My husband Tom and I have just returned from a short visit to the New Day Centre (NDC), Global Care Albania’s support centre for vulnerable children and young people.
The centre is in Bathore, a suburb just outside the Albanian capital Tirana. Tirana has flourished in the last decade. It has a European ‘vibe’ with pavement cafes, interesting buildings and tourist attractions. NDC is down a stony track in view of a beautiful mountain range. It is a bright, clean, warm and welcoming place.
However, you don’t need to drive far down the adjacent dusty pot-holed tracks to find a very different picture. Infrastructure might be great in Tirana – but tarmac roads don’t reach the homes we visited.
We spent three packed days with the local team, watching the centre in action, visiting homes, attending a women’s support group, and working with the management team on a proposal to extend their work with autistic children. When we left, I was excited and enthusiastic, and in awe of what the team achieve with limited time and resources.
We met some incredible people – adults and children whose lives have been dramatically turned around through NDC. Six-year old *Eddie was born with Cerebral Palsy. Both his parents are unemployed. Eddie received physiotherapy at NDC for 14 months. He could only attend twice a week as he’s too heavy to be carried and the family can’t afford taxi costs every day. When he first came to NDC he was permanently in a wheelchair. Now he can walk and run – we watched him playing with his siblings.
Four year-old *Stephen has autism. He attends inclusive education and play sessions with other children at NDC’s Kindergarten, as well as group and individual therapy along with five other autistic children. Stephen’s parents told us that since he has been at NDC he has changed so much its ‘like the difference between night and day’.
Sajmir, now in his late 20s, told us a heart-breaking story about his traumatic childhood and teenage years. He said NDC provided stability to his life through the School Club and then Youth Group. He could be free and safe at NDC – and would now be a very different person without this support and care. Now he has a steady job, a fiancé, and provides financially for the rest of his family.
The Centre treats every child with dignity whatever their situation. The bright decorations on classroom walls are a testament to the philosophy that every child has a right to a bright, fun environment – as Evis the Albanian manager said, ‘Why should a child from a poor family or with a physical or intellectual disability have poor surroundings. We want every child to find self-worth here.’
We’ve returned home humbled by the service and commitment of the local team. We also find ourselves challenged to emulate their attitude and treat everyone with kindness and respect, and to continue to find ways in which we can be a positive support to our friends and family with children with intellectual and physical disability.
Barbara Heyes, Volunteer