Making New Friends in Gjirokastër

Making New Friends in Gjirokastër

Jul 26, 2019

Every weekday afternoon, twenty boys and girls come running through the gates of the new Nehemiah Gateway compound in Gjirokastër, laughing and greeting Center Director Arjan Kociu and his team as they race to get their lunch in the new soup kitchen. The children range in age from about five to fourteen years old. They come from Roma and Balkan Egyptian families, which make up about 25% of the total population in Gjirokaster. All of them come from poor families; some of them are homeless or living in tents. At Gjirokastër Local Center, they are getting the support they need to begin improving their situation.

This June, a team of NG coworkers, as well as five volunteers from the US, visited Gjirokastër to see the new soup kitchen and help serve lunch. The road from Pogradec is a long one, travelling through the mountains and along the Vjosë river, passing through Fir of Hotova National Park, and travelling within less than a mile of the Greek border. This beautiful but winding route takes over seven hours in good weather, and the team arrived just in time to help with the children’s lunch.

The new soup kitchen was completed in 2018 with major support from the Protestant Church of Winterswijk in the Netherlands. It is a beautiful facility, with a professional kitchen and a dining hall that seats about twenty people at once. Refije Gjini, a trained professional cook, prepares fresh, nutritious meals for over forty-three people a day, with two seatings of adults followed by the children. Additionally, NG provides daily home delivery of meals to people who are too old or too ill to come to the hall.

The children sing and say grace before their meal, eagerly devouring seconds of their favorite dishes. Afterwards, they go to the adjacent building for after-school classes, tutoring, and Bible study with NG’s social worker and staff. On the day of the visit, social worker Suela Llukaj led the children through hilarious skits based on Bible stories that had everyone entertained. The classroom building is a rough, temporary structure, hot in the summer and cold in the winter, but it provides enough shelter to support year-round activities.

The children who come to the Gjirokastër soup kitchen attend public schools—if they attend school at all. Roma and Balkan Egyptian children face many obstacles to accessing this basic need, including lack of parental support, lack of necessary school supplies and clothing, discrimination in the classroom, and difficulty with schoolwork.

This year, The Gjirokaster Local Center will help these children to succeed in the Albanian educational system, and you can be part of that effort. When school starts in the fall, your donations can provide Gjirokastër children with the school supplies they need, transport to and from school, after-school food and activities at the soup kitchen, and food aid for their families.

$25 will pay for school supplies for a year for one child, including books, backpacks, and registration documents.

A donation of $30 will pay for one family food parcel.

A donation of $50 will pay for new shoes, clothing, and coats for one child for one year.

Donate on our Global Giving project page, here: