Visiting Villages in the Albanian Mountains

Jul 27, 2018

The US office of Nehemiah Gateway is in Estes Park, and I have been working there since 2016. This summer’s trip was an opportunity to see the projects I have been helping to promote firsthand. So far, much of my work has focused on Nehemiah Gateway’s education projects, including Nehemiah Gateway University and the Amaro Tan School for Roma children in Pogradec. Humanitarian work, such as medical support and aid for the very poor, has been a part of Nehemiah Gateway’s mission in this Southeast European nation from the beginning.

The villages are also shockingly poor. Just to get to the houses, you hike steeply uphill, on rough trails that are muddy and punctuated with animal waste and ubiquitous trash. Electricity is available in the villages, but water comes in one temperature (cold) and the bathrooms people use from day to day are of the hole in the ground variety. There are no schools, no stores, no medical services. Families with children must leave during the school year and stay with relatives who have found some sort of an existence in one of Albania’s cities—or else the children spend several hours a day walking to and from remote bus stops to attend faraway schools. Yet all that they have is here, in the villages. A move to the city is costly, and Nehemiah Gateway brings parcels of food and supplies to the very neediest households in these villages—staples like cooking oil, flour, sugar, rice, and coffee, as well as soap and donated clothing and shoes. Staff identify the neediest people by talking to members of the community, including village leaders. Sometimes the need is obvious—families who have someone with a disability, like the leader of the first village we visited, who has an adult son with untreated Downs Syndrome. Or people who have lost their home in an earthquake, like the Roma mother with two teenage daughters we met squatting in a room in an abandoned hospital. Or people who have lost their livelihood to a medical emergency, like the woman we met whose son was hit in the face with a chainsaw while cutting wood.

N.G. social workers put a lot of time and love into their work. Social workers Katerina and Anila led the way to the homes, calling out greetings from the trail. They met each client with hugs and sat down in most homes to visit with each person. There was just neighborly kindness between helper and helped. As an international organization, N.G. recognizes that it can’t always change people’s circumstances, but providing food and clothing to people who can’t get them for themselves helps to make their lives a little better for a while. Although village outreach is limited to what can be carried on these trips, in Pogradec N.G.’s medical/humanitarian team works tirelessly to provide a wide range of services to the poor, the unfortunate, and the disabled.

This work, now going on for 27 years, was inspired and continues to be informed by the Christian faith of the Geiger family, embracing the principles of loving your neighbor and taking care of the poor on a very basic level, without judgement and with profound respect for our shared humanity. Their principled and effective work of Nehemiah Gateway has earned the organization a unique place in this country, trusted and respected by people of all faiths.