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November 2017
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Religious Youth Service

First Religious Youth Service Project Held in Albania

Tirana, Albania - Young people from six nations, the majority from Albania, took part in the first project of Religious Youth Service in Albania Aug. 20-26, 2012. After several visits in Albania Mrs. Tomiko Duggan, adviser of UPF Albania, presented the idea of a service and leadership training project with youth from Albania, the region and the world to work together in a service project and receive education about world religions from Ambassadors for Peace who are religious leaders and scholars.

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The draft project was presented on time but the approval was delayed something, making organizing it more difficult. We had agreed with an Ambassador for Peace who is also a lecturer at the Academy of Arts who promised to bring ten of his students to the RYS “Friendship Cake” project. Eight British students who were in Albania for summer activities were also involved in the project. The initial program was adapted to the objectives and the model of RYS projects.

The first day included registration and accommodating the participants at the training center in Fikas, Mullet commune, about 12 km from Tirana. In addition to the foreigners, there were about 12 students from the Academy of Arts who arrived and brought a very lively and diverse mood to the site, since they were familiar to each other and excited to be part of this initiative. Indeed it took some time for them to settle and adjust to the program, especially to the waking up and sleeping time.

The second day was filled with four lecture sessions on world religions, interfaith harmony and cooperation in Albania, the Principles of UPF, and the Family as the School of Love. Mr. Ali Laçej, one of the founders of UPF-Albania, lectured on world religions, making the content more easier to digest to the participants. The speeches of Mr. Ramollari and UPF chairman Mr. Ibraj were smooth and well received. The topic that ignited the audience’s reaction was that on marriage and family by Mr. Sokol Rexhepi, UPF Secretary General. With most of the participants coming from the liberal school of arts, it was difficult for some to understand the concept of purity before marriage, and they had to digest statements about traditional values and divorce statistics showing the social problems connected to the decline of the families.

The third day they went to a public park, which was to be enhanced with new trees. This was done thanks to the cooperation with Municipality no. 6 in Tirana and with a local NGO – For Women and Children. The vice Mayor, Mr. Reshit Çullhaj, welcomed everyone to the municipal meeting hall, where there was an official presentation about the project. After that together with a dozen of employees from the municipality greenery company, the group went to a local school, where half of the 30 trees were planted. The other half were planted at a nearby public park.

Most of the participants had never planted a tree; neither had they worked with a shovel or a pick. Enduring the intense heat of 400 Celsius, the students and municipal employees did not stop until the last sapling was put in the ground. Everything was finished in three hours. During the evening reflections, the participants shared the joy they felt during this service work. One of the national TV stations reported on the activity later that day, on their news edition.

The next day there was a meeting with Prime Minister’s wife, Mrs. Liri Berisha. She welcomed everyone to the Regional Center for Autism that she established outside of Tirana, the capital city. There was a very open and family like conversation with her. She explained to the students the motivation behind her humanitarian work, Mother Theresa, the famous Albanian missionary. Mrs. Berisha shared her direct experience with her and what she learned from her. She said that recently she was trying to involve her niece more often in charity projects as a way to convey teach her humanitarian values.

After this meeting the group departed on a mountain trip to Pëllumbas Cave, about 20 km from the city. This day was as hot as the previous one. None of the participants or staff was had visited this cave before, local people were asked about the walking time, and they said it was about 30 minutes. The road was very steep and rocky. Finally the cave was reached after two hours of almost nonstop walking.

You can imagine how exhausted people felt on arrival. However, there was a sense of accomplishment, and everyone enjoyed the freshness of the cave. This is a 10,000-year-old cave, one of six karst caves in Europe. Of course, going down took only half of the time, and by 17:00 everyone was enjoying ice cream at the training center.

The next day was a combination of education and service activities. At 9:30, Dr. Saemira Pino, Dean of Human Sciance Faculty at Marin Barleti University, led a round-table discussion, along with Mrs. Eglantina Gjermeni, MP and lecturer of law. Following this was a meeting with Mr. Skënder Sherifi, a famous Albanian writer, who spoke on his life and his new book called Love, a collection of poetry and sayings about love from five continents.

In the afternoon we moved at a local high school where we were supposed to paint the façade of the surrounding wall. On paper it looked easy since most of us had tried painting before, but it turned out to be not an easy task. The surface to be covered was quite large and needed many tools and each one’s involvement. At the end of the day it was finished. Everyone hoped the children liked it when they return to school on September 10.

The fifth day began in the training center. There were lectures from two religious leaders, one representing Islam and the other representing Christianity. Mr. Qazim Selimaj, chairman of the Association for Peace and Knowledge who studied Islamic culture in Saudi Arabia, shared about Islam and its traditions. The second one was Mr. Robert Stefanc, a veteran pastor of the Unification Church in Albania.

After the break a member of Parliament and Ambassador for Peace, Dr. A. Malaj, spoke about leadership qualities. In his speech in encouraged the students to participate in the political life, work for justice, and bring lasting value to this area. Following him was a senior politician and party leader, Mr. G. Apostoli, one of the founders of UPF-Albania. Mr Apostoli caught the attention of the audience with his sincerity and charisma. At the end of his speech he sang "Unchained Melody," which is from the soundtrack of the movie “The Ghost."

After a delicious lunch prepared by the wonderful kitchen staff, everyone headed to the pools for some free time and relaxation after an intensive project.

In the closing ceremony that evening, everyone received a certificate of participation along with an Ambassador for Peace appointment. This was a nice surprise for everyone.

The last day there was sadness as people said goodbye to each other, for they had already became like a family. This was difficult especially for participants coming from the UK, who had developed a strong bond to some of the Albanians.

In conclusion, the project had many innovative components, including the participation of art students, a meeting with the wife of the Prime Minister, local government involvement, and presentations by Ambassadors for Peace. There were opportunities to explore nature and improvement the environment of a local school. A lot was accomplished in a few days. This was the first project of RYS in Albania, and we hope that the next one will surpass its achievements.

REFLECTIONS FROM PARTICIPANTS

Marsel Hoxhaj (26, Albania)

22.08.2012—Planting trees was the best part of the day. Work gives a lot of joy and creates harmony among people. All were seriously involved, and this impressed me.

23.08.2012—This was so far the best day. In the morning we had the chance to meet Mrs. Berisha, who spoke about the importance of assisting those in need and took us one a tour of the center for autism. The visit to Pellumbas Cave was my first time for me to see a real cave. This day will remain in my mind for a long time.

24.08.2012—The afternoon was challenging. We had to paint a wall of a school. God knows how stressful it was to paint that surface with a roller (it was not level). Overcoming all difficulties we were victorious as always.

25.08.2012—Each day is becoming more beautiful than the other, with exercises, games, and meeting VIPs; today we had a gentlemen speaking on Islam. In the afternoon, we were at the pool. We had done almost everything through this week; only the pool was missing. While I am writing I am listening to the reflections from the participants: Sokol, professor Kastriot, Ina, and others. When they speak they radiate joy, strength, and happiness; they are truly children of our Heavenly Father with special gifts. Simply special. Certainly these are among my best memories.

Albert Mecini (24, Kosovo)

21.08.2012—Today was the beginning of a family gathering, which days may be countable physically but will leave behind a unity feeling in our hearts and souls that will remain there for the years to come. The speeches from the Ambassadors for Peace were a spark to flame our imagination on the possibility of the coexistence of many religions under one umbrella, that of belief in one God. Origami was a fantastic idea involving us in a mentally stretching work but through which we could learn something from the oriental culture.

22.08.2012—Planting trees does not require special scientific knowledge but it does require a spirit, softness and a vision for the future. It is difficult to find a better combination than Albanian and foreign students working together to leave a mark on the Albanian capital. This mark is not just a static object without life. It is plants that will grow as we get older. Through this activity we came to know each other better and overcame even the smallest barriers among us.

24.08.2012—The roundtable with lecturers and experts on family issues enriched our knowledge on the concept, the issues and problems involved with that. We had the chance to express our opinion which gave a new dimension to the discussion. It became less academic and more open and friendly.

The service work at the school gave the chance to each one to express his talent and the inside was uncovered on the outside of the wall surface giving a greater light than that of the sun to the school yard.

Ina Morinaj (20, Shkodër, Albania)

21.08.2012—Today was good. In the morning we took a turn cleaning the dining room, which gave us a chance to talk on cooking, on food preferences, etc. I am happy and sure that in the coming days I will enjoy it even more with everyone here and I will learn a lot on them.

22.08.2012—This was the best day so far. Everyone was working, everyone was helping each other. I experienced a level of cooperation beyond my expectations. We planted 30 trees, which I think is a big contribution for Tirana. The evening was great as we sang and danced hip hop with Shane and Patricia that shocked me with their talent. Latter on Shane showed me some wonhwado moves. I am eagerly waiting for next day to experience amazing moments that I will write in my diary and engrave in my heart.

24.08.2012—Today I felt very sad after Shane and Kwame departed. I was moved by the letter that Kwame gave to me through which I understood that she felt good in my company. I am so much befriended by this people that I already know how sad will I be after all of this will end in two days.

25.08.2012—I can say that this was a fantastic ending of the project. In the evening I received the certificate as Ambassador for Peace. It made me truly happy. I cannot find words to describe this day. It was the best. I will feel sad without these people that made me feel at home. A big adorable family. Thank you Heavenly Father!

Marsel Rupi (20, Albania)

22.08.2012— waking up at 7 was something normal to me. After the planting of trees we were exhausted, but that was the best part as we would not feel joy if we had not felt tired. I think this was the first time when we could relate to each other beyond mere respect. Latter on we played volleyball till late in the evening.

24.08.2012— Among the things I enjoyed most in this project it was order and organisation; not imposed but based on a common agreement. We were very moved at the moment two of our friends had to leave for their homeland. I was so strongly related to them that when I saw them departing I felt like my own self was leaving.

25.08.2012—Today was the last day and as the previous ones it began with surprises. In the evening we had the closing ceremony when beside the participation certificate we are appointed Ambassadors for Peace. This is a great honor to all of us, and I am not sure if I deserve it. Departing is always difficult, but it’s even more difficult when you separate from family members… I am closing my reflection with a sincere THANK YOU for holding such an amazing project.

MAOOME JOHNSON (17, UK)The schedule was great! Everything was varied, so there were lectures and practical things to do throughout the 6 days, it was well organized form what I thought and I'm glad they gave us lots of free time, it helped me connect with the Albanian people more. I love how they were so lively and friendly. I'm really glad I got the opportunity to go to the RYS project, I would recommend it to others for sure! It was such a great experience, and the people who organized it was wonderful I hardly met anyone that I couldn't get along with. By the end of the RYS project I felt really sad that everyone was leaving, but I realized that I'm feeling sad because that had a huge impact on me and I hope I could have had a positive impact on them too, I hope to go back to Albania soon! and maybe attend another RYS project if another runs there!

The best experience was probably to the service work, not only did it give me a chance to give something to the community, it helped me strengthen and create bonds with the Albanians, I'm talking to one now this second and I'm glad we could have stayed in touch with some of them. I know I'm talking about making bonds with Albanians but when you’re in a different country and you don't know the language and the people at a workshop outweigh your friends, it’s important to feel comfortable around them, which I did.

NICHOLAS JONES (19, UK)When my team arrived from Korca we immediately had a good feeling about the RYS Workshop. When we found out it was the first of its kind in Albania, we wanted even more to contribute to making it a success. We were the only participants from a foreign country, and this made us nervous but we were very moved by how freely and warmly we were welcomed by the Albanian participants. We discovered a very wonderful culture of openness kindness that we will cherish forever. The project was a great opportunity to do hands-on work to help the country and unite as youth of different races, nationalities, and faiths. Although the experience was only a short six days, we felt truly like we had found new brothers and sisters in Albania and we look forward to continuing to strengthen these bonds and do in the future more to help such a wonderful country.

LOUISE FICHER (16, UK)

When I arrived at the centre in Tirana I had a good feeling that I would enjoy the workshop and really feel at home, which was correct. On the first day, when all the other participants from the art school began to arrive it felt really strange because they were all unfamiliar faces and they seemed to be staring at the English team quite a lot, which made me quite uncomfortable. However, this improved over the course of the second day, when we were assigned to mixed teams and everybody got to know each other much better through the service work.

I enjoyed the service work the most because it felt as though I was directly helping the community and service projects were what I was mainly expecting to do. I really enjoyed planting the trees and painting the school.

I also enjoyed many of the other activities which brought us all together: climbing the mountain to reach the cave, swimming in the pool on the last day, and generally getting to know each other through volleyball, basketball and free time.

Overall, I loved the workshop so much! And I would love to come back next year or the future to participate in another RYS workshop. The people were very friendly (like my brothers and sisters) and they made me love Albania even more than I already did. Thank you so much for making it all happen and making the English team feel so welcomed and loved, I hope we can come back again soon!

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