The power of young people in Tirana, Albania
In August 2006, Dennis Donovan and I were invited by the Educational Society for Malopolska (MTO) , based in Poland, to attend a meeting with over 200 Public Achievement participants from 10 countries in Eastern Europe. Young people, and school teachers and other educators, met near Tetovo, Macedonia, to share stories and lessons, build relationships, and begin creating a learning community for future work. Even if those hadn’t been the stated goals, I think they would have happened naturally because there was so much excitement about what had been achieved through Public Achievement, and so much hope for what was possible.
Ardita Korriku, a 17-year-old from Tirana, Albania, was one of many powerful young people we met (pictured below with her teacher, Genci Ago).
Ardita and other students wanted to do something to improve their school. Abdulla Keta High School was run-down, and it had become overcrowded because of an influx of students who had migrated with their families from the northern and northeastern parts of Albania after the Balkans war. The building was so overcrowded, in fact, that the school day had been divided into two shifts.
With help from their teacher and coach, Genci Ago, the team of 15 students broke a daunting problem down into achievable steps. First, they organized teachers, parents and other students who wanted to be part of their work. This gave them power, connections and credibility. Next, they raised money, gained the support of school officials, and recruited volunteers to paint classrooms with attractive murals. At the same time, the students met with city leaders to make a convincing case for a new building.
As a result of pressure from these students - who were more powerful because they were organized with teachers and parents - the city made a public commitment to address the problem. In May 2007, the city began construction on a second story of classroom space. In addition to alleviating the overcrowding, young people from the neighborhood who had previously been turned away will be able to register for classes at Abdulla Keta.
While they were working to get building improvements, the Public Achievement team took on a number of other projects. One of them was organizing a cultural exhibit featuring traditional food from each of the areas in Albania where the school’s students come from. Abdulla Keta students did all of the cooking themselves.
I agree with what Genci Ago said when I talked to him in August 2006: "We shouldn't just treat young people like kids. They have amazing ideas. They can change the world."