After the long day and a half journey, I was still a bit shell shocked when I was picked up at the hotel at 8 am by Dan from World Vision. I am so thankful he spoke English well and immediately put me at ease with stories and interesting conversation that made the hour drive fly by. We were driving south to see K my World Vision sponsored child and his family! I had brought a scrapbook of his letters and photos and a few small gifts. The office staff was in training all day but two staff members from World Vision remained behind to facilitate this visit. After signing a few papers (basic child safety and privacy issues), here they came! I was able to meet K in person, discuss what he wanted to do in life, school, meet his brothers and parents, and go through the scrapbook and remember the past 10 years. His mother wrote for him the first year. She still has her garden and the children still help. K's brother is in a professional high school and wants to train to be an electrician. K is leaning the same way. I am hopeful they will receive top notch training because electrical work is a valuable skill in any economy. I wanted to ask if his father had been able to find some work (genuinely interested) but when it got to that point I realized how awkward that would be for him. No man wants to be asked in front of his family if he's found a job yet. Frankly, there aren't a lot of jobs to be had in rural Albania. So I didn't.
For lunch, we went to a nice Italian restaurant. I quickly discovered that pizza and Italian food is everywhere in Albania. And the pizza there is SO much better than anything you could ever find here. Everyone had a good meal (my first Albanian meal) and then I talked to the World Vision coordinator. It just didn't seem right for me to visit and LEAVE and the family have some need unmet. She discussed with the mother and father and it was decided that grocery shopping was in order. I had asked family for Christmas just to give money so I could have some extra for just such a purpose. Thanks to those who helped! So that's what we did- well the mother did- she was able to buy a lot of groceries. I mentioned this to Dan on the way home and he echoed my thought- they are struggling if the greatest need is groceries. We then went outside and said our goodbyes. One World Vision van would take them home and Dan was ready to take me back to Tirana. It was sad that the visit passed so quickly. But it was good to see that the family was healthy, the children are in school (and have career aspirations!), and there is hope for a brighter future.
I was able to take photos of the family and the visit but won't be posting them on a public blog. If you have a sponsored child, try to visit them sometime. If you don't have a sponsored child or family, what's holding you back? You won't regret the decision! I had to wait 10 years to visit but it was so encouraging to see how lives are changed and communities transformed. World Vision has invested heavily in renovating schools and building a school in this area. There are so many challenges facing Albania's economy and people but education is an investment that will pay off when the economy improves. They have Christian summer camps for the children (K was able to go in 2015), training for churches on how to develop Christian education programs that are age appropriate, and so much more. The focus is not just saying "Jesus loves you" but demonstrating that love in action.