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I’ve hit my two-weeks-left-in-Lezhe mark and there is so much to be done, that life seems a little crazy.

Packing for a two month trip, contemplating moving, searching for a job, saying goodbye to friends and colleagues, giving words of wisdom and showing around new trainees, and cleaning up and organizing my house are all on my to do list. Despite it all, it feels great to be busy. I’m also having great success finishing up two other projects – a tourist map for Lezhe and a needs assessment document that I’ve been writing with six other community development PCVs that we presented last week to USAID and the national Association of Municipalities. I’m glad to have work to do right to the end.

In other news, I’ve decided to continue with this blog during my travels after Peace Corps, so stay tuned throughout the summer for updates!

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Today my six-month USAID Small Projects Assistance grant project came to an end with a grand celebration of reading, books, and community.

After purchasing needed books back in December with grant funds, I worked with Yllka and the library staff to implement the second phase of our project, a month-long book drive that ended today. All in all, we collected over 1,000 new and used books for the library, an outpouring that is amazing for the first book drive ever in the Lezhe community. Each book donated was given a stamp, specific to the project, with a place for the donator to sign their name.

Today, at the celebratory event, we had all the books on display. The library staff prepared a small program including a poem recitation, a musical interlude, the first showing of a brief documentary about the library’s programs (produced by the Bashkia), and a presentation by myself and my country director who came out from Tirana for the day. It was wonderful to see almost everyone I know in Lezhe in one room – Bashkia staff, school directors, students, friends – gathered together in support of this project that my counterpart and I have worked so hard on for so long. And, the soft-spoken yet eloquent Gjergj Shyti (library director) specifically made mention in his remarks of the fact that I was leaving soon and wished me luck with all future endeavors….and then everyone clapped. It was a memorable, fun and heartwarming end to one of my most successful projects during my time as a PCV.

Lori, one of my Outdoor Ambassadors students who also recited a poem at the event, came up to me afterwards and said “you know Laura, a lot of people will miss you when you leave.” I’ve been so fortunate to be part of such a vibrant community here in Lezhe…and I’m going to miss these people a lot, too.

This Sunday several PCVs are partnering with Green Line Albania to organize a flash mob in Tirana to both honor Earth Day and publicize the Green Line “clean up Albania in one day” event on May 9th. Should be the first flash mob of its kind in Albania and a lot of people will be there – Outdoor Ambassadors group members, PCVs from all groups, PC staff, and students from local high schools and universities all celebrating Earth Day together.

I’m trying to learn the dance this week…it’s proving to be a fun but silly adventure – me dancing in my living room alone, having a great time making the neighbors wonder.

This poster I designed advertising the culminating celebration event of my current USAID funded project is at the printer this weekend and we’re getting ready to launch our book drive in late March. Thanks to all who have helped make this project a success thus far!

Muaj i hapur per librin = Open month of books (the one month book drive)

This weekend I am in Elbasan with 40 students and about 16 PCVs from all over the country at the Outdoor Ambassadors Youth Leadership Conference. Despite heavy snows all over the country (even in Elbasan last night!), we all arrived safely and are immersed in the thick of project idea brainstorming, team-building exercises….and a bit of fun, too! We had to cancel the nature hike, but a riveting game of jeopardy with questions from the “worst case scenario” survival book was a great ice-breaker.

It’s still amazing to me to be involved in an organization that can bring people together from every corner of the country towards a common goal. I love seeing the students interact and feed off of each other’s energy. The two students I brought with me from the club I lead in Lezhe are so confident and independent…even in comparison to when we traveled together to the summer camp last June. Seeing this is inspiring for me in my frustrated-with-the-bashkia winter slump, and I am so proud of how far they’ve come.

Right now we’re working on developing goals and objectives for community projects, and we’re reassessing their film night project to try and see what steps they can change/implement to create a successful, effective project to promote volunteerism and care for the environment in Lezhe. It’s nice to let them develop the ideas themselves….and get feedback from their peers in other cities.

A big thank you again to all who contributed to the Peace Corps Partnership grant that helped fund this weekend conference. Two days may not be much, but for these high-school students it’s an inspiring experience of a lifetime. Oh, and it’s fun for me, too!

Just want to offer a big “Thank You” to all who contributed to the Outdoor Ambassadors Peace Corps Partnership grant on the Peace Corps website. We reached our goal this weekend, and are in the process of planning the training for early February.

In the meantime, I’m getting ready to have a small gathering at my house for Christmas and am trying to accomplish a few tourism-related projects before everyone in the office scatters over the holidays.

I hope you are all enjoying the season, wherever you may be!

About two weeks ago my counterpart Yllka and I learned that a grant proposal we submitted in early October for a project benefiting the local library was selected for funding. This is our second Small Projects Assistance (SPA) project funded through USAID/Peace Corps and its implementation should carry me through until my close of service in May. Yllka and I along with the library staff are all amazed at the number of people involved and committed to making this project a reality.

We designed the project both to encourage community involvement in the library and to support their purchase of books in Albanian that are in line with the curriculum and summer reading lists of the high school. The budget of the library is poor, and even though they have a nice building, they have been unable to purchase books for almost two years. Most of what exists in the collection remains from before the fall of communism and is in bad repair.

After the initial book purchase to supplement the library’s collection, the second phase of our project will kick in – a book drive in the Lezhe community for one month prior to April 23rd, 2012, World Book Day. Book drives are a relatively new thing for Albania, and, in general, Albanians own very few books. However, I’m optimistic that this project will be successful (with the right amount of promotion) in Lezhe. At the very least, it will be an opportunity to both promote the idea of giving back to your library and to increase volunteerism in the community – all while benefiting the public library and readership in Lezhe the city and the region. We have already identified several willing community partners to help organize the drive, and our hope is that the overall participants will include the general public as well as local schools, NGOs and churches.

Working to design this project with the library staff has been one of the more enjoyable work experiences I’ve had so far in country. They’re all fun to be around, and it’s refreshing to see people so dedicated to making their work environment a better place, even with such limited resources. Even outside the library, when Yllka and I went around town to speak with other NGOs and the schools about the project when we were applying, it was like going around and having coffees with all of my friends – I already had worked with most of the people involved. The small town-ness of Lezhe and my place within it is really coming out in all aspects of my life.

On my first day back at work last week, Yllka and I went to tell the Library staff that we had won the money. It was such a festive occasion – I’ve never seen a group of people more appreciative and eager to begin working on something….I just hope that all of our energy can hold through April!