This past week, I had the opportunity to help out with a Special Olympics event in Tirana. I don’t have a lot of experience working with special needs kids but I decided to lend a hand. Peace Corps is all about stepping outside of your comfort zone. Actually, it seems to be more about living outside of your comfort zone. I am finding that the times I am in my element are few and far between over here. Not necessarily a bad thing, its just takes some getting used to.
The event was very successful with over 200 people attending. A handful of those were Peace Corps Volunteers. However, we were easily drown out by the people from Albania, teachers and students alike. It was an impressive amount of Albanians volunteering their time for four days. They were fantastic with the kids and you could tell they were truly enjoying themselves. As PCV’s, we don’t usually see a lot of progressive thinking. One could argue that we are placed in our sites for this exact reason. It can seem futile, the more you work towards promoting a change, the more you see people stuck in their ways. In this respect, the Special Olympics were a breath of fresh air. It gave us the opportunity to see that many Albanians are working towards making positive changes in their country. I was able to talk with some fellow Albanian volunteers from cities all over the country. One was working towards her masters in Psychology. Another was a teacher for special needs kids. Another was just a student that loves to help out and volunteer. All of them talked about how important this event was to show Albania’s support and understanding those with special needs. The fact that this event was funded by an Albanian company and drew such a strong crowd is an impressive feat.
Ringing true to Albanian style, there was some disorganization at the start of the games. The first day resulted in a lot of waiting around in the gym. However, most of the handicapped participants never stray from their home to school and back to home lifestyle. Being in a gym outside of their usual monotonous routine was excitement enough for many. The kids were troopers and found little ways to entertain themselves. And true to volunteer style, we powered through with lots and lots of coffee.
And of course, if there is a lot of down time…JUST DANCE!
That evening the President held a ceremony for the opening of the games. There was an energetic and positive air throughout the crowd. It was an exciting step in the right direction for handicapped people throughout Albania!