School and Library

Library Update:  Spring 2013

See this?  This is starting to look like a “real” library, isn’t it?!


The kids patched the holes in  the wall, and painted it themselves, using supplies bought with the money slipped to me by many generous guests of Rilindja, and more than a little help from Mary Denham and her family.

Last winter, Christina Breitenmoser of Kora offered to mentor us in an application to the Usitawi Network.  We applied and received 3,000 CHF to cover books, furniture, 10 dvds of biology documentaries (which we can watch on the DVD projector purchased with a gift from Karl & Nicole Lambermont of Belgium) and 12 Thames & Hudson Science Kits which can make up for the fact that there isn’t a trace of a science lab in the school (not even a sink or a bunsen burner).

The Science Kits were the first stage of this big adventure in international generosity.  A review in Wired revealed the not-surprising fact that the days of “easy kits for little engineers” (to paraphrase Dylan Thomas) are largely gone, but one company in the world stands alone in still producing serious science kits which allow young geniuses to enjoy themselves building pinhole cameras, making satisfying chemical stinks and exploring the macro and microscopic worlds with simple tools they can build themselves.  So we decided to order 12 (one for every 4 students).  But how the heck to you buy them when you’re sitting in Northern Albania, using Swiss money?  There’s no store for this sort of thing in Albania.  There’s no postal delivery!  So we went to the source and wrote to Thames & Kosmos.  Within a few days, a kind anonymous voice was answering my email.  Without ever waxing sentimental (they’re in England), in a few days it was arranged:  we’d receive a school discount, our friends in Switzerland would be invoiced, and as for the 300 euros of postage?  Well, they’d work something out about that.  At which point, we STILL didn’t have anywhere to send them.  Enter Dritan Xhengo of Past and Present Journeys.  NOT only did he let us use his mailing address in Tirana, but when the boxes got held up by customs, he made numerous trips to argue with them, springing our boxes one by one.  A customs charge mysteriously disappeared.  THANK YOU Dritan.

Alfred and I went to Tirana in April, and spent 1,000 CHF on books.  Thank you to:  Botimet Dritan,  Botimet Dudaj and Arba Editions  for the generous discounts they gave, and thank  you MOST of all to Fatmir Toçi, Member of Parliament and owner of Toena Publishing, who GAVE us 3 enormous boxes FULL!  We returned to Valbona with the car FULL.  My dear friend Rea came with, and spent the morning with the kids, talking about her love of books and how it started,  her experiences as a young Albanian woman getting an education, and her decision to return to and work in Albania.  Much food for thought there!

It was a great morning when all the kids came rushing in, choosing books, and organizing themselves into a system . . . . More about this soon, but for now the pictures say a lot . . . .









Spring 2012:

Good news!  We have a grant!  see here for details of what we asked for: Valbona School Support Proposal and Budget and Video List.


Last written, about the library:

Well, this has been a dream of mine, probably since the “get go.”  But . . . . Valbona needs a library!  Of course it does – EVERYWHERE needs a library.  I probably think that the single most important aspect of education is that it teaches you to know books as the entry portal to . . . . anything!  Anything you want to know!  Anything you want to imagine.  Oh okay, that’s the most important goal of education:  To breed in people a confidence in imagination (is the world SO great, that it couldn’t bear improving?  And where will those improvements come from?  They will be born in someone’s imagination!).  And to view books (information) as the method of exploring imagination.  Put it this way:  Figuring out how to GET to the moon wasn’t THAT hard.  It’s a logical process:  But dreaming up the ideas and solutions?  That is imagination!  And of course, once you’re confident using books — well, everything you need to feed that imagination is readily available.  Look at Abe Lincoln and the barrel of law books!  (and I’m sorry – but the old bookseller in me STILL sniffs at the Kindle – yes, good for what it’s good for, but you can leave a book out in the rain, you can loose half the pages and still have the remaining part make sense, AND I’m sorry, but a piece of technology that requires a significant investment AND electricity and internet connections is NOT bringing information to the masses.  On top of which, is it significant that ‘Kindle’ seems related to Kindling which is for burning, and . . . . oooh.  But I’m admittedly a grump on this point.  I also think it’s somewhat tasteless that they use that lithograph of Virginia Woolf, when if ANYONE cared about the beauty of books as objects, it was her, with all those gorgeous editions with covers by her sister the artist, whatsherface.)  Whew!Point is:  It’s started!  We are making a library! Musli & Lazer and the other teachers have given us a room at the school, and now . . . . we just have to fill it!  The families of Mary Denham and Susan Curry brought us SO much stuff at New Year’s, and on top of that, they left us with 50 euro for “the school.”  So we bought wood.  Defying several laws of physics (and good sense) Alfred brought the wood in his truck from Kosovo.  Sami Hysaj just built us shelves.  And today?  We delivered them.

I’m not sure the students even know what I’m talking about.  But they are SO excited.  Everytime I talk to one (I’ve been away from the school for two months now because of the snow . . . . oh!  I never said, but I was teaching English there, everyday since October) promising to “vazhdoj” (carry on) with class, they add:  And WILL WE WORK ON THE LIBRARY?!

I told them I thought they needed a beautiful room – full of books, sofas (“She says SOFAS!” I heard one say to another) . . . because . . . . and I tried to tell them about Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Room of One’s Own.”  When the body is comfortable, the mind is free to roam (my paraphrase!).

Oh boy.  Anyhow, I am CLEARLY too excited about this to talk coherently.  But it’s happening.  Now of course, we need books.  If anyone likes to contribute to this, please email me!  And for ALL the tourists who slipped me an extra 10 or 50 euros, please know that I HAVE been buying books!  And they’re all ready to go on the beautiful shelves!

Thank you, Thank you, THANK YOU!

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