My EVS project in Albania: first impressions

European Voluntary Service

EVS Albania

Shane Owens recently embarked on an EVS adventure in Albania. He’s participating in a project with Projekte Vullnetare Nderkombetare (VSI’s counterpart) in Albania, raising awareness in human rights and equality among young people and students.

Even though it only started six weeks ago, my EVS has already been a life-changing experience. Since arriving in Tirana early in the New Year my perspective on life itself has changed drastically. Life here in Albania is very different than what I’m used to, being from Ireland. While the people are friendly, the food incredible, and the scenery breathtaking, Albania is still one of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in Europe, and as a result life here is tough, but if you are with the right people you can be happy and flourish. This is how I have felt since I was introduced to the people of PVN, my hosting organisation. With PVN you will always be made feel welcome, and will be supported in whatever you choose to do. You will be encouraged to come up with and introduce new ideas into the human rights workshops that we deliver to schoolchildren, giving you the opportunity to let your creativity shine. And while it may not seem like it at the beginning, you are making a real difference in the lives of the kids, many of whom come from very difficult backgrounds. People in general are delighted to meet someone from outside Albania and will often be interested to hear stories about your life at home. In this way, you will also contribute to fostering tolerance and respect for other cultures.

As with any move to a new country, you should be prepared for culture shock. You will have constant support from PVN but some aspects of the culture can be especially challenging. For one, Albania is still a predominantly patriarchal and conservative society and women do not yet have anything near the level of rights considered the norm in most Western societies. LGBT rights are also lacking and although they have improved significantly in recent years, people’s attitudes are still very much dismissive and all too often openly hostile towards LGBT people. Society is heading in the right direction however. I have had many conversations with people since I arrived and they are all agreed that things have improved very quickly for women and minorities, particularly in the last ten years. PVN has been at the forefront of efforts to achieve progress in society in Albania and I am proud to have the opportunity to contribute to their efforts. Of course, many aspects of Albanian culture are also very admirable. Albanian hospitality is second to none. The language is beautiful. And Albanian parties will have you realise how lacking Irish parties are, especially when people start to dance in the traditional Albanian way!

You will not spend your entire time in Albania either. You will have plenty of time to visit the neighbouring countries and see the diversity and beauty of the wider Balkans. You will have the opportunity to attend EVS trainings in Sarajevo or Belgrade if you choose to do a long-term EVS programme, giving you the opportunity to meet other volunteers active in the region and build a list of contacts who you can visit during the rest of your EVS. I was also fortunate enough to be able to attend a training seminar with Service Civil International (SCI) in Zurich, Switzerland for one week. My week in Switzerland gave me the opportunity to meet other volunteers from all over Europe, many of whom I can safely say I will keep in touch with. That is the goal of EVS and SCI in a nutshell: to bring people from different backgrounds together to cooperate, become friends, and break down barriers together.

I am only a short way into my EVS, but can already say that it has been one of the best decisions I have made. To be able to spend an entire year contributing to such a cause is incredible. I still cannot believe that such an opportunity exists and yet here I am. I have learned so much about myself and the world since I arrived in Albania, and already have so many happy memories. I don’t doubt for a second that the best is yet to come and I cannot wait to learn more about this incredible country and it’s people.