From Ireland to Albania
Long term volunteering
Written by Louise Mac Elwain from Ireland
I have recently returned from my long-term voluntary experience in Tirana, Albania with Projekte Vullnetare Ndërkombëtare (PVN). PVN is involved in numerous international and national trainings that deal with different social causes such as intercultural dialogue, prejudice, non-violent communication, environmental issues and more. Alongside this they work with a social centre for street children in the capital and run educational projects in secondary schools based on human rights topics.
During my time as a volunteer in Albania and I had the opportunity to participate and help with trainings hosted by PVN and meet young people from different countries, backgrounds and all walks of life. PVN spreads the word about the beauty of cultural diversity and this is definitely something I have experienced during my voluntary service. I learnt a vast amount about different human rights topics and how to convey these to others through non-formal education techniques. We developed our own workshops, implementing and leading these workshops was a wonderful experience.
The social centre opens for street children from the Roma and Egyptian community from Monday to Friday. There are different numbers of children at each time during the day as some now attend school with the support of the centre. Although difficult at times, it was wonderful to work with these children. They were always excited to see us coming and we always left exhausted but happy. It was fun to come up with new games to play, arts and crafts, new recipes to cook or themed parties for different holidays.
We also ran a programme in the secondary schools to teach the students about environmental issues. It was amazing to see these teenagers every week and the enthusiasm they had for the topic. They even started creating their recycled products and bringing them to class to show us. It was really heart-warming to see how engaged the students were and to see them running to the gates to greet us when we arrived.
Overall, the most interesting topic for me during my long-term voluntary experience was the topic of reconciliation. Many of PVN’s projects were based on reconciliation in the Balkan region which is a region which has been divided by a bloody past. International trainings and youth exchanges which allowed young people to come together and discuss their stereotypes and prejudice really inspired me. I could see how big of an impact this had on these young people and how much power it had to stop division and hate. PVN is a branch of Service Civil International, in the 1970s both SCI branches in Ireland, VSI in the Republic and IVS in Northern Ireland, worked on the border region of Ireland, during the Troubles, organising peace actions and breaking down prejudice by organising work camps where young people from Protestant and Catholic backgrounds could come together to build friendships. Coming from the border region myself it was exciting to learn I was witnessing reconciliation projects in the Balkans that were similar to those in the 1970’s. It is an indescribable feeling to be part of something so global but also so long established.
Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic I had to cut my service short, but I hope to return soon to say a proper goodbye to the amazing young people I was afforded the opportunity to work with and the incredible friends I met along the way. I’m so grateful to PVN for one of the most wonderful and lifechanging years of my life, earthquakes and pandemics aside ?