Rob Rowen, President, GAC
Global Action Coalition was invited to partner with Dr. Alex Akulli on a school library project in Albania. Our group that went was myself, Alex Akulli, Marilyn Kaleel, Alex’s daughter Tessa and Hayley Benedict. Please read the two stories on this project, one from Alex and one from Marilyn. Marilyn was so moved by the experience with the children that she went back to bring more books and make sure the library bookcases were filled. Global Action was glad to contribute the cost of making the shelves and buying some of the books. IT is through education that we connect the world and create the next generation of leaders.
In summer of 2022, Global Action Coalition (GAC) was invited by Mimoza Academy to collaborate as a co-sponsor by providing partial funding towards establishing public libraries in rural Albania. This project was pioneered by Dr. Alex Akulli, the Founding President of Mimoza Academy. After reaching an agreement with the K-12 school principal in the village of Kemishtaj, in September of 2022, Dr. Akulli led a small team to Albania to establish “Biblioteka Mimoza”, the first public library in the region. The team included the GAC President, Mr. Rob Rowen, Ms. Marilyn Khaleel, Ms. Hayley Benedict, and Ms. Tessa Akulli.
The library is named after Dr. Akulli’s late sister, Mimoza. She was a very good student but was not afforded the opportunity to pursue education beyond the compulsory 8th grade due to poverty and limited opportunities during the communist regime. Biblioteka Mimoza is housed at the K-12 public school where she was a student. The Regional Director of the Department of Education, the School Principal, teachers, students, and several of Dr. Akulli’s immediate family members participated at the inaugural opening ceremony of Biblioteka Mimoza on September 20, 2022.
Most students who attend this school come from farming families who barely earn enough money to feed their children. Although the school was recently renovated by the regional department of education, it lacks basic teaching and learning materials and technology. Establishing the Biblioteka Mimoza was received with much enthusiasm by the teachers, the students, and families in this community.
We worked closely with the school principal throughout the process. The principal appropriated one of the largest classrooms to be converted into the library and community resource center. A team of teachers compiled the list of books to be donated, reflecting their instructional needs and the students’ reading interests. We hired a local carpenter to build the bookshelves. We sourced nearly 200 books in-country at a bookstore in Tirana, the capital city of Albania. Our colleague, Ms. Khaleel, brought over 150 books from the United States and donated two new laptop computers; a third new laptop computer was donated by Dr. Akulli’s family members.
In December of 2022, Ms. Khaleel returned to Albania with another shipment of books from the United States. Prior to her arrival in Albania, the teachers at the school in Kemishtaj complied a second list of over 150 needed books. Mimoza Academy and GAC purchased these books in Albania and Ms. Khaleel delivered them to Biblioteka Mimoza. In addition, Mimoza Academy coordinated and funded the in-country logistics.
The day after being established, Biblioteka Mimoza started serving students, teachers, parents, and the broader community. In addition to books getting checked out regularly, Biblioteka Mimoza has also become a vibrant community center. In its first 3 months of existence, Biblioteka Mimoza has hosted community education workshops and seminars organized by the schoolteachers in collaboration with community health professionals. Some of the topics include breast cancer awareness, diabetes, literacy, and metabolic health. Ms. Khaleel had the pleasure of participating in the seminar on metabolic health.
Biblioteka Mimoza is made possible by Dr. Akulli’s family and partial funding from the Global Action Coalition. This is the first of many schools where we plan to establish public libraries.
I was inspired to visit Albania after reading that Prime Minister, Rama, had mandated that English was to be taught in Albanian schools starting from FIRST GRADE, effective Sept. 13, 2021. I also read a book by a Harvard Albanian author who documented how the Albanians had suffered under 40 years of communism and were prohibited from reading books from foreign countries or even watching outside news sources.
When I was introduced to Albanian-born Dr. Alex Akulli by Rob Rowen from Global Action Coalition, I knew I wanted to be a part of the Mimoza Biblioteca Project! From our first trip to the school in Kemishtaj in Sept. 2022, I noticed the enthusiasm of the Principal and the teachers. Before my departure, I had consulted a Masters’s degree librarian regarding the books that were age appropriate for each reading level from Grades 1-8. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the same books the Albanian teachers had requested were the same as most children in the Western world read. We had copies of Pete the Cat, Diary of the Wimpy Kid, The Magic Treehouse series, and Harry Potter, and these books in BOTH Albanian and English to facilitate fluency faster. Also, I was informed by one of the teachers that they had the desire to start an adult literacy program, and the Early Readers were perfect for this project.
The teacher’s book list was quite impressive as we graduated to the upper grades with authors from Camus and Faust to Ismail Kadare, the award-winning Albanian author.
As we returned home to the US, each week Dr. Akulli was given updates on the amazing magnitude of the further development of library outreach programs. One week the library was decorated in pink for breast awareness, and when I returned in December, I was treated to an hour program on the food pyramid and avoiding diabetes. On both trips, it was tremendously gratifying to watch the students eagerly assess the boxes of books their teachers had ordered and excitedly place them on the bookshelves. The student’s desire to read and accumulate knowledge was insatiable.
One of my sweetest moments was when a shy 15 yr old teen boy asked me what books I might have that would interest him, and I presented him with 3 books from the Amulet series. He hurriedly grabbed them for himself to be the first to read them.
In a time of social media ruling the lives of teenagers, I was dumbfounded that this boy would prefer a BOOK! Needless to say, this Mimoza Biblioteca Project is changing the lives of an entire Albanian community.