This past week I traveled to Erseke in southern Albania with 5 students from Lezhe to take part in Outdoor Ambassadors’ summer camp 2011. We as the OA committee (I serve as the secretary) worked for several months to plan and organize the 5-day camp that included 60 students from OA clubs in 13 cities across Albania. Libby, the camp coordinator, did an amazing job at figuring out a schedule and getting everything together at the last minute. In my other OA role as a club leader in Lezhe, I spent an inordinate amount of time talking with students and their parents making sure that they would trust me to take their kids 9 hours away from home for a week. The idea of summer camp is relatively new here in Albania, which meant that just getting the students to be able to come was almost more work than the camp itself!
When we finally arrived, the camp was an refreshing break from work in Lezhe. Most of the students spoke great English so I felt spoiled by not having to work at speaking Albanian all week. I led nature hikes and a project design session where students shared ideas and started planning for environmental community projects at their home sites. But, I also got to join in the fun and play frisbee, watch the recyled materials fashion show, tie dye, make paper, do the high ropes course, spend time with some of my best PCV friends here and generally enjoy being outside in beautiful Erseke.
The most rewarding/exhausting activities happened on the last two days of camp. First, on Thursday night, I was assigned to help out with the second overnight hike. We took half the students to a beautiful spot about an hour away from camp and hung out for the afternoon and evening. We explored nearby bunkers, played American football with a stuffsack stuffed with a t-shirt and the students all sang Albanian songs and danced and told jokes around the campfire. The stars were unbelievable and the weather clear and cool. Most of the students had never camped out before, and it was great to see them setting up tents, learning about camping ettiquete and having a wonderful time together outside. That is, until they wouldn’t go to sleep and kept singing and shouting well into the morning hours.
The next morning, bleary eyed and needing coffee, I helped the whole camp complete a community project within the city of Erseke. We spent two hours painting four dumpsters in teams and it was incredible. The only requirement for each team was that their dumpster had to include an environmental message of some sort. At first the students had no idea what to paint and were really worried about getting it “right.” But then, once they started, the ideas kept flowing and they really got into it. As people passed on the street they asked us questions about what we were doing, who we were, why we cared so much about their city, etc. It was fantastic. At the end of the painting process the mayor of Erseke and a representative from PC staff came around to “judge” the competition. It was wonderful to see the students be really proud about what they had accomplished in such a short time. And, all our planning and lobbying for this activity with the city as PCVs paid off in a big way. Afterwards almost all the students were excitedly talking about doing something similar in their hometowns of Pogradec, in Kukes, Burrel, etc.
I came away from the community project and the whole week feeling like I had helped make something meaningful here, which doesn’t happen very often. I think it’s the idealist in me, but inspiring students to take ownership and responsibility for their home environment is something I really enjoy. I felt it when I was teaching architecture at Explo, and it’s definitely a big part of my work with OA in Albania. Feeling their energy and desire to make a change was a nice break from being at the Bashkia with the grown ups….where most people still don’t know what I am doing here.
More photos on the photo page!