Knocking down houses

April 2010 saw us make a long-desired return to Albania. Although very busy with our convoys to Gaza, and continuing to support community groups in Ukraine, we had long wanted to get back to the desperately poor community of Bathorë.

Bathore project siteIn essence this was a research trip, since it was several years since we had last been there working towards getting a water supply for 4000 people in what was then essentially a shanty town. Much has improved in Albania since then, and there is at last a stable government in place. Even the buildings of Bathorë are somewhat improved (pictured — at our project site), but many problems remain. After being astonished by the speed of our progress in the country on its new roads, we established several meetings including with:

  • A major NGO in the country, which had been active previously in our area of interest. They helped bring our knowledge and connections up to date.
  • A landowner engaged in building a permaculture-style sustainable farm.
  • Our old friend Fatmir, a community leader in Bathorë.
  • The mayor of Kamza / Kamëz, the municipality of which Bathorë is a part.

Our aims going forward are twofold:

  1. We will be working with the municipality to improve waste management and reduce pollution. There is a terrible health problem with plastic waste being burned in the streets due to lack of any alternative provision. We will supply the municipality with a projected three waste disposal vehicles, and work with partners to promote a long term education and provision strategy for greener waste management solutions.
  2. We will work with Fatmir to provide facilities for children to play safely in the area. There is a UN-built primary school, but its playground was recently used for another building. Land is at a premium here, with serious overcrowding, and it would be difficult to buy fresh land for any projects. Therefore we have drawn up architects designs, which are currently pending approval, to knock down Fatmir’s house and rebuild a play & day-care centre with an apartment for his family above! We will of course be employing local builders, which will help to inject useful funding into the community.

The forthcoming convoy (date yet to be set) will be a fantastic opportunity for new volunteers to get involved. If you’re interested in getting involved, what we are looking for is people who are able to raise funds in their local area; we will be delighted to help you with presentations and events to explain to you and the community what is needed and planned. Our volunteers – i.e. you – then cover all of their own costs including the vehicle and fuel. We help with general suggestions for fundraising and aid collection, and of course we’ll be doing all the paperwork and providing support “on the road”. It must be emphasised though that this really is a collective effort, and we are looking for people who would like to spend some time really getting involved; what we are not looking for is unfunded “spare drivers”, although we are extremely grateful for all the kind offers we receive.

Unseen Gaza

Commonwealth war graves in GazaDuring the December / January 2009 convoy to Gaza, we had occasion to find ourselves being driven from Gaza City in the north to Khan Yunis in the south of the Gaza Strip. At one point our driver mentioned the Commonwealth War Cemetery we were passing, and our volunteers – somewhat surprised – asked to see it.

We’ve posted a note of it here, both to share a remarkable little corner of Gaza but also to illustrate in just how many unexpected ways it can be deeply rewarding to volunteer on an Aid Convoy.

Commonwealth war graves in GazaThe cemetery had miraculously survived all the upheavals in the region, including naval bombardment, aerial bombing, and mass population clearances. It was still being tended with all the love and care seen in such cemeteries the world over. All the more remarkable though given the difficulty of access to this one for the agencies which usually care for them. The young men tending the garden, late in the evening, had spent the day struggling to rebuild their own food-producing land.

These military graves tend to be marked with religious symbols appropriate to the fallen soldier. It was deeply heart-warming to note that every grave was clearly receiving the same respect and care, without prejudice.