History of the Peace Corps in Albania
From Peace Corps Wiki
|History of the Peace Corps|
|Since 1960, when then Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries, more than 182,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in 138 countries all over the globe.
Albania began the transition to a democratic, open-market nation later than the other Balkan states. Former Communist leader Enver Hoxha headed an isolationist and authoritarian regime from 1944 until his death in 1985, and it was not until March 1991 that Albania and the United States reestablished diplomatic relations (after a 35-year break). The Albanian government invited the Peace Corps into the country soon after, and the first group of 21 Volunteers arrived in June 1992 to begin teaching English at secondary schools and universities. The Peace Corps program was expanded with a small business development project, and 12 Volunteers working in this sector arrived in April 1993. The program was expanded again in 1995 with the addition of 15 Volunteers for an agroforestry project. A group of new Volunteers was scheduled to arrive in February 1997, but a breakdown in civil order and public safety precipitated by the collapse of fraudulent pyramid savings schemes led to the evacuation of all Peace Corps Volunteers and U.S. staff in March 1997 and the closure of the post. At the time of the evacuation, 73 Volunteers were serving in the three Peace Corps projects.
In March 2003, Peace Corps returned to Albania after a six-year absence. Thirty-two Volunteers arrived in the country in September 2003 to begin training for a community development project and another 29 arrived in March 2004 to begin training for English education and health education projects. Those first two groups established the three projects that are now operating. The largest group ever of 40 Volunteers arrived in March 2006.
 History and Status of Peace Corps Programming in Albania
During the Peace Corps’ first five years in Albania (1992– 1997), staff and Volunteers regularly assessed conditions to identify challenges and successes and made adjustments in the overall program to better meet Albania’s needs. The program was still in its formative stage when the post closed in 1997. The TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) project had added a teacher-training component, and Volunteers also developed materials, helped establish school and community libraries, and served as linguistic and cultural resources for teachers and students. In addition, Volunteers introduced their students to a variety of social and environmental issues and helped enhance their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.
The first small business Volunteers were assigned to regional business associations, where they provided assistance in business development, planning, and credit. The second group of small business Volunteers began working with branch offices of the Rural Commercial Bank to advise and train branch credit departments and support a World Bank restructuring effort. The project diversified again in 1995 when Volunteers were assigned to a savings bank, a business school, and a business association to help develop the institutional capability of organizations providing assistance to small businesses. In response to emerging needs of the fledgling Albanian economy, the project diversified once again to move into chambers of commerce, organizational development centers, and micro-credit institutions. Additionally, the project provided basic financial and business services and training to small-scale entrepreneurs and farmers and educated the public about market economies.
As part of the village-based agroforestry project, Volunteers helped initiate the first on-the-ground forestry development program. The project was a cooperative effort between the Albanian government and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Volunteers worked with the General Directorate of Forestry staff to help Albanian farmers manage forest and grassland resources. Though the goal was to provide farm forestry extension services, many farmers saw the directorate staff as forestry police. When the post closed in 1997, the Peace Corps was reexamining the project’s initial assumptions and making adjustments to focus more on the development of forestry communities.
In April 2002, the Peace Corps conducted an assessment for reopening its program in Albania. The assessment team identified continuing needs for support in English education, small business development, community development, and natural resource management. In addition, the assessment team identified pressing needs in municipal development and health education.
Public confidence in politics and most public institutions is very low. Exceptions include a few communities whose mayors believe that pragmatism in addressing local issues should take precedence over political affiliation. In this way, local government and community development are focal points for the development of responsible civil society in the country.
The assessment team recommended that the Peace Corps return to Albania with a municipal development project to help improve the organizational and management capacities of municipal government staff and village leaders. The project would facilitate the development of collaborative activities with community organizations, businesses, and citizens groups, and provide assistance to all segments of a community in project design and management.
Albania also is in great need of support in public health and health education. Public services and the health infrastructure are in very poor condition, and doctors and nurses are cut off from new developments in medicine. Albania’s infant mortality rate is the highest in Europe, and the country has had to tackle new problems for which it has little experience, including drug abuse and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The assessment team identified opportunities for Volunteers to work with local clinics, schools, and community groups to provide education on maternal and child health, water and sanitation, drug awareness, and other local health issues. The team recommended that Volunteers help develop health education programs and materials and to deliver those programs primarily at the community level.
The Volunteers who arrived in September 2003 to initiate the municipal development project worked with local governments, business development organizations and civil society development organizations. The Peace Corps soon broadened the municipal development project into a community development project, and current Volunteers work with local governments and other organizations to strengthen the capacity of the various organizations to address such issues as tourism development, strategic planning, and communication among local governments and community members. Other Volunteers work to strengthen nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and businesses through training, technical assistance, and networking.
Volunteers currently serving in the English education project teach primarily in high schools in smaller towns throughout the country. They bring native-speaking ability into the classroom to enhance the language skills of both teachers and students. They peer teach with existing English teachers and, when appropriate, teach on their own. Volunteers also work in their communities to identify and implement projects that address the needs and issues faced by youth and children. The group that arrived in March 2006 included the first English educators to be placed at the university level and at secondary schools of foreign languages since the Peace Corps reopened its program here in 2003.
The current health education project is linked to the Albanian health system at the district level (there are 36 districts in Albania) and at the rural health center level. With Albanian counterparts from throughout the community, Volunteers identify priority health education issues and then design and deliver campaigns and training to address those issues. Volunteers foster links with schools and formal and informal community groups to implement the campaigns and training, and identify other appropriate venues for promoting health education activities.
These three projects are still in their early development. Peace Corps/Albania will continue to refine project structures and Volunteer roles based partly on the experiences of current Volunteers and on linkages and interactions with project partners.