Albania: Meeting Klevis

There are 2, 871,000 people living in Albania. Of these, 1,000,000 are children between the age of 0 and 19. Of these children, 70,000 are disabled.

We were told we were going to meet with a family that World Vision has been helping. However, we had to walk up this ‘road’. They call this a road? There were parts of this so-called road that went up a steep incline and the rocks were slippery as it had rained earlier. At some points, I didn’t think I would be able to make it. The Albanian staff laughed at me and told me that ‘little children walk this way to go to school’.

The family lives in higher terrain. The father greeted us outside the home and shook our hands but with a sombre expression. The mother greeted us in her home where she sat holding her nine-year-old son in her arms. She was smiley and seemed happy to have visitors.

The house was small and made of stone. It was very similar to a Scottish bothy with just one family room. The room was sparse. It had a stone floor and walls and a couple of old sofas around a wood table. It had a kitchen area which consisted of a table-top two-burner stove sitting on a worktop and a sink. We were told the house was not theirs but on a loan from a family member.

We gathered around the wooden table, as the mother told us their story.

The youngest child, Klevis, is severely autistic. His story seemed unusual to me. He was born healthy and normal but when he was still an infant, he became ill with a very high temperature. He was taken to the hospital where he stayed for several weeks. Eventually, after receiving treatment, he got better and went home.

As he began to grow however, there were a few noticiable delays in his development but he was still progressing. The doctors kept changing his diagnosis. At the age of six he was offered a medical treatment which didn’t work. In fact,he suddenly began to regress. He lost his speech and the ability to dress himself and use the toilet. He became unresponsive and violent. He would often run off and once got badly bitten by a dog and had to have eleven stitches. Because of this, his mother now spends her whole life holding him so he is kept safe.

I turned my gaze to the Klevis’ father. Although he stayed in the room with us, his face looked distant. He was polite to us while we were there but he never smiled. We were later told that he is suffering from depression. He has not been able to find work and so cannot support his family.

Klevis has an older brother just a year older. During our visit, he was smiley and sociable like his mother. He also would demonstrate smalll acts of love and kindness towards Klevis. I wonder at how he could stay so positive and be so loving towards his brother who takes up all of his mother’s time.

Klevis and his brother

We were informed that some fundraising was done to build the family a home of their own – one that would be safer for Klevis and help his mother to be free to do work around the house. Building work had started on the house but they ran out of funds to finish the job. World Vision has been helping the family with their medical expenses and the staff have been driving them to doctors and therapists appointments.

I don’t know what all the answers are for this family, but a secure house with a fence around it would certainly be a massive help to start with. I can’t see how the mother can go on holding the child as he gets older and grows stronger.

I was then shocked to find out how little work had been done on the house. It’s something we saw throughout Albania – houses partly built and then abandonned due to lack of finances.

When I returned home, I thought about this family a lot. Although, there were a lot of projects we visited that needed help. Many of them were within schools who needed more funding. They were also projects that could wait a bit longer. Klevis’ family needs help now. Another sponsor and I have made a decision to fundraise for this family until the funds are reached and the house can be built. I asked and was told that the house would cost 1192540 in Lek. A mere £8,244. We are trying to raise £9000 to help with any extra needs the family will need.

You can watch a video about Klemis below.

To visit my fundraising page, please click here.

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Albania–Meeting Our Sponsor Children

Working within my role at World Vision means that every day I get to hear uplifting stories about the relationships forged between sponsors and the children they sponsor. As a child sponsor myself, I feel a strong sense of camaraderie with other sponsors. We all have the same heart for vulnerable children. So, when I heard that there was a group sponsor visit to Albania planned, I signed up to go as one of the sponsors.

My husband I each sponsor a child in Albania.  As my husband couldn’t be there, I agreed to meet his child Mikeljan on his behalf. A lot of prayer and preparation went into our meeting. Before my trip, my husband told me everything he knew about Mikeljan and especially how much he loves football! Between the two of us, we did some shopping for gifts for Mikeljan and his family.  While in Albania, the wonderful World Vision team worked hard planning the sponsor visits and all the itinerary.

The night before I was due to meet him, I stayed in too reflect and pray about our time together.  I was nervous  about the meeting because Mikeljan is a teenager and I wasn’t sure of the welcome I would receive.  Would he think it was ‘uncool’ or ‘lame’ for instance.

We first met at the World Vision office where Mikeljan arrived accompanied by his mother. To my surprise, he spoke very good english! I had brought a letter for Mikeljan from my husband which a staff member translated on paper.  Another staff member translated the conversation between Mikeljan’s mother and I. I showed him photos of my husband Jim and talked about him.

We walked by a lake and later had lunch together. His mother spoke to me about her family and her concerns for Mikeljan. I noticed there was free wifi, so I video-phoned Jim so he could speak to Mikejan in person.  They each had the biggest grin on their faces as they chatted away about  Mikeljan’s biggest passion-football!

I was so impressed with both Mikeljan and his mother. They were such lovely people. Mikeljan is a bright, courageous, sociable and articulate boy.  His mother was lovely, warm and gracious. I felt like I had just met family.

The following day, it was time for me to meet my sponsor child Andrea. It was another wonderful meeting but with some differences.  Andrea is only 7.  He came with his mother, older brother and younger sister. He was very shy at first but soon warmed up.  Nobody in the family spoke english but luckily we had someone on hand to translate for us. Andrea thanked me for the hot wheels I sent to him in the post.  Unfortunately, he lost the green one which was his favourite.  Since I have been home, I have been looking at green hot wheels but they are all so different and I have no idea which one he lost!

I knew ahead of time that we would spend time at a beach. I brought lots of toys to play with. The most popular was a game of velcro mitts and a ball. When we had lunch, I brought out the Jenga which was a big hit as the whole family could play.

After only ever seeing some photos and a couple of videos of Andrea, it was nice to get to know more of his unique personality. He is such a fun, endearing child with a gorgeous, contagious smile. The family were sociable and sweet and we had a wonderful time together.

The trip gave me real insight into the culture and people of Albania. I feel an equal sense of compassion and hope for this country. I am so thankful for the opportunity that sponsorship has given my husband and I to help the communities where Mikeljan and Andrea live.

To sponsor a child through World Vision UK, please go to their website by clicking here.

Sponsor Visit to Albania

As a sponsor through World Vision, I was excited to be given an opportunity to visit Albania as part of a group sponsor visit. I saw this as a great way to connect with like-minded people, meet the two boys my husband and I sponsor and to also see first-hand the work that I was helping to support.

I met some of the other sponsors from our group before hand on our training day and some at the airport when we were catching our flight. We were an interesting small group of diverse backgrounds yet all of us were joined by our mutual compassion for vulnerable children.

First sight of Albania

 

When we arrived at the airport in Tirana (also known as Mother Teresa Airport), we were met by the lovely World Vision Albania staff who drove us to our hotel. They were even kind enough to phone the hotel in advance and ask them to prepare a meal for us as it was late.

On our trip, we did quite a bit of driving around visiting many of the projects that World Vision was supporting.  Because of this, we had the opportunity to see a lot of the countryside in Lezhe and other areas.

Albania is the poorest country in Europe and still a country in transition. Everywhere we looked, we could see a mixture of old abandoned communist buildings, building projects not yet completed, small houses with red roofs and front gardens used to grow fruit and vegetables. Sometimes you would see a goat tied in the small garden.

 

Communist building

 

Yet Albania is also a beautiful country of hills, mountains, lakes and beaches.

Skodre

DAY 1

On our first full day, we met with the Student Government in a school in Balldre who were eager to tell us about the work they were doing raising awareness on child domestic violence.  I noticed that around the classroom where posters about stress. When I asked about it, they explained that this was the psychology classroom. I was also told that children suffer a lot from stress and that violence against children was a major issue. They told us that May was ‘Family month’ and they had planned activities for parents to have fun with their children. It was great to see how the students were being encouraged to stand up for themselves and make positive changes.

The students had us engage in an icebreaker with string

The students were very confident and articulate. We asked them to tell us what their dreams were for their future.  They all had high aspirations, but I soon saw a pattern. One wanted to be an Architect in Australia; another wanted to be a Judge in Germany.  Sadly, no one saw themselves having a future in Albania.

Later we visited the Multidisciplinary Centre in Lezhe. This was once an abandoned building which was repaired thanks in part to the fundraising efforts of the last group visit. The centre helps give children a safe place to go to where they are assessed and helped depending on their needs. Many of the children who go there come from families who are “re-immigrates”. They sold everything to immigrate to another country only to be forced back to Albania years later with nothing left for them. It is also a haven for mothers and children fleeing from domestic violence. The centre also offers after school programs.

Day 2

We visited the sisters of a Catholic church who run a kindergarten and do all that they can to support the vulnerable in the community. This lovely sister who we met us is from Italy. She told us amazing stories of how the sisters have helped families over the years.

 

The kindergarten is colourfully decorated and there is a humble playground outside. Unfortunately, the playground area gets badly flooded when it rains. The rain drains into the sewers which then causes sewage to rise out of the gutters over the playground area.

 

 

We visited another school of very proud students. It was a new high school where previously there had been none. Before the school was built, many girls did not continue their education as it was too far to travel to the nearest high school. Now they have a local high school which enables them to continue their education and to have higher aspirations for their future.

I found it interesting that every classroom in this new building was heated by one of these stoves.

One of the things I noticed when I visited any of the schools in Albania is that the teachers all seem to love their job.  They take such pride in their work and in their students. I saw curtains in the windows and potted plants on the window sills in the classrooms. They may not always have enough money for all the essentials, but they do what they can to make it a welcoming place for students.

If you are interested in supporting Albania or sponsoring a child, please visit World Vision’s website.

For World Vision UK, please click here. Or phone at 0800 085 8188

For World Vision Albania, please click here. Or phone +355 4 2419601

If you are interested in helping the kindergarten by financing the repair of their playground, please contact either World Vision.

 

How To Make The Most Of A Snow Day

I think it is safe to say that time is very precious for most of us.  Very few people work 9 to 5 and even fewer have the luxury of doing nothing once they are home.  We work long hours and sometimes we work harder still when we are home.  We have cars which we make full use of.  There is always some place we have to be, something we need to do and someone who needs us.  We postpone our relaxation time till we are on vacation because we are just too busy.  We either do this by choice or because we feel we have no choice.

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute.  Do we have the energy to keep this up?  Can we take advantage of any possible breathing space that pops up as an unexpected gift?  Or are we going to waste that time doing housework or going shopping?

I am not judging.  These are just the sort of questions I asked myself this morning, when I received the text from my boss telling me to ‘…stay home.  It’s going to be a blizzard and no one is coming in to work’.   Mentally, I thought about all the things I could be getting done- things I haven’t had time for, important things.  Then I thought, ‘To hell with that!’ and spent the day perusing interior design magazines and websites.

I know that isn’t everybody’s idea of fun but I enjoyed myself.  I really want to reach out to anybody out there who is either working too hard or is over-stretched or stress, who has suddenly been gifted with a day off because of the snow.  Here are just a few fun ideas of what you can do in case you forgot how to have fun or simply relax. Trust me, spending quality time in bliss is more important than all the work you want to catch up with.  When you get a chance to enjoy yourself,  you are investing in your well-being, giving you a chance at being a better more refressed you later.

How to make the most of a snow day:

  1. Feed the birds. Put out some bird seeds for the birds and then have your breakfast by the window.  There is something magical about seeing birds in the snow happily enjoying themselves.  It’s like a scene from a Christmas card. 
  2. Play in the snow- because if you have kids who are also having a snow day, you can’t just ignore them.  So put on your snow boots and your mittens and get out there with them! Have a good hour of fun and then come in for some hot chocolate. 
  3. Light the fire. There is nothing like watching the flames in the fireplace while you cosy up with a warm blanket.  If you don’t have a fireplace, light up some candles.  Just create an ambience of cosy warmth and have a hygge time!

    Photo by Dave Gunn

  4. Go diving.  What I mean is, dive into a good book, one that takes you away, makes you laugh or even cry.  Sure it’s escapism but it also gives you a chance to release some emotions.  I find it can also lengthen your day.  How else can you go on an adventure, fall in love and save the day all within an hour or two? 
  5. Watch a favourite movie.  Make sure it’s one you already know and love or know for sure you will love.
  6. Visit or meet your neighbour.  It’s a great opportunity for a natter or chat.  If you have an elderly neighbour, it might be a good idea to check in on them in case they need anything.
  7. Walk your dog in the snow..or walk with your neighbour and his dog.  Have you ever seen dogs in snow?  Guaranteed to make you smile! 
  8. Make a warm, delicious dessert or bake some bread.  It will make you happy and anyone who lives with you. You don’t have to be a gourmet.  Pancakes with chocolate chips is easy enough to make and delicious.  
  9. Get creative.  Whether you are an artist that likes to draw or paint or if you like to sew, knit or write–cease the day!
  10. Be mindful and move slowly.  Don’t try to do everything at once.  Simply pick one or two items to enjoy and really enjoy it. Don’t just speed through the action!

Lastly, if you find you are not enjoying what you are doing because you are worrying too much about making it count or about what you are not doing, then stop and do what you need to relieve your stress and worry.

🙂

 

 

Story Of A Bear

It was worth a shot but it hadn’t worked.  We were very mistaken to think that the one she loved could be so easily replaced.

There he lied…on the floor… stubbornly ignored by the toddler who refused to acknowledge him after she threw him there.  Was it the fourth or fifth time now?

She stood there, refusing to look at it.  Her small body turned away with downcast eyes.  She didn’t want to look at us either.  She hadn’t thrown a tantrum.  She hadn’t cried.  Yet her communication was clear. ‘This is not my Teddy.’

For three nights, we had woken up to her heart-breaking sobs and her crying for Teddy.  She had lost it somewhere.  I had searched everywhere in the house but couldn’t find it.  Her real teddy was a tan colour, sort of like pine wood.  Most of its fur had been sucked off its nose. His foot had, ‘Baby’s first Teddy’ embroidered on it.

The one lying on the floor was not it.  I couldn’t find an exact replica.  I found another bear which I thought was at least equally cute.  I should have known it wasn’t about cuteness.  It was about attachment.

When we found her real Teddy bear about several days later in the church nursery, our daughter’s reaction was a bit strange.  She held it but didn’t react.  It was as if she had given up hope of ever having it again and now wasn’t sure if he was really there.  She didn’t throw it down on the floor but she didn’t smile either.  She seemed numb.  I realised that my poor sixteen-month old daughter had experienced her first form of emotional stress and shock.  She never lost him again.

Tara and Teddy

As for the replacement bear, we later gave him to my son. He was then passed down a few times till my fourth child had him.  We moved from the US to the UK with the bear. Then one day, it may have been a birthday or Father’s Day, my daughter gave him to my husband as a gift.  This bear is now nearly thirty years old.  He has never been truly loved – not in the sense of say, ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ sort of way.  I suppose my husband and I have felt the closest to sympathy towards it.  Poor rejected bear.  I hadn’t realised Jim kept it all these years.

When World Vision said they needed 700 Teddy bears to be placed on the steps of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, Jim donated our sad bear towards it.  The 700 bears were used to raise awareness. They symbolise the 700 unaccompanied refugee children that are arriving each week in Uganda after fleeing their homes in South Sudan. The children had been separated from their family.  They have witnessed horrible atrocities.  Many have seen members of their own family killed.  This has left most of the children psychologically traumatised.  They arrive in Uganda terrified, hungry and exhausted.

Our Bear showing with the red circle around it. Photo Source: World Vision UK

Uganda have been exemplary when it comes to welcoming the refugees.  Hundreds of thousands have arrived and have been given sanctuary, compassion and a plot of land.  However, aid is still urgently needed to provide basic needs such as food, clean water and medical supplies.  Many of the children need psychological therapy for what they have suffered.  You can read more about World Vision’s campaign in the UK by clicking here.  To learn more about World Vision’s work in South Sudan, click here.

You may wonder what World Vision will be doing with those 700 teddy bears, once their Bears On Stairs campaign is over.  The answer is that every teddy bear is going to a child in one of the refugee camps in Uganda.  I am so happy to know that our poor rejected bear will finally go somewhere where he is loved.  In my heart, I am sending him off with a prayer that he will bring comfort to a child who needs it.

Namaste

How Do We Become More Loving?

Oftentimes, when I have learned a powerful lesson, I embrace it but I don’t verbalize it.  Other times, I verbalize it but the words fall very short.  Today I read the following excerpts from Elizabeth Lesser’s, The Seeker’s Guide.  This is what I want to say and often want to explain.  I am so grateful to her for putting it so well. I add just this one imput: We cannot love well in our own humaness.  We need to tap into the source of love in order to do that.  God is that source, for God is love.

‘…Love is the fruit of spiritual labour; it is not a technique you try or a dogma you adopt.  Love is the secret you unmask yourself to find; it is the foundation of the spiritual life, the destination where all roads of the journey lead. But it does no one any good to rush the process, nor to enforce loving behaviour.  Loving behaviour is unenforceable and herein lies the mystery of the spiritual life and the mistaken role of religions.  You cannot legislate forgiveness; you cannot make hate illegal; you cannot require love.  Just as you can’t pull a shoot out of the ground and demand that it flower then and there, love cannot be forced.  Spiritual work prepares the ground.

Love will blossom when our egos and our wounds and our fears have been worked with, tilled into the soil of our understanding.

When we do the hard work of stilling the mind and opening the heart, we come into love….

You can’t force yourself to love others.  If you could, the world wouldn’t be in the mess it is now…’

–Elizabeth Lesser

Beautiful Easter Eggs – Naturally

Happy Easter everyone and a very Happy Orthodox Easter too!  This year both Easters fall on the same day uniting all Christians. So Hristos Se Rodi (Срећан Ускрс) to all my Serbian relatives.  Christ is Risen indeed.

Today I just had to share how my very talented cousin Aleksandra, coloured her Easter eggs.  I think this is so incredibly beautiful.  She uses onion skins for the colour rather than food colouring and sprigs of herbs for the impressions.  Her technique is below.

 

 

 

To Make these beautiful Easter eggs:

Wrap the egg and herbs in stocking very tightly knotting the edge of each stocking.
Put a dozen eggs in cold water, with the outer peels of 8-10 onions.  Add 3 tablespoons white vinegar. Bring to boil, lower flame then cook about 15 mins. Turn off flame and let sit in pot until cool or take out earlier when you like the color.

Although Aleksandra used brown onion skins, she says red onions, beets or red cabbage can also be used for a more vibrant colour.  She also used a variety of herbs but thyme was her favourite.

Tip: If you re-use the liquid dye, the next batch of eggs will be darker.

Tip 2: When placing herbs on the eggs, wet them first with a bit of water to help them stick.

 

The Scene In Beauty And The Beast Which Reminds Me Of Easter

Photo by Walt Disney Studios

After a lot of deliberation, discussion and uncertainty, I finally decided to give the new Beauty and the Beast film a try.  I had watched the trailers unimpressed and felt quite dubious as to whether Emma Watson could do the role of Belle justice. Yet after hearing lots of good reviews, my husband,  daughter Brianna and I went to see it yesterday afternoon.

Despite the fact that we went on a Saturday afternoon during Easter weekend (what was I thinking?!), and despite the children sitting directly behind us banging our chairs occasionally, we absolutely loved it.  More than loved it–we were all very emotionally moved.

I hate to admit it but Emma Watson was great as Belle.  Emma’s Belle was young, sweet and fearless–a girl with hopes, dreams AND sense. The set, costumes and song numbers were dazzling….sometimes maybe a bit too dazzling. The acting of all the cast was superb.  Kevin Kline as Belle’s father was especially endearing. The CGI of the beast’s face and expressions were exceptionally well done.

I don’t want to give too much away, but for me one of the highlights is that it’s mainly a  live copy of the original but with added new songs and subtle twists.

This brings me to the one scene I want to share as it is Easter.

::::::::::::::::::Spoiler alert!  Stop reading if you haven’t seen the film!:::::::::::::::::::::::

In one scene of the film, Mrs Potts expresses to Belle that in her opinion they are all to blame for the Prince’s downfall.  She tells Belle that he had been a small boy when his mother died.  His father was not a noble character and he raised the boy to be just like him.  Mrs Potts regrets that she and the other servants allowed that to happen. This explains why the Enchantress chose to include them all in the curse.

Later, near the very end of the scene, the beast, having been shot by Gaston lies dying.  Unlike the animated version, the last petal falls and turns to ash before Belle declares her love. The inhabitants of the castle: Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs Potts all become inanimate objects. The beast dies.  It looks as if Belle has declared her love for the beast too late to save him.  However, Agatha (the hag/enchantress) is there looking on and she has overheard Belle. She restores the rose and shows mercy by lifting the curse and restoring everyone to their former (but now redemptive selves) and allowing the beast to live again.

Perhaps the scene was never meant to be an allegorical message of atonement, salvation and unconditional love. It was probably just a coincidence that the movie came out a month before Easter and that the well-known scene had been subtly yet powerfully changed. Although I’d be interested to know why the change was made, at this moment it doesn’t matter.  For now, I want to just feel the magic.

On this Easter day, I want to embrace the deeper magic–the message that even onto death, God’s love and mercy is never too late.

Quote For Today: Hara Hachi Bu!

Okinawa is an island quite famous for its longevity. It has a higher rate than most of the world of people living till 100+.

“Hara hachi bu!” is what the older folk of Okinawa say before they eat.  It is a Confucius-inspired saying which means, “Eat till you are 80% full.”

Why?  Because it takes about twenty minutes for your stomach to receive the message from your brain that you are full.  For most of us, if we ate till we believed we are only 80% full, we would actually feel more full within the next twenty minutes.

So there you have it, wisdom from the Okinawans!

What Will You Bring To This New Year?

 

Picture Source

Picture Source

In the past, whenever I have contemplated the concept of beginning anew, my thoughts and plans tended to centre on improving upon something. Whether it was the adamant self-declaration that I was finally going to eat healthy or the fierce determination that I would write more, beginning anew meant that something about me or my situation or environment had to change.

The start of a new year usually marks the moment for me (and for many of us) when contemplation and some sort of action finally meet up and a fair attempt to change something begins.  This is known popularly as a ‘New Year’s Resolution’ and it is often sparked by some sort of dissatisfaction.  We are either dissatisfied with ourselves or our lives or our level of happiness.  The sad thing is that we often fail to keep up with our resolutions and then we become disappointed in ourselves.

This year however, I had an inspiring thought.  It was one of those wonderfully strange occurrence when a quiet thought appears unsought while I was in busy activity. It entered my heart and began to gently engage me, saying, ‘Look at me!’ The thought was this: Practice being less selfish. Make a difference to the happiness level of others.

To which the conclusion I came to was that even if I become forgetful and manage only to practice non-selfishness sometimes, I would have still done so much good because of those other times. Let’s face it, we sometimes think we know what we want but we often don’t or at least don’t achieve it.  If we focus on others, we are at least achieving it for others.  Ann Frank wrote, ‘How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.’

Of course, I am not suggesting that we sacrifice ourselves to the detriment of our health and well-being.  What I am suggesting is that small sacrifices for others can go a long way to making someone feel valued. To start with:

Turn off the TV to phone a friend or write a letter

Visit someone and surprise them with a service or small gift

Say, ‘Yes’ (when it feels like the right thing)

Listen without interrupting

Write a praise letter to a Manager of someone who gave you great customer service (Inspired by my husband who always does this–Thanks Dearheart)

Organize meals for someone who just had a baby or just came out of hospital

Accept every gift graciously (Inspired by a story author Susun Weed tells about accepting a salami sandwich from a stranger sitting next to her on the plane–even though she was a Vegetarian, she thanked her and ate it!)

Offer a cold drink to your neighbour who is outside doing some DIY on a summer day

Scrape the ice off your spouse’s car for them

Walk your neighbour’s dog when they are ill

Pay genuine honest compliments

My grandmother once saved all the colour by numbers pictures in the Sunday papers so when I visited, she had something for me to do.

My sister-in-law collected story books on CD from newspapers and gave them to my kids as a surprise gift.

These are just a few ideas.  If you have any good ideas of your own, please comment below.

Happy Belated New Year Everyone!