From the beginning, the Heritage Project aimed to recognise the valuable elements of the Albanian heritage in its entirety. Most of the children, that were involved in this project were born and raised outside Albania, or other Albanian-Speaking Balkan territories. Through this project Shpresa Programme helps them to understand the inherited cultural richness that our homeland carries.
Having successfully delivered this project through the previous years with a focus on the northern Albania, this year we shifted our curriculum to the Southern Albania, which is as rich and fascinating as Northern Albania. We specifically focused on three main cities, Berat, Gjirokastra cultural and monumental elements of which have been declared by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage, and Vlora, where the independence of Albania was declared.
Faced with the challenges of the pandemic, that affected us globally, we also had to shift all our work online. The vast digital world gave us opportunities that we would not have been able to access otherwise, but introduced us with new challenges too. Online rehearsals limits performance elements, more attention and care Is needed to compensate for physical presence: children need more time to sit in front of a computer, build trust and adjust, and overcome technical issues. The biggest challenges were the polyphonic performances, which need more than two voices to be successfully conducted.
Flutra Bara, the initiator of the Albanian School and Children’s Project, spoke about the beginnings of this project, the achievements, successes and the immense pleasure when looking at how, through children our organization, Albanian Language and Culture in Diaspora, is kept alive. Flutra, mentioned some children and families that have been part of this project from its very beginnings. Younger then, and adults today. Layal Husain, PhD researcher in the University of East London brought among us, a brief overview of the ‘Growing up Bilingual Project’, the project implementation, its goals and outcomes, where our groups are involved.
The event had three main constituent structures. The presentation of the work by a group of children aged 10+ on the cultural heritage of the city of Berat, with the guidance and directing of Teacher Sami (Saime Dushku). Followed by, the legacy of the city of Gjirokastra, with younger children aged 4-10 directed by teacher Genta Vasili, followed by the Southern Albanian Polyphony, prepared by teacher Albana. Parents and children rated this performance with a lot of heart-warming comments, and we were positively overwhelmed by applause.
On the 1 of June directed by teacher Evis Suka, we followed the continuation of the Heritage Project, which unfolded as a concert on its own. Children came together in songs, acting and poems. They presented beautifully put presentations on Vlora and Prizren. Teacher Evis made sure to thank the volunteers that helped her put these presentations together and children were awarded with certificates by the end of their virtual concert. As teacher Evis called on her students for their ‘peaceful protest’, the ZOOM screen was filled with drawings from children, with inspirational phrases they had chosen and designed themselves.
‘My mom is my hero’
‘I am proud to be Albanian’
‘I want to be a football player and represent Albania when I grow up’
Following these beautiful messages, teacher Diana (Diana Kocia) took the virtual stage over. Teacher Diana introduced a unique element to our event. Her dedicated work had reached our homeland, where some children from Albania joined us on ZOOM to sing songs and recite poems. Her students kept the momentum lively as it was, with the pieces they had prepared for the event, greeting their compatriots.
The Heritage Project is very important to our community. This project creates a tangible connection between being born and raised in Diaspora and our homeland. The project itself is based on reliable sources and research that is then tailored by our dedicated teachers for the children. This enables them to learn more about our culture and traditions. Through this event, the children unfolded for parents, teachers and guests, the beautiful aspects of our heritage.