Written by Susan Robinson
So, after a very long and slow trip down the M1 we arrived at Gatwick in time to check in, grab a meal and a beer and then take the three-hour flight to Tirana. Albanian immigration and customs were very efficient so we were through in under 30 minutes, which meant an hour wait till our transport arrived at 4 am. Two hours later we were decanted in the only café in Shkodër, where we waited for another 3 hours. Some of the team headed off to find breakfast at a local bakers’, whilst Simon “guarded the bags” (he was really snoozing).
At 10 am we met up with other volunteers who had come over the border from Montenegro and all boarded yet another minivan for the 3-hour drive to Lepushe, a small village in the Albanian Alps and our final destination. On the way, we stopped off in Tamare, the provincial capital, for lunch and a rest. Will and Callum decided to cool off with a swim in the river which was brave given how fast flowing and cold it was!
We arrived in Lepushe almost exactly 24 hours after leaving Leeds with some of the group barely having slept at all. As a result, the remainder of the day was spend settling in to the accommodation, a small guest house whose bunk barn we have taken over for the next two weeks. An evening meal of spit-roast lamb and an introduction to plum raki was a nice end point to the day, particularly since the mountain air was so clear and we had a wonderful view of the Milky Way – no air pollution here and the valley would be a certain contended for ‘Dark Skies’ status, which would help with the promotion of astronomical tourism if someone locally could invest in a high quality telescope.
Sunday dawned slightly misty but it burned off by 9 am, so we walked the short distance up to the school where the project will be based. After checking out the facilities, the boys invited some local youths to join them in a kick about on the village green whilst Emma, Jemima and Simon played volleyball with some of the other volunteers (the Leeds Beckett party is part of a larger group organised by the Balkans Peace Park Project (B3P), and which includes Albanians, Italians, Americans and other Brits). Back to Hotel Alpini for lunch and then a 9 km mountain walk for most of us (though of the Leeds Beckett group only Emma made the highest summit). The views from the top were stunning – both back over the valley we are staying in but also over into Montenegro.
Despite tired legs, most of us had enough energy to learn some local dancing after the evening meal, with our local translators also proving to be excellent dance teachers!
Monday morning and the students are all up at the school, establishing how best they can support the English language and environmental education programmes, as well as agree timings for the sports coaching. We’ve just found out that the B3P charity is running a summer programme in Vermoshe, the next village down the valley, so we are also going to see what we can do to support them. We’ll keep you posted on progress…
Saturday 13th August – 10th September (4 weeks plus short tour)
8 volunteers depart to work on a playground construction project with East Africa Playgrounds
Friday 19th August – 10th September (2 weeks plus short tour)
India Bhopal volunteers
12 volunteers are supporting 3 charities in Bhopal with mental health work with adults and sufferers of domestic violence as well as working with young people on educational activities.