Valbona Mountain Rescue Service
Hello and Welcome to the Webpage for the Valbona Mountain Rescue Service Project (Valbona MRS).
It is with great pleasure that we announce that Valbona’s Local NGO, the Shoqata e Akomodimit Valbone (or Valbona Tourism Association) has been awarded a 6,000€ grant from the International Visegrad Fund (comprising the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary) as a pilot small grant to begin training Albania’s first Mountain Rescue Team.
Recognizing that Mountain Tourism in Albania will be limited as long as visitors have no safety net, the local people of Valbona have been enthusiastic in working with their friends in the Czech and other Embassies to explore this exciting new endeavor.
The project began in late September, when 3 directors of the Czech and Polish Rescue services visited Valbona for a 4 day workshop. They were Mr. Dominik & Jiri Brozek from the Czech Republic and Mr. Jan Gorniak from Polish Mountain Rescue. 10 local people met daily with the visitors to learn about First Aid, first response networks, map reading and communication skills, and GPS orientation. Valbona’s guests were happy to spend part of their time putting their expertise to the test on hikes to Kukaj Valley and Maja e Gjarperit, on which a surprising number of “injuries” occurred, requiring the rescue trainees to use GPS technology to locate “wounded” hikers and then put their new first aid skills to the test. One independent observer, Bonnie Scott of the USA, remarked “I am so impressed. The enthusiasm was incredible and it was amazing how everyone effortlessly overcame language barriers in their excitement to learn. The local people are incredible – they know every rock! When they add modern organization and infrastructure, their presence will make exploring the Albanian Alps a very different experience.” Everyone was very honored to be joined on the 3rd day by the 4 Visegrad Ambassadors to Albania – Mrs. Bronislava Tomášová, Mr. Marek Jeziorski, Mr. Milan Cigánik and Mr. Antal Heizer – who travelled all the way to Tropoja to share their inspiration.
The program continued in early October, when five Albanian Rescue Team Members flew to Prague to spend 5 days visiting Mountain Rescue Services in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. This was an amazing opportunity for Skender Selimaj, Kelmend Selimaj, Sajmir Selimaj (of Valbona), Ardit Jubani (of Rrogam) and Fatjon Ismalaj (of Dragobi). As many of us living Albania know, life is often a bit more complicated here, and we are all very grateful to Luciana Bohne of the USA who trustingly handed over her credit card to allow the team members to buy air tickets online (very sophisticated!). The Albanian Team members returned truly inspired – a little humbled, but mostly incredibly excited. As Team Member Fatjon Ismalaj said “We have so far to go! But someday – maybe soon! – we will also have dedicated rescue buildings, snowmobiles and landrovers. Until then it is still so good to know that we can offer this better help to all our visitors.” It’s interesting to note that until now, local people, working informally with Bajram Curri Police, were actually already providing ad hoc rescue help. Team Member Dashnor Hysaj reports going no fewer than 3 times to Jezerca Mountain (the highest peak of the Dinaric Alps) in summer 2015 – usually in the middle of the night – to find lost hikers and guide them down. After building a them a good fire and waiting for the sun to come up.
The pilot program will finish in Spring 2016, with the production of a printed handbook titled “Guidelines for the Valbona Mountain Rescue Service.” This publication will be a blueprint covering everything needed to create a fully modern and efficient rescue service, and will be used to pursue further funding for infrastructure and equipment. Copies of this comprehensive document will be available for other interested communities on request.
Everyone involved is also excited about the historic tradition which this project involves. The Czech and Polish rescue services began in the 19th century, as a result of training received from Swiss Mountaineers. Thus Albania is now part of a centuries old European tradition of help and care for mountain visitors. The Valbona Team looks forward not only to achieving a new level of support for visitors, but also to helping to train other rescue teams, both in Albania and also in nearby Montenegro and Kosova.
The importance of this service cannot be underestimated. Tourism in the Albanian Alps has grown at a staggering 30% annually over the past 10 years. The area’s primary tourism service, Journey to Valbona (also run by Valbona’s proactive Tourism Association), reports a growth in requests for reservations, information and help getting here from 9 emails in 2010 to a staggering 9,400 in 2015. When the new ViaDinarica project is launched in 2016, this number will most likely jump again. Of course it is in many ways the “wild and undeveloped” nature of the mountains that appeals – where else in Europe are there still such mountains and nature? But although testing oneself against nature will always be part of the charm of visiting the world’s wild places, it is also good to know that someone is watching your back.