Back in America and Feeling… Different

I have been in America for almost a full week now and am already beginning to notice how I have changed, within the context of American culture, since joining Peace Corps. Obviously there are many differences between the States and the countries that Peace Corps volunteers serve in, but sometimes it’s easy to forget about my previous life before Albania. Being back in America as one of the Blog It Home winners has been such a rewarding experience and I cannot wait to continue our third goal outreach once I return home. For those of you who are unaware, my blog was recently chosen as one of the eight winners out of over 350 volunteer blog submissions from across the world. It has been quite the honor to represent Albania and bring a bit of the culture I have grown to love so much back to America. So, without further adieu, here are some ways I have changed in the past year since starting my Peace Corps service:

Moving Slow

  • I have been walking around Washington D.C. the past few days at the pace of a snail. This is quite different in comparison to everyone else rushing around from work to the subway. I stare at everyday ordinary things in awe with a completely new perspective on what it means to shop at a Walgreens or walk on a sidewalk. In Albania, we xhiro and take our time getting from place to place. We are never in a rush and being late is usually just part of the program. Here the hustle and bustle is apparent and, honestly, somewhat overwhelming at first. Everyone is on their way to something important or in a hurry to get somewhere else. Personally, I have grown to love taking my time to go slow. Avash avash. I also feel a bit slower because I am confused on how many things work here. It’s amazing how quickly technology changes and all the different rules there are in America. Going through building security has been super confusing for me, especially at the White House. Simple things felt like they were taking me twice as long to complete. I now feel like I have a little taste of what it would feel like immigrating to the United States from another country, although that would, of course, be much more difficult.

Overwhelmed with Choices

  • There are so many different choices to make in America: what kind of deodorant you’d like to buy, which food truck you want to hit up for a quick lunch, where to have happy hour (I honestly forgot happy hour even existed), if you want chicken or beef on your burrito, etc, etc. Consumerism is a strange concept to me now, especially consumerism on such a mass level. If you think it’s difficult to make decisions amongst volunteers in host country about what the plans should be, imagine adding in 50 bijillion more options. Making a decision can be tricky process. But seriously, even making my own choices has been overwhelming, thus exacerbating the whole “moving slow” thing.

Speaking Shqiplish

  • My Shqip is at the level of a small child, at best, but I still like to throw Shqiplish (a unique mix of Albanian and English) into everyday conversation. Common phrases that I would use while speaking to my Albanian friends and other volunteers does not make sense to people that don’t understand a lick of the language. Ska problem or e kuptoj do not have relevance to most people that I interact with here. It’s led to several interactions with people that are, most definitely, somewhat confusing.

Personal Space

  • Immediately after getting off the 9.5 hour flight from Vienna to D.C. I was quickly reminded in how much Americans value personal space. Airport security crammed everyone from my flight into a tiny moving room to transport us all to another section of the airport. The room was very crowded, but security kept yelling and insisting that people move towards the back of the area. We could not pass on either side though because of strollers and other obstacles in the pathway. As I was standing in this incredibly crowded room an older women turned to me and said, “Miss, you can not be putting your backpack into our space like that.” My backpack invaded this woman’s personal bubble and, since she is American, she would make sure that I knew this was not okay. I quickly apologized and tried to maneuver myself out her vicinity so that my backpack would not hinder her experience any further. Another example of personal space happened while some of the other winners and I were out to lunch. We decided to stop at the food trucks near the Peace Corps office and then eat in a courtyard area nearby. All the tables were full, so we sat down on some stairs near some other girls. Not even a minute after we were seated the girls turned to each other and said, “Ugh, come on! Let’s move.” They moved across the courtyard and glared at us for taking their glorious lunch spot on the stairs. Whoops.

Appalled at Prices

  • Things in America are expensive, especially in our nation’s capital. In Albania I can get a great traditional meal for under 300 lek ($3). The same amount of money in America could maybe buy me a coffee, if I’m not drinking anything fancy, but even that is questionable. Pretty much every meal (including fast-food) is at least ten dollars, if not more. I still have am having a hard time paying five dollars for a drink during Happy Hour. What is that?! I could buy 10 shots of raki, or perhaps an entire bottle, for that kind of money.

Eavesdropping

  • I am not used to hearing people speak English ALL AROUND ME. It’s interesting to notice how often I tune out during my daily life in Albania. If I was constantly listening to everyone around me in Shqip I would have a never-ending headache. This is mostly because I am not fluent in the language, so I would be translating a lot in my head still. Being able to understand everything that is going on has been pretty exciting, but kind of distracting as well. I can’t help myself sometimes, but I am just so fascinated in listening to the kind of things that people are talking about here.

Craving Albanian Food

  • I spent a lot of time before my trip fantasizing about all the amazing food that I was going to eat back in the states. Burritos, sushi, fast-food, you name it – I wanted that in my belly. After being back for less than a few days I was already sick of eating all the high calorie gi-normous meals. Plus my stomach has not been too happy adjusting to the change in time zones and the change in diet. Where is the fasule at? Or the pilaf and sauce kosi? It’s funny because I have any sort of cuisine at the tip of my fingers, but really all I want is some rice from the friendly hole-in-the-wall restaurant right next to my work.

Alone Time

  • Since serving in the Peace Corps I have become used to spending a lot of time by myself. I go into work daily, but the workdays aren’t quite as long as the traditional 9-5 career that most people have in America. I have a lot of time in the afternoon to lesson plan, research, read, and do whatever I want. Having so much time was extremely daunting at first, especially since I sometimes have a hard time with managing time wisely (aka I like to spend hours surfing through various social media newsfeeds). I have really grown to love all of my downtime because I have found that I need time alone to recharge and to reflect. I enjoyed the jam-packed whirlwind of a week with Peace Corps, but it was also exhausting constantly being on the go without much time to relax alone.

Body Movements

  • Albanians integrate many different body movements into their regular conversations. Being immersed in the culture, I have also begun to have similar body movements and quirks during conversations. I think I am also used to using my hands and body to communicate because that is the easiest way to get my point across during confusing conversations. I find myself pantomiming stories about my day, shaking my finger back and forth to answer “no”, the opposite head-nod, and trying to wave down taxis in a similar manner to a furgon. The opposite head-nod and finger-wag are probably the most apparent during my conversations with Americans because people think that I disagree with their statements when I am shaking my head no, but really meaning yes. It is puzzling for those who don’t have that same experience abroad in Albania!

Talk about Albania

  • When I return back to America for good I will probably be pretty annoying the first couple months because I want to talk about Albania. And I want to talk about Albania and my service A LOT. Peace Corps Albania has been my life for the past year and a half, so most things that I have to say are related back in some way to my service. Peace Corps is not a normal job because I am “working” 24/7 and I’m always “on” in my community. Someone could say completely random and I would probably have a way to relate it back to Albania in some form. I think this is common for returned Peace Corps volunteers across the board.

Once I come back to America for good, I am going to be an interesting American, but definitely a more well-rounded American as well. I have loved spending this time back in the States, but I miss my community and can’t wait to get back to Albania with this new sense of appreciation for both my homes – Albania AND America. From now on, I will always be gjysma-shqiptare (half Albanian).

Hanging out near the National Mall in between visits with members of Senate on the hill.

Hanging out near the National Mall in between visits with members of Senate on the hill.

Trekking the Accursed Alps

I am a native Coloradoan—born and raised. I spent my entire life before Peace Corps living and growing up in the beautiful state of Colorado, so naturally I have an affinity for all things regarding nature. Luckily, I am serving in Albania, which is an gorgeous country. Albania has it all. Down in the south there are beautiful beaches which contend against some of the well renowned beaches in Greece, Italy, and Croatia and up in the north there are the majestic Albanian alps—also know as the “accursed” mountains. I will always be a mountain girl at heart, so traveling up north to hike these mountains intrigued me. This summer I was finally able to plan a weekend off to make the long journey to some of the most northern villages in Albania to hike the infamous Valbona/Thethi pass. Several other Peace Corps volunteers, our Albanian friend, and I set out early morning on Friday from Vau Dejes to take the ferry from Fierzë to Komani on Komani Lake. We all piled onto the ferry and sat on the roof of the boat. Throughout the three hour trip we took in the amazing views, caught up on each others lives, and began contemplating where we all will be in a year after our Close of Service (COS) conference. The boat ride, along with a private car ride from Vau Dejes cost us 850 lek (around $8.50). We were able to get some nice deals during our trip because the volunteer living up north has integrated and met many local connections in the area.

Lake Vau Dejes the evening before our journey.

Lake Vau Dejes the evening before our journey.

Heading out to the ferry.

Heading out to the ferry.

The view from the ferry on Komani Lake.

The view from the ferry on Komani Lake.

Catching up with old friends.

Catching up with old friends.

Hanging around on the top of the ferry.

Hanging around on the top of the ferry.

After finishing the boat ride, we all headed up to Bajram Curri for a quick bite to eat and to pick up another volunteer that wanted to make the trek with us. Once we finished, the furgon took us and some other tourists into Valbona and dropped us off to begin the next part of our journey. It began raining pretty heavily after we got out of the vehicle, but luckily I came prepared with a rain jacket and umbrella. The beginning of the trail is not marked well, but several of the volunteers had made the trip before and knew where to go. After walking for about an hour we made it to our first stop at a families’ home at the base of the mountain in a small village just outside of Valbona. We stopped there and pitched our tents for the night. The family had renovated part of their land as an area for backpackers to camp for the same fee of 500 lek ($5) per tent. They also offered beverages and home-cooked Albanian traditional cuisine. We were all pretty chilly from the wet walk over and ordered çaj mali, which is a herbal mountain tea that is popular and sold all over Albania. This particular çaj was, hands down, the BEST tea I have ever tasted. The rest of the evening we spent playing card games, messing around with the children of the house, and cooking hotdogs over the fire. The family was extremely hospitable, as per usual, and the man of the house helped us build a fire and even chopped down some trees on his property for us to use on the spot. Another volunteer and I ended the evening reading each other ghost stories from Creepy Pasta.

Directions to the pass.

Directions to the pass.

Pitching our tents.

Pitching our tents.

Starting the fire for our dinner night one.

Starting the fire for our dinner night one.

The first house we camped at.

The first house we camped at.

Fli is a traditional food in northern Albania.

Fli is a traditional food in northern Albania.

The next morning we got on the trail at 9:30am. It was a very misty morning outside of Valbona and we were unsure if we’d even be able to have much of a view during our hike at all. We continued for several hours in the mist and finally came upon a café on the side of the mountain with a nice fire ready to be enjoyed. Since we were wet, tired, and a bit out of shape, we took the opportunity to sit down and take a break with some more delicious çaj. At the café we talked with the owner, who spoke fluent English, and another man who was herding sheep nearby. We filled our water bottles at the stream next door and continued on our way up the mountain. We finally reached the top around 1:30pm, but sadly we unable to see the amazing views we had heard so much about because it was overcast and drizzling. At the summit it was particularly cold, so we continued back down the mountain to have lunch at a café on the other side of the pass. On the way down, the weather began to clear up and we saw some of the views that we missed on the other side of the peak. During our trip we took a lot of breaks and went at a slow pace. This hike is definitely not for the faint of heart. Towards the base of the mountain in Theth we found wild blackberries and ate them right off the bushes. They were absolutely delicious. I had not tasted a blackberry since leaving the states, so I was extra excited. It reminded me of picking raspberries in my Aunt’s neighbors’ backyard when I was a child. Once we reached Thethi, we went to a local home that has been renovated into a small guesthouse and café to pitch our tents for the evening. The family let us camp in their garden for free and made us a home-cooked meal. It was so nice to have a real meal after a strenuous day of hiking. The man of the house offered us all raki and the entire family was extremely hospitable and friendly—no surprise there. Albanians are some of the best people in the world. That evening I had a chat with the nice man before bed and he complimented me on my Shqip skills, which made me very happy because I am a bit rusty at the moment.

Outside our first stop on the way up the mountain.

Outside our first stop on the way up the mountain.

Warming up next to fire with some more caj mali.

Warming up next to fire with some more caj mali.

The sheep...

The sheep…

Are everywhere...

Are everywhere…

The group I hiked with.

The group I hiked with. And some more sheep…

About halfway up the mountain to the summit.

About halfway up the mountain to the summit.

We made it to the top!

We made it to the top!

It was such a majestic view... Mountains for miles...

It was such a majestic view… Mountains for miles…

One of the markers along the trail.

One of the markers along the trail.

Our lunch stop on the way down the mountain.

Our lunch stop on the way down the mountain.

Mmmmm, fresh blackberries.

Mmmmm, fresh blackberries.

The view from our campsite in Thethi.

The view from our campsite in Thethi.

More delicious tea.

More delicious tea.

Home cooked Albanian meal after the hike.

Home cooked Albanian meal after the hike.

The next morning we went on another short 3-hour hike to the northern blue eye. It was a beautiful morning and the sun was shining, which was a nice contrast to the previous day. Once we reached the blue eye, we sat down for another çaj break in a tree house café. On our way back towards Thethi it began raining, but a nice local man drove us back into town for a reduced price. It pays to know the local language! After that the owner of the guesthouse drove us back to Shkoder and we all went our separate ways back to our sites. It was a great experience finally hiking the accursed mountains and it definitely brought out the Colorado girl in me again. Everyday there is some new treasure just waiting in my own backyard here. I am so grateful for this beautiful place.

Relaxing at the blue eye with one of the owners of the cafe.

Relaxing at the blue eye with one of the owners of the cafe.

Syri i Kalter - The Blue Eye Absolutely breathtaking.

Syri i Kalter – The Blue Eye
Absolutely breathtaking.

I would recommend the Thethi-Valbona hike for anyone with a sense of adventure. The trail and local roads have been improved over the past several years, from what I hear, and it is absolutely stunning. There are opportunities to go with a guide or if you don’t mind roughing it you can try it on your own. You may not meet a lot of locals that speak the language, but miming always seems to do the trick. Overall the trip is inexpensive, unless you are on a volunteer budget like me (aka pak leke). Go to the accursed Alps! Explore, drink raki and çaj, eat homemade meals with an Albanian family, and meet some of the friendliest people in the Balkans.

Changes

Things in Albania are constantly changing, whether it is new businesses popping up around town or shifting directors at the schools because of a recent switch in political power. Sometimes as a foreigner, who speaks the language at the level of a small child, it can be hard to keep up. It seems as though for many of these changes, I am often last to know. It’s like every Albanian magically knows that the furgon station in our city moved for no apparent reason or that this cafe is now just 100 ft below it’s old location. Here are some of the some of the most obvious changes I have noticed in Albania over the past year:

Businesses

  • Like I mentioned businesses are constantly coming and going in this country. My daily walk to the Directory of Public Health (DShP) is about 10-15 minutes depending on how fast I decide to xhiro that day. One day a business will be a consignment shop, the next day it will be a dentist, and overnight it will change again into some other random business. There is a very high turnover rate for new businesses in this country.
  • Recently the municipality in my town closed all the businesses that were operating without a permit. Instead of just closing these buildings the city literally demolished these establishments. 37 buildings were completely torn down. In my opinion this seemed a bit drastic. I was confused why they didn’t just seize the building and sell it out to another business through the proper channels, but hey, I guess it made a statement.

Transportation

  • I have mentioned the crackdown on illegal furgons and transportation before in several of my posts. Now the government and the police force are making an effort to keep these illegal vehicles off the streets. Not having random vans picking up passengers on the side of the road has made getting transportation more difficult. It often takes longer to hail down a bus and then there is still a good chance that you may be standing until someone else gets off. It’s good though to get these illegal drivers off the roads and to enforce the rules. Now if only speed limits and other basic traffic laws were enforced…

The Workplace

  • When the socialist party took over control of the government last fall many changes were implemented in workplaces across the country. Most Peace Corps Albania volunteers are placed in the high school, the directory of public health or a health center, or the town hall municipality. We have English education volunteers, health education volunteers, and community development volunteers. All three sectors experienced changes in the workplace. This definitely caused some chaos and uncertainty during my group’s first year of service because many of our coworkers were unsure if they’d have their jobs in a month. Almost all of the director positions were reappointed with someone from the socialist party and many people lost their jobs. Often times the workplace titles were just switched around a bit too. The old director of the high school went back to being a normal teacher and another one of the former teachers was promoted up. At my workplace we received a new director who previously lived abroad in Canada and seems very open-minded. I was pretty happy when this change occurred because I never talked with the old director much. Our new head honcho enjoys practicing English with me over the occasional coffee and refers to me as his “other daughter”. Very sweet. Albanians overwhelming are extremely kind and hospitable people. When the director changed, my main counterpart became the head of family medicine and now no longer works for the health promotion unit, but she is still located within the same office. In the fall we are still going to try to reapply for the cervical cancer project even though her position inside the directory has changed. Now another doctor has been assigned to my unit, but I hardly ever see her in the office. It is quite common for people in my office to show up for a few hours in the morning for a Turkish coffee with the coworkers, then they may head off to a school to do a health promotion lesson or just go and do household errands instead. I’ve been working with people in the office to be more accountable for their actions during the workday.
  • Another change in my personal work situation is that another volunteer was recently placed in the town hall municipality. He has spent the entire summer integrating into the community and making connections with all sorts of people. He is going to be an essential partner and contact for my secondary project this year. I would like to open the first youth center in my site for students, Peace Corps volunteers, and their Albanian counterparts to use for extra-curricular activities such as Outdoor Ambassadors, GLOW: Girls Leading Our World, yoga, book club, Model UN, American Culture Watch club, and more! Having a reliable place to hold meetings will make it easier to begin more successful youth development projects for my community and Peace Corps volunteers in the future. Plus, the new ministry of education is pushing for more after school activities, which are basically non-existent right now unless a Peace Corps volunteer is running some in the community. The problem is finding the motivated teachers to devote extra time after school when they are not getting paid. And honestly sometimes finding motivated students can also be difficult. Many of the schools do not have running water or working restrooms, heat or air conditioning, and sometimes even electricity. The students and staff are also not provided lunch. By the end of the school day everyone is exhausted and wants to get home for one reason or another. Hopefully the youth center will allow us to have more flexibility in meeting times and dates to find times that work better for everyone.

Aesthetics

  • Things are changing. Roads are being re-paved and re-painted with traffic lines and parking spaces. I was beyond excited for the first paved parking lot with proper spaces that was made in our city over the summer. Why? Not totally sure. But it’s progress, and progress (no matter how insignificant it may seem) is a step forward in the right direction. Guard rails on the highway are being put in to help make the roadways more safe. And finally the entire center of my city (and many other cities in Albania) is being completely remodeled. The whole center of my city has been torn apart. First the trees were removed, then the sidewalks, then the roads and all the buildings. The city has a beautiful plan to make a nice xhiro area with a fountain in the center. The project is projected to be down within the next year or two. I really hope that it will be close to finished before my Close of Service (COS).
  • Several of the cafes that women frequent have also been recently upgraded in my city. This is nice for us ladies who like to go out and get a coffee with our other female friends!

I appreciate all the changes that have come with the new government in power. I hope that with these changes Albania is better equipped to begin combating corruption and the post-communism mentality that leaves many people feeling hopeless for the future. Change is beginning to happen all around us and if we begin to make little changes in our own behavior and our own lives, then things will slower begin to develop under the surface. Changing the exterior is nice, but working towards a better interior is what is really going to help push this country in the right direction.

The entire center of my town has been demolished.

The entire center of my town has been demolished. Also, I was reppin’ Colorado State University the night of the Rocky Mountain Showdown vs Colorado University, which we won! Probably because I was wearing my CSU gear in Albania. :)

The first phase of tearing apart the road.

The first phase of tearing apart the road.

Not exactly the safest area to be walking around in.

Not exactly the safest area to be walking around in.

My neighbors decided to only paint a portion of our apartment complex to give that "new home" atmosphere.

My neighbors decided to only paint a portion of our apartment complex to give it that “new home” atmosphere.

Blog It Homework

As many of you all might know, I was chosen to represent Albania at the Blog it Home conference in Washingon DC! Over 350 bloggers entered into the contest and it was narrowed down to eight winning blogs over several rounds of deliberation. My blog was chosen because my blog represents a good example of Peace Corps goal 3, which is “to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans”.

During my week in DC, I will be giving cross-cultural presentations about Albania to youth and professionals back home. In order to represent Albania the best, I have been talking with my coworkers, friends, and neighbors to get a better, more well-rounded perspective. I could still use your help though! I know that I have many Albanian readers and below I have listed several questions that I feel your perspective would help give my presentation that extra oomph. Please feel free to answer any of the questions or none at all.

  1. If you could tell Americans anything about Albania, what would it be?
  2. What are you most proud of about Albania?
  3. What would you like to see change in Albania in the next 10 years?
  4. How has Albania changed in the past 10 years?
  5. Do you have any traditional clothes, artifacts, dolls, games, etc that I could borrow as presentation aids? I would return them promptly upon my return back in Albania.
  6. Anything else you’d like to mention about Albanian culture, language, best places to visit, etc?

Thanks so much for your help and I sincerely appreciate any feedback you have for me! I can’t wait to represent Albania and share a piece of this special place.

Outdoor Ambassadors “Go Green” National Summer Camp

This summer I have managed to stay extremely busy, which has been drastically different from my experiences during my first summer in country. All that intentional relationship building (IRBing) and networking has finally begun to pay off! I have been working on several different projects this summer, but my main project (and definitely the biggest and most time consuming project) was planning and coordinating the national Outdoor Ambassadors summer camp for 80 participants across the country. This camp required months and months (nine months to be exact) of planning and careful preparation. Sometimes throughout the process I wanted to bang my head against the wall because of the random obstacles that would arise or because of the sheer amount of time it required, but in the end all the tears, sweat, and hard work I put in ended up paying off with an amazing camp! I couldn’t have coordinated this awesome event without the help of the rest of the Outdoor Ambassadors committee, especially our treasurer Luke who created the budget, my shadow Kelsey who was my right-hand woman and emotional support, our president Masha who helped keep me on track with all the details, and the materials coordinator Quinn who documented the entire camp and created all the media surrounding the event. The camp also wouldn’t have run properly without the help of the amazing Peace Corps volunteers and Albanian counselors who helped run activities and games, plan informative group lessons, and give camp the energy and pizzazz needed to sustain a week full of fun! This project has been my greatest success as a volunteer thus far and it felt good to implement something on such a large scale. Since it was such an accomplishment I wrote this “success story” for our Peace Corps Albania Facebook page which goes more in depth about the project. Please check out the Outdoor Ambassadors Facebook page and our website (which is currently under construction) for more information about our cause and to view more photos from the event!

On August 15-19, 2014, the American Albanian Development Foundation (AADF) in collaboration with Outdoor Ambassadors and Peace Corps volunteers held a five-day environmental leadership summer camp in Ishull Lezhe. Sixty students from fourteen communities across the country participated (Bajram Curri, Burrel, Corovode, Fier, Kavaje, Kucove, Leskovik, Lezhe, Librazhd, Pogradec, Prrenjas, Saranda, Shkoder, and Vlore). The summer camp focused on fostering leadership skills amongst the youth in Albania. At this years camp, the theme was “Go Green” and throughout the week campers were asked various “go green” trivia questions to check their knowledge about different ways that they can reduce, reuse, and recycle in Albania. Campers engaged in activities such as archery, rock climbing, song-writing, swimming, yoga, and more, all while developing a sense of environmental consciousness and leadership skills.

Prior to camp, each Outdoor Ambassadors’ group raised 5000 lek (fifty dollars) or more in their communities to help fund the camp. To raise money some clubs held local summer day camps for children, while other clubs held community events to raise money and awareness for the event. The clubs raised over $800 total locally in their communities! Along with raising money, the clubs collected over twenty kilograms of bottle caps for the camp community project. Many clubs helped pick up bottle caps from the local beaches, while others reached out to businesses to ask for help with the cause.

The camp was high-energy and full of activities throughout the week. Each day the students had the opportunity to swim, rock climb, and participate in archery and yoga​ . The campers were divided into eight groups and rotated through activities with their groups. The groups playfully competed against each other during the week through different activities, challenges, and with the go green trivia.

The arrival day consisted of ice-breakers and group games led by Albanian counselors and Peace Corps volunteers. There was also a brief Training of Trainers for the staff that had not participated in the camp setting as a counselor before. ​Along with these activities, groups also competed against each other in relay races.

The first activity day of camp, campers participated in song-writing lessons, recycled arts and crafts, an ecosystems lesson, soccer, a self-esteem and meditation lesson, and an amazing group scavenger hunt in which students had to work together as a team. For the scavenger hunt each team used compass and navigation skills to find group challenges in different areas around the camp. The campers especially enjoyed the song-writing activity because they were able to take popular songs and rewrite the lyrics with an environmental “go green” element.

On the second activity day campers went on an excursion to the Lezhe castle. At the castle, the students helped clean up inside and around the castle through a garbage pickup. Along with the excursion, campers learned about gender, first aid and emergency help, and how to leave no trace when camping and hiking in the wilderness. They also played volleyball and had time in the billiards room. That evening the camp was lit up with flair from all the campers during the talent show. Some campers performed skits, others sang and belly danced, and each group preformed their environmental group song from the song-writing lesson the previous day.

On the final activity day, campers participated in a lesson about stigma and a lesson about fire safety. They also raced through the camp adventure playgroup challenge course complete with a zip-line and other fun obstacles. The campers created a bottle-cap mural for the community project. The bottle caps that were collected before camp were used to create a unique recycled art project. The caps were arranged on a large wooden plank in the shape of Albania with special markers in each of the Outdoor Ambassadors cities that participated in the camp. After the project was complete, the campers gave the final cap project to the community of Lezhe and all of the extra bottle caps were donated to the Albanian Cap Project to help provide wheelchairs to people in need. The night ended with special awards and certificates, as well as a camp dance and bonfire.

Many participants declared that this was one of the best weeks of their lives and that they would never forget all the lasting memories and new friendships that developed over the course of the week. Now students, Albanian counselors, and Peace Corps volunteers are equipped with the energy and excitement to continue Outdoor Ambassadors events in their communities throughout the school year! Big thanks to AADF for all the support!

​ #OAgogreen2014​ ​

Watch the above video and check out the reasons why Outdoor Ambassadors “Go Green” Summer Camp was one of the best weeks EVER!

Cooling off by the pool.

Cooling off by the pool.

Learning to aim at archery.

Learning to aim at archery.

The Peace Corps volunteers taking time to be silly.

The Peace Corps volunteers taking time to be silly.

One of the students on the rock wall.

One of the students on the rock wall.

At the garbage cleanup excursion at the castle.

At the garbage cleanup excursion at the castle.

Ice breakers and team building activities.

Ice breakers and team building activities.

The entire group!

The entire group!

Morning yoga.

Morning yoga.

The president and I giving awards to one of my students from the Outdoor Ambassadors group in my city.

The president and I giving awards to one of my students from the Outdoor Ambassadors group in my city.

Our beautiful bottle cap mural and community project.

Our beautiful bottle cap mural and community project.

 

The ALS #IceBucketChallenge in Albania

As many of you know by now, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has become a viral trend, especially across various social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. Actors, models, TV news anchors, the average Joe, and even former United States presidents have taken the challenge to pour a freezing bucket of ice water over their heads to promote ALS, which is short for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The ALS Association explains the disease as,

“a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.”

There has been a lot of controversy regarding this challenge. Many people are refusing to donate because they believe the ALS Association is using embryonic stem cell research in their studies. Using embryonic stem cells is often thought of my pro-life activists as taking away one life to help save another. Other arguments towards the challenge include the waste of clean drinking water (although let me just be clear the water used in my ice bucket challenge was not potable), the waste of water in general because many people across the world do not have consistent access to water, and the idea of “slacktivism” which allows people to feel like they are helping a cause without actually having to do anything.

While there is a lot of controversy and some negative opinions surrounding these techniques, in reality this marketing campaign has been a huge success. Over 50 million dollars have been raised to help further research to help find a cure for this debilitating disease and awareness about Lou Gehrig’s Disease has obviously increased tremendously. Whether or not all the Ice Bucket Challenge participants actually donate money is not the point, although it is awesome when people participate in the challenge AND donate money. The point is that people are getting excited about the idea of philanthropy and being a part of something bigger to help the overall quality of mankind. I am in complete support of this cause and even though everyone is not doing the challenge for the right reasons, it’s imperative to remember that there are still many people who are learning and donating because of this. Plus it’s entertaining to watch everyone pour a bucket of water over their heads.

Now the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has made it all the way to Albania. Not only is the a viral phenomenon in the States, but it is making it’s way across the globe. It’s definitely not a surprise to me that this sensation hit Albania because, like I mentioned before, Albanians LOVE social media and Facebook. Several of my Outdoor Ambassadors youth group students nominated me for the challenge, so I definitely had to accept. I was very impressed that my students were involved in a campaign to help spread awareness and raise money for a disease that many people were probably unaware of before the challenge. As many of the haters would probably say, there are better ways to go about raising money and awareness for today’s problems, but in my opinion this is a great start to making philanthropy fun for the younger generations who are less likely to donate to charities.

So go ahead, take the challenge, and donate to the ALS Association to help find a cure for Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Plus it honestly felt pretty good to escape the Albanian summer heat with a nice bucket of ice water over my head. Check out my video below and click here to donate. And while you’re at it, look up some other organizations that would be worth donating your time or money to. Let’s continue the culture of volunteerism and philanthropy! There are so many wonderful organizations and causes to get involved with!

Click here to watch my Ice Bucket Challenge video.

Click here to watch my Ice Bucket Challenge video.

Introducing Xhilli from Albania…..

jilljustine13:

Recently a blogger reached out to me for a short piece to add to their blog showcasing different people from around the world. Check it out!

Originally posted on People of the World:

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Introduce yourself:

Hello beautiful people of the world! I am Jill, also known as Xhilli in Albania, and I come from the wonderful land of ColoRADo in the big old U S of A.  I am 24 years young and currently serving as a Health Education Peace Corps volunteer.  I enjoy indie-electronic music, playing with kittens, long bike-rides, street art, wine and micro-beer, music festivals, and anything crafty.  Throughout my time at university I studied Social Work and Criminal Justice and after I finish my service I would like to go back to school and receive my masters in Social Work and Education.  In the future I’d like to work as a school social worker in the inner-city or as an international development worker.

Right now I am living in Albania – a small Balkan European country north of Greece and across the sea from Italy.  It is a very…

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