Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An Albanian Orphanage Gets a Reading Space

(Reader to Reader’s Kathryn Libby, who received one of the Davis Foundation’s prestigious 100 Projects for Peace grants, reports on her work building a fully stocked library space at an orphanage in Albania.)

After a long trip across the Atlantic Ocean, I have finally arrived in Tirana, the capital of Albania. The books and games have survived their long trip in our luggage and are soon to be on their way to the Zyber Hallulli Children’s Home, the orphanage that Iris Aliaj and I will be working with this month.

Reading is not a favored activity among most people here in Albania; although book vendors lay out dozens of aging, yellowed texts there are few buyers, and even fewer stores for new books. Our goal is to get the children at the orphanage interested in reading, and in the wonderful healing (and of course,escapist!) power of books. 36 children are housed in the orphanage; all are attending school, but we’ve been granted their evening time to read Harry Potter 7 aloud and encourage reading in the older kids.

As you can see, we also take some time to play games with the younger kids: Tana likes to make up her own rules. She graciously let me win half of the games we played.

There couldn’t be a greater need for books here: we visited the Children’s Home for the first time this weekend and were shocked at what we found. Although the library houses a fair number of books, nearly all of them are over 50 years old and in extremely poor condition. I picked a few up, and my fingers turned black! The children told us even mice would be ashamed to read these books.

To top it off, each child is only permitted to check out one book. As someone who often had ten books at a time out of my public library growing up, this seems too much to bear. We are working on getting a more lenient policy in the library.

One child, Mario, trades vocabulary with me like kids in the 90s traded Pokemon cards. He’s been my major source of new words in Albanian, and I think my love of reading is rubbing off on him. Nje Qershorin (June 1st) is Children’s Day here in Albania, and Iris and I attended the celebration at the orphanage. You can see little Çeleste dancing so beautifully in this picture! Each child received a book of their own from us. I chose the children’s version of Frankenstein for Mario, which was no small read, yet he finished it in just one day! We took him to a nearby bookstore and he picked out the first book of both the Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter series. I am so delighted that at least one boy has really come to love reading.

There is so much potential for growth here, and I am delighted to be making it happen. More news to come as the progress continues!


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