creative Writing, and hiking trips and outings.

Youth Groups Exchange

“The ritual has meaning.” 
-Dr. Abraham Verghese

Another quick update on work related things. Finally after much planning and multiple setbacks, I was able to organize the final activity of the Elbasan Youth Council, a youth exchange with the Durrës Youth Movement.  It went well enough I think.  They talked about things they had done and some of the challenges of being active young people in current Albanian society.  The original intention was to begin building towards a national youth movement – which now I think is a very long way off, but not entirely impossible. Thanks especially to fellow volunteer, Sara, who organized with me and to Friends of Albania for funding the whole venture. Oh look, a picture of the group.


Seth and Luke do Albania

“Real life is fine, but you can only take so much of it.” 
-Dylan Moran


I took a week off to travel in the deep south of Albania with visiting friends Seth and Luke.  I’d like to  recount some sort of story, some amusing account of adventuring.

Albania is proud of its traditions and especially its populore. A slightly modernized version of the music that has been in the region for, without doing any research or fact-checking, a very long while.

This entire video is set in ELBASAN, my home.

And now, some general updates:

Elbasan Youth Council

This week our Elbasan Youth Council graduates.  During the last many months we’ve met to learn about Elbasan and the different city structures and services offered, about project planning and development, about leadership, and all that other good stuff.  Working with both the youth and staff has been a real learning process, but nothing has pleased me more than seeing the group come together to complete their community projects.

While Melia and I managed the EYC, the community projects and issue areas were selected, defined, planned and executed by the youth with some small help from staff.  A quick summary of their accomplishments:

  • Environment group held a successful community clean up day.  We had a small group of 17 volunteers pick up trash, and they received praise from gyshi and gyshja alike.
  • Youth Spaces held a fundraiser and collected upwards of 50,000 lek to purchase books for the public library. They have also found a university student who will donate time to create a digital catalogue.
  • Social Services partnered with a drug clinic here in Elbasan and in Tirane to prepare informational brochures on the dangers of drug use and how to seek help. They had 5 presentations at local high school and university classrooms.
  • Arts and Culture organized the first ever Elbasan photography competition “Elbasan in Focus.”  Check out the entries here.  They sought local support from businesses for prizes and printing, and tomorrow evening will announce the winners of the competition with much fanfare.

More than the projects themselves, it has been about seeing the youth empowered and realize that they can make a difference.


“Myself and Pangur, cat and sage
Go each about our business,”
– “From the Irish of Pangur Ban,” Eaven Boland

After my heartfelt blog post about Cat, the brazen hussy moved out and took the kittens with her. She still pops in for a rub and demands to be fed. I relent. I’m a soft touch.

The Kids are Alright
“Your actions, and your action alone, determines your worth.”
– Evelyn Waugh

For the past 2 months or so (the time, it does fly, doesn’t it?) I and many of my PCV colleagues have been working with the Group 16 of trainees.  As I write, they are on Site Visit, visiting the communities they will be living in, meeting the counterparts with whom they will be working, fingers crossed, seeing the houses/apartments they will be living in, and heaven help them, getting pumped for the journey that lay ahead.  I was in their place a year ago. I spent my site visit going around different offices imagining projects that never happened, picturing myself in my soon to be place, and watching Dexter with my PCV host, Kyle.

My friend Aaron came to visit a few weeks ago, during a very busy weekend in Elbasan.  There was an Outdoor Ambassadors leadership training, a Flash Freeze for the Environment, and training activities for the 16ers.  He saw us at a peak of activity and met volunteers at each stage service, beginning, middle and end.  It was nice to hear from someone who lives abroad and works in development that we’re doing good work, we’re not crazy, and yes, things will be alright after Peace Corps.

Welcome group 16 and good luck. Goodbye group 14 and good luck.  Hello year 2 Albania.  In the coming year: EYC Summer program, EYC school year, more gender/human rights, more travel (?) more culinary madness (gazpacho season is back!) and who knows what else I come up with.

London Calling
“I’ve been to the east and I’ve been out west
and I’ve been the world around
but I ain’t seen no one anywhere near
a girl from London town”
-“London Girls,” Tori Amos

I’m going on vacation! I have not been to London since I was a senior in university so that’s… a while ago.  I love Albania, but there are certain things lacking in ready availability that I crave.  I’ve got plans to see a few concerts, catch a show (maybe 2), visit an art museum, have a crazy-good cocktail, see hipsters, and whatever else strikes my fancy.  Get ready London. I am coming.

The Epilogue
Gloria: You’re his family now and that means only one thing: you be the wind in his back, not the spit in his face.
Jay: What?
Gloria: Something my mom always says. Its gorgeous in Spanish.
-Modern Family, Pilot Episode  1.1

My office and most of the people I work with speak a degree of English that for the past year I have been able to work in pretty decent shqiplish and with the occasional aid of a translator. More people would rather practice their English with me, than listen to me struggle and butcher their language.

So, my shqip has stymied (a becalmed shqip), but I get along well enough, until someone lacking in tact tries to correct me. It’s not that I don’t need the correction, or welcome it, but some days when a non-native speaker, like me, say pullë (stamp) and not pulë (chicken) and clearly at a restaurant would order the latter (true story), then yeah, it’s annoying.

I remember a lesson I learned from my mom, who said when people made fun of her accent,  “Well if you don’t understand me, mejor te hablo en español para ver si me entiendes…pendejo.

Aquí tienen, para que se rían.


I made cherry pie. It was delicious. Clearly, I’m proud of myself.

DSC_0274 DSC_0280 DSC_0285 DSC_0290DSC_0297
I was contacted by a lovely young woman who reads the blog. This might be a bit too late to be of any good, but she has a project that you can read about here. It’s about travel and storytelling which are all things I love.

The limits of my language means the limits of my world.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein

Language refresher, a vague memory from weeks (maybe months – YEARS even!) ago, it seemed more an opportunity to get together with Peace Corps volunteers from my group and relive the first days when we lounged the Hotel Univers.

Other than the origin of mirupafshim,  a brief introduction to Optative Mood, clitics, Permet wine, and Cards Against Humanity, I feel no closer to mastering shqip. It may be the insurmountable heights of Cases, or it may be, and most likely is, that I am a lazy cuss.

I was leaving Home of Hope where for thirty minutes, twice a week, sitemate and I flail desperately as we struggle to teach 3-5 year old children, English.  On the upside these kids are adorable.  Along the walk I ran into my gjyshe from back in Thane accompanied by her son, the last of four.

I really like this woman.  She reminds me of old women in Miyazaki films.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries. A quadruple cheek kiss means real affection, and a string of mire. I managed to ask what they were doing in Elbasan so early and her son explained that they were going to the Doctor because she was having issues with her heart.  Well I had no idea what to say to that. Already at a loss for words, my meager vocabulary was struggling to find the right way to express some kind of sympathy.  I think my facial expressions conveyed the feeling, but still as we parted company, I wished I could have said more, something – hell, anything.

I have been protected by an easy bubble of English in my work and in the office, surviving in the larger community with a base working knowledge of the language, and recently the bubble popped. Well, deflated a little.

I start work at the qarku this week, and went in for an introduction to the directors I will be working with in the Development office (doing what, I have no idea except I have been given a long series of documents on city strategic planning, planning for the landfill, tourism, social services, etc.) and NO ONE speaks any English at all.  Now comes the real test.

Now I know what so many other volunteers are going through, and I still don’t have it as difficult as many of them.  If anything I have new incentive, if not vigor, to learn to speak shqip, passably,  tolerably and maybe with a modicum of fluidity, if certainly not fluently or intelligibly. Not only will I need it for the work, but so I can honestly integrate better in the community, something I don’t think I have done as well as I should be.  I need more Albanian friends.

In other news, we have begun the Elbasan Youth Council.  A group of 29 high school students from around Elbasan will learn the meaning of leadership and city government functions, and if all continues as well as the orientation (see pictures below), we will have a fantastic year.

Also, fingers crossed I’ll have my laptop returned to me safely and in full working order in the next few weeks.  While the lack of internet distraction has been great for reading, I have a desire to watch a movie.

the Elbasan Youth Council (and some supportive parents)

Getting our priorities for the year to come.  The students will plan and develop a minimum of two community projects and present them for approval to the Municipal Council.