„YMCA Europe is a working fellowship to strengthen movements where people grow in body, mind and spirit.“


30th October 2017

Egla Lula`s vision is to build a strong YMCA in Albania, for young Albanian people to come the day to say: "This is YMCA, the place to be! Where people grow in body, mind and spirit! This is YMCA! This is US!  

My first contact/impact with YMCA was in 2014, when I was working as a Project Coordinator for an IPA Cross-Border (Albania - FYROM) project, building capacities of 10 Youth NGOs; different organizations, but with the same aim: empowering young people. Among these NGOs there was YMCA Bitola as well. I found their approach and way of working really interesting, and their representatives as well, were active and really appealing. Within the framework of this project we participated on a one month exchange programme for four young people. One of the host NGOs was YMCA Bitola. The Albanian participant, Rudina came back very enthusiastic from this experience; she started to tell me what she has done there, how did YMCA worked with young people, the enthusiasm and the energy of the people working within this office, the ideas they were implementing and so on. After that, we both started to talk with Viktor Iliev (YMCA Bitola -Executive Director) who kindly informed us how YMCA works and how it works all over the world.

In the mean time, I became really curious on how and what other YMCA's were doing in different countries. From their blogs, websites, etc. anyone could easily understand that YMCA is a 'big family', all collaborating together in perfect sinergy, supporting each-other, fighting for voiceless groups to be heard and strengthening people all over the world. and so the more I read, the more I felt that YMCA is more a lifestyle than just work, than just going in the office and doing the usual paper work, which follows more the bureaucracy than the active and continuous need to act and wait for results...

Some months later, two representatives of YMCA Europe (Adam Rychlik and Michal Szymanczak) came in Albania and I had the opportunity and the great pleasure to meet them, to discuss about the Albanian reality, the potential that Albanian youth has and how could we, in Tirana, be part of this "amazing movement".

Then, the first invitation came from "YMCA Europe Roots for Reconciliation" which was organizing "Bridges for the future" training in Kosovo with 36 young leaders from 10 countries. I was really excited to be among YMCAs people from different countries; so , I met the wonderful couple Dorina Lluka (Kosovo) and Adi Davies, Marius Pop (YMCA Europe), Darryn Causby, Andy Hamilton, Karina Barnett (from UK), Andreea and Razvan (from Romania), Xristina Kyriaku (from Cyprus), Ivo Tepaskvi (from Bulgaria) Ivana Ilic (from Serbia) and so many others. The wonderful thing is that among this remarkable diversity in languages, cultures, mentalities, attitudes, expectations, ages, races - life - comes together and works for the best of the group, for a better all-ness and wholeness. It is inspiring and perfectly and I would say somehow perpetually works and pushes to give always the best, always with positivity, with acceptance, tolerance and recognition. All these elements are what are missing so much in this world - we need to get in contact with our humanity. I feel like YMCA's engine is very much this.

Hoping and counting on this same enthusiasm, the new YMCA in Tirana started its work on voluntary bases. We started to become little by little more and more part of this amazing worldwide family, participating in different international YMCA's activities, trainings, initiatives where different young people got involved, building their capacities, strengthening their knowledge, exchanging experiences, sharing their dreams and thinking for future cooperation.

On December 2015 a group from YMCA in Tirana was invited by the YMCA France in the COP 21 in Paris, related to the action of young people for climate protection. Parallel sessions between politicians and NGOs were organized. The Albanian representatives in this event were involved in different discussions related to the environment and youth actions that could be undertaken; skype conferences with some leaders of YMCA s in Europe and of course, that one evening when we had the intercultural event. Wonderful moments, knowing different cultures, dancing and singing together as one group - experiencing and enjoying diversity.

Three months later I had the pleasure to meet with the YMCA Romania staff through the training "I am because you are", organized by YMCA in Baia Mare. I felt really special in this training, because the staff invited all the team leaders (I was the leader for Albanian group) to be part of the trainers pool, to moderate different sessions, sharing experiences, working together and playing really important roles in working groups where all young participants were involved. Together with the Alina Pop (Executive Director of YMCA Romania)- one of the most impressive people I have ever met during my professional experience and beyond, Viktor Iliev (YMCA Bitola), Antoaneta Yankabakova (YMCA Bulgaria) and other colleagues from other YMCA's in the region, we spend 8 wonderful days in this human rights training.

One of the many wonderful things that I really like, appreciate and I am really demanding to our volunteers that participate in international events, is the sharing of what they learn on these events, with their peers. It is really important for everybody to share the enthusiasm, the common feeling of being part of YMCA's. So every time our volunteers participate in these activities, we organize meetings in our center in Tirana, with other volunteers and share with them what they have learnt and what is it about to be in YMCAs. We are continuing our work with young people, especially during the UN international days, in order to make young people more active and involved in these big events, and to make their voices better heard especially by the decision-makers. One important focus on this initiative is the information of young people on SDGs. We try to make them aware on the important role of young people toward these SDGs fulfillment.

Meanwhile our YMCA in Tirana/Albania, has been involved in different international events and really important programs offered by YMCA Europe and World YMCA, such as "Leadership Academy", "Peace Work Institute" and "Change agents". There are 7 young Albanian people involved in this programme of two years, building their capacities in related topics, and with which will be the leaders of our volunteers in implementing these program in our country.

At the same time, we have had some really interesting visits in our office from our YMCA friends from other countries. Our first guest was Romulo Dantas - Executive Secretary at World YMCA, who had a meeting with our young people and through sharing his story of involvement in YMCA he shared with us some wonderful experiences and examples of different YMCA's all over the World, and how it is to be part of YMCA. It was a very exiting day also to see the excitement and enthusiasm of our own volunteers on how our YMCA can be developed.

One of the most impressive visits was in October 2016, the meeting with the former American Ambassador in Albania, Mr. Christopher Hill and his wife Mrs. Julie Hill, who is Board Member of YMCA Metropolitan Denver. Their visit in our office was in the frame of the program "It's a Y World: Explore Cultures, Expand Reach with YMCA's "Friends Abroad". Through this unique international exchange program members, program participants, volunteers, and staff who are travelling abroad can visit and connect with other YMCA "Friends Abroad." At the same time, "friends" from YMCAs around the world can visit the YMCA of Metropolitan Denver and experience their programs, activities, and culture.

I have been invited in different international events, as well, met leaders from different YMCA's in Europe and in the World; but what have impressed me the most was my participation on January 2017, in UN ECOSOC youth forum, at UN Headquarter in New York, where important stakeholders, politicians, young people, NGOs all over the world came together and disused on SDGs and some of the most important topics related to youth empowerment. There were about 30 people representing YMCAs of different countries and continents. It was amazing to see the Red color of our T-shirts in the middle of the UN headquarter conference room and especially our representative in the main panel of discussion, among other most important politicians in the world.

We really try to do our best in our country, Albania, which has so many problems and where people are losing their hope to build a future in their own country. However, there are still many other people who really believe in our country's development, in our young people strengthening and empowerment, for a better future in Albania. I am really glad and also proud to be part of this group of people.
Together with our volunteers we have started to make some changes in our community, in our city and I believe that it will come the day these changes will be effective on a larger scale. All these international experiences serve to learn from the best experiences and to apply them in the most appropriate way to our realities; but in the mean time we can make our reality known abroad, our strategies and national plans incorporate in international level. What can be a better way than Youth Policy Group? I have had the pleasure to be part of YMCA Europe Youth Policy Group since November 2016. We are working on 4 Policy papers on the 4 main priorities of YMCA Strategy: Migration, Youth Unemployment, Peace and Justice, Youth Empowerment. This group is composed by Gerald Chifamba (UK), Eliza Vas (Romania), Janette van Kalkeren (The Netherlands), Phillippa Lewis (UK), Martina Vitezova (Serbia), Lea Suzanne Wisseler (Germany) and me from Albania, and we work closely with YMCA Representative to the Council of Europe Advisory Council on Youth Tinna Steinsdottir, lead by Ilenia Ventroni (YMCA Europe). We have finished the first draft of these papers and are ready to support the action of YMCA Europe YPG during its participation to the European Youth Forum Council of Members.

During this month, October 2017, for the first time I participated in the 6th National General Secretaries Forum in Kassel, Germany. I had the opportunity to meet, listen, learned by the huge National Movements of YMCA in France, England, Germany, Norway, Finland, Poland, Italy, and mostly have the chance to be part of the discussions on the future and strategy of YMCA Europe. I meet the group of the "Roots for reconciliation" Marius Pop (one of the most supportive person for our YMCA development and offering the chance to our young's to participate in many international events), Rezi Shavladze and Vardan Hambardzumyan and finally I meet him, Juan Simoes Iglesias (so positive, supportive and willing to share his enthusiasm for our new YMCA to be developed)

I want to close my story with another very special moment. In the middle of October I was invited by the YMCA in Kosovo and have the pleasure and felt honored to meet Y's Men club of Denmark, Really amazing moments on the ceremony of Y's Men Gjakova' Club and filled with enthusiasm while visiting the offices and knowing the programs of YMCA in Kosovo, in Gjakova, Peja and Junik. Thanks to Dorina Davies Lluka Davies I will be part of the story of YMCA in Kosovo camp in Gjakova, as a witness of the very first tree plant on that camp land. A new story of collaboration will start among our YMCA's- so excited about this.

...and my journey continue. My next station is "2017 World YMCA Strategy Delivery Summit" which will be held in Czech Republic. New experiences to be learned, wisdom to be taught, strategies to be planned, future possibilities to be catches and challenges to be faced...and always stays positive and young among Young's.

Our vision - to build a strong YMCA in Albania, for young Albanian people to come the day to say: "This is YMCA, the place to be! Where people grow in body, mind and spirit! This is YMCA! This is US!

This article is part of "THIS IS YMCA - THIS IS US" Campaign.

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Author/Source: Egla Lula - YMCA Tirana / Albania

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