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Feature 24 Jan 18

Albanian High-Flyer Émigrés Rescue Their Neglected School

Alumni clubs are a new phenomenon in Albania – but one gathering successful former pupils of the Gjergj Kastrioti school in Durres is up and running, and gathering funds for their run-down alma mater.

Gëzim Kabashi
BIRN
Durres
 
Edor Kabashi  

Graduates of the Gjergj Kastrioti high school in Durres, Albania, have stumped up about 1,500 euros to help pay for a new mosaic at the entrance of their old school, get a computer and to cover other school needs.

That might not be news in most other countries – but in Albania, such alumni initiatives are still something of a novelty.

But, with so many Albanians now working far from home, and in many cases making good money, the idea is catching on.

Following the collapse of Albania’s isolationist communist regime, in 1992, people left the country in droves. Today, an estimated 40 per cent of Albanians live abroad.

Having graduated in 1980s and 1990s, the Durres high school alumni organized a reunion to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the school.

However, the grim reality of what they saw at the get-together convinced some of them to set up an alumni club, to collect funds for the school and help the current generation of pupils.

 
Anila Hyka  

“We are re-connecting with former pupils using social media to inform them about the needs of the school, get to know each other better, and inform everyone of similar projects in other countries,” Doranin Agalliu, who started the initiative for the reunion, told BIRN.

Some of the ex-pupils said they felt shocked about the state of the school, having emigrated from Albania many years ago, and having started careers in different fields.

“We realize it is not possible to have a normal education, if there is no heating in the school, no labs and no libraries,” said Anila Hyka, from class 1984, who now lives in France and works for the French telecommunication giant Orange. “The current state of the school is unacceptable,” Hyka said.

Qazim Kertusha, another of the alumni, but who is not based abroad and works as an artist in Durres, agreed to make the mosaic for the school, which other artists financed.

Other alumni clubbed together to purchase the computer and provider another 500 euros in cash for the school.

Edor Kabashi, who graduated in 1995 and is now a scientist in France, did not make it to the reunion but sent a video message, promising to help recruit other émigrés from his generation to the club.

“There are many of us around the world, and some with good careers in health and engineering,” said the 40-year-old head of a team of scientists who work on Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis for a Brain and Spine Institute in Paris.

Bardhyl Ballanca, a teacher in the school, says that since it was founded in 1968, about 10,000 pupils have graduated, and scores of them have forged successful careers.

Remembering the grim Communist era, Ballanca says that Eranda Cela, now a math professor in Austria, was penalized back home for having a “bad biography” in the eyes of the then ruling Communist Party.

Despite those black marks, she has found success far from Albania since graduating in 1992. “She was bright and persistent. She won math competitions in our region but was not allowed to compete at a national level due to a ‘biography’ problem,” Ballanca recalled.

Hyka, one of the initiators of the reunion, told BIRN that they were now working on creating a more formal alumni club, to collect more funds for the school.

“In Paris, we have created an organization to help women from Albania integrate into French society. A proper alumni club is necessary to help the next generation of pupils here – and provide better conditions for a proper education,” she added.

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