O nás Pro dárce Pro dobrovolníky Kosovský deník Fotogalerie Odkazy
Tirana Diary 9 July 1999

Tirana 9 July 1999

I was just enjoying my morning coffee, when a gentleman came up to me, together with a couple of students and introduced himself to me as professor so and so, head of the social department of the university of Tirana. He explained to me that he had heard a lot about our organisation and that he was hoping that his students could work for us this summer. If somebody comes to you that early, it was just 8.00 o´clock and I was in the middle of planning all the sunflower activities for the next few days, you are not able to react immediately. So I asked what he had heard and what his students could do. He said that we were one of the last remaining organisations working in refugee camps, that he had heard from UNICEF and that he prepared his students for that kind of work. Then I started to explain that the reason that we are one of the only organisations still working here is that we are working in probably the only remaining refugee camps in the country. I could see from his eyes that he was surprised. He said that that wasn't possible, two weeks ago he was down in Vlora and he'd seen that almost all the camps were still full and that it is not possible that they are all empty now. He knew that a lot of refugees had left the country, but couldn't imagine that that also means that refugee camps are becoming empty.

I noticed by the way that he wasn't the only Albanian who still hadn't noticed that the situation has changed a lot in the last two weeks. Another organisation phoned me this morning with the same message, now the university is over and the students are ready to do voluntary work in refugee camps. And within two weeks they could send the first group of volunteers. When I said that it is very unlikely that there will be any camps left in two weeks time they were also more or less surprised. Later I asked the Albanians working at our office if they knew that most refugees have returned home and they said that it has been in the newspapers. And then I asked if they knew that most camps were empty and then they reacted that that wasn't in the newspapers or on television. So they hadn't realised that. They had to admit that they simply hadn't thought about it. Now that I told them they understood that it was logical, but they had never ever thought about it.

Mines and UXO (Unexploded Ordnance) in Kosov@, that´s what everybody talks about. And that´s where most of the attention is going to. Already different demining teams have landed, more than I have ever seen together in Croatia or Bosnia. They are coming from basically all over the world. It is clear that the NATO presence in this war has made it the major story, the major thing everybody wants to be a part of. Sometimes you have the feeling that all the mistakes, all the waiting, all the non-reactions of the last eight years in the former Yugoslavia, or even ten years if you're talking about Kosov@, now have to be made up with by an overkill of help and attention, or rather attention, it is not always help.

Anyway, maybe due to all these teams on the ground and the big mine-awareness campaign of the last two weeks, it can be said, and that may sound rather strange, that the amount of killed and injured people has been relatively low untill now, considering the huge and sudden return of people. It is estimated that not more than 30 people died so far in mine accidents and about 76 or so were wounded by it. Again it may sound high to you, but seen in comparison with the Bosnian war for example, or other wars where mines were used, it is low in relation to the people in the area.

But things are different in Albania, since also in Albania there are mines and uxo from this war. Especially in the northern part (you also can find uxo in the rest of the country, but that is from the civil war in 1996), the Yugoslav army has been laying minefields some kilometers in Albania, that sounds a bit strange, but up there are mountains and the borders are not so strict. And almost 120 hectare of land have been declared UXO polluted, basically cluster bombs from NATO, fighting the Jugoslav troops there. But also incoming shells from Kosov@.

The NATO troops are responsible for the NATO uxos and the Albanian army for the rest, but it is not going as fast as planned, due to the fact that the leader of the bombsquad of the Albanians has been in an accident himself last week. He lost a leg and an eye. Which doesn't particularly make the work easier. Therefore UNICEF is trying to include mine-awareness especially in the north of the country as a standard part of the education. But the big question is if that will help, since especially in the north more and more children are not following regular education anymore.

Staying in Albania. Almost all refugees from Kosov@ have left Albania and so have almost all the NGO's who were here to help, leaving Albania behind the way they found it when they arrived or even worse. Being the poorest country of Europe, with the highest umeployment rate, an eroding school system (every year fewer children go to school and fewer teachers want to teach), a hopeless infrastructure, a high criminality, a legal authority without influence, with arms spread out into every single household and devastated by civil war and total economical collapse. With other words help is needed in Albania, maybe needed here even more than in Kosov@, although you can't compare those two.

Children and youth in Albania are growing up in emergency conditions, and are in a way as traumatised as children from a war zone. Being an average civilian of Albania is almost like living in a refugee camp, the living and housing conditions, apart from the center of Tirana, are not that brilliant. Therefore some NGO's have decided to stay behind, at least with a part of their programme, one of those being the Balkan Sunflowers. On many occassions it had been shown that the presence of foreigners and the contacts of local people with people from abroad has a kind of normalising effect on the situation. Most NGOs can help with money, but not with human resources, we can, if we want, help with human resources.

Together with IRC (International Rescue Committee) and CRS (Catholic Relief Service), supported by UNICEF, we are involved in the planning of summercamps for remaining Kosovar refugee and local Albanian children and youth. These camps will start by the end of July and last till the beginning of September. These camps will take place in Elbassan, Shkodra, Tirana and Durres. In these summercamps, which will mostly be day camps, children will come there in the morning and leave in the evening (but will maybe even stay there the whole time) - all kind of events and activities will be organised.

At this moment we are in the middle of the planning. If volunteers are out there who have been planning such kind of activities, like summercamps for boyscouts or other children and youth groups, we would be delighted if they could come as soon as possible and join this planning stage. Also for the participation in those summercamps we are looking for 30 to 40 volunteers who have some of this type of experience. It would be very helpful, since although Albania had a long tradition of summercamps for children under communism this has totally collapsed in the last eight years. And basically new ideas and new types of activities are badly needed.

For the rest we are looking for volunteers who are willing to stay in Albania and help here instead of going to Kosov@. I know that it is far more appealing to go into Kosov@, I noticed that again and again the last days, in the beginning everybody wanted to go to Kukes, now of course people want to go to Kosov@, that's where the eyes of the world are. Most likely I will never go there since so many volunteers would like to go there that I have to stay behind to safeguard the house. Tonight I will do my speech again about adventure holidays and helping there were it is needed and not there where you only get in people's way, as all NGO's like to be at the same time at the same place.

Again I'd like to stress that help in Albania, not only for Kosovar refugees, but also for the Albanians is badly needed. If I'd be a bit sarcastic I could say that when needed we can organise a small local crisis, like a kind of small civil war, if only that would help to attract a bit more attention to Albania. In principle you can say that such a thing is already going on I don't know any country but Albania where it is almost normal to hear gunshots every night.

The whole planning of this proposed summercamps started some days ago with some brainstorming sessions and today we had a nice talk at IRC and I knew that CRS was also in the midst of planning something, so we tried to put two and two together. After the meeting I went back to our house and just at that moment the new programme officer from UNICEF phoned, also a former SuncoKret volunteer, and asked if we, Balkan Sunflowers had plans to do summercamps in Albania. I told him that I just came from IRC and we had discussed something like that. So he asked if it was possible for me to write a fund application as soon as possible, or more simply just even a short note what we think we need, like tents, playmaterial, paper, etc. And that rather today and not at the end of next week. They basically are cleaning up their warehouses in Tirana and want to get everything out as soon as possible. Everything that is not needed in Albania will be shipped away.

I was just in the middle of writing this proposal on my balcony when within 10 minutes the weather changed completely, one moment I could still see the mountains and the next I could only see a dark black sky and the next moment only dust and everywhere I could hear smashing doors and in some houses next door breaking glass, and then water, water, water. The one day yesterday we all nearly got a stroke from the heat. Today we were nearly washed away. It is like with a lot of things, it is as if there are no average things in this country, only extremes.

After the rain was over I went back to IRC to work with their two local social workers on the plans for the summercamps. It wasn't that easy since, I hate to say it, the step from idea, plan and dream to planning it in reality is not always the easiest thing to get on its way in this country. Partly because people kept themselves alive by dreams in the past and there was no way to realise them. In a way the dream of making money through the pyramids was something like that. Somebody from New York asked me today for example what I would say if I had to compare Zagreb and Tirana. My answer was that comparing Zagreb and Tirana is like comparing New York and Zagreb, seen from here Zagreb is like New York. The difference in socialism in Yugoslavia compared to Albania is so big, that trying to get them under one label is useless. It was two totally different worlds, Hoxha and Tito were totally different types of leaders. The way Hoxha ruled is so different, where Tito governed in cooperation with the world, Hoxha led his country in total isolation. And that of course has its influence on even the smallest part of society. Just for that reason it is so important to get all this in a wider perspective and involve people from all over the world into it, it will maybe break the isolation, which in many ways still is in place.

wam :-)