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August 21 2009

Elbasan (Albania): Solidarity summer at the Mental Hospital

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For the fourth consecutive year, organized by the Community of Sant' Egidio, a summer of solidarity has been run in the hospital "Sadik Dinci" of the town of Elbasan, one of the biggest mental hospital of all Albania, that today welcomes about 280 patients.

Year after year the activities have multiplied, above all thanks to the precious collaboration of many friends who live and operate in Elbasan.

Anastas (Taso) KostandiniBesides the laboratories of carpentry and painting, already started last year, this time two more laboratories were run: one for cooking and one for small craftsmanship.

But the big novelty regards the laboratory of painting, that had the participation of the well-known Albanian painter of Pogradec, Anastas (Taso) Kostandini, who also held an attractive theoretical-practical lesson on the techniques of painting and on the use of colors, with the meaningful title: "Colors mean freedom".

The presence of such a qualified artist has opened the possibility to realize in the future exhibitions with the works realized by the guests of the mental hospital.

The houses of the Basilian Sisters Daughters of S. Macrina and of S. Giovanna Antida, seats of the laboratories, have been since the very first day comfortable places for the friends cured in the hospital, actually as if they were their home - many of them no longer have a home since many years ago - and they were confident to find every day someone awaiting for them with affection.

Since the beginning in fact a familiar mood, affectionate and careful for the needs and the lives of these friends was created.


An example is represented by the story of Mariana, a gypsy youngster almost thirty-year-old, abandoned by the parents when she was newborn, grown in orphanage until the age of 16, when, for a slight retardation, she was given shelter in the mental hospital. Since then she never wanted to go out, not even for some hours. The staff of the hospital, now resigned, tried anyway to propose her to participate in our courses, though almost sure of a negative reply. Mariana, instead, astonished all: not only she never missed one lesson, but she was always the first one to arrive and the last one to leave the house! And every day she repeated the same question:  "May I come tomorrow too?".  Her smile and happyness really surprised all!

At the end of the course the patients also received a certificate of participation, that will be included in their documents folder to favour their future working insertion once the hospitalization will be over.

On a Wednesday afternoon, as every month, in the Catholic-Byzantine church of Shen Pjetri (St. Peter), next to the house of the Basiliane sisters, a moving prayer for the sick was held. This monthly appointment has now become an awaited tradition for many patients and other persons of Elbasan that there have the possibility of remembering in the prayer the names of their friends and dear persons who are sick.

The week was concluded with a big party with the title:  "Down with the Grey!", held with the support of the Commune and of the catholic community of Elbasan in the main square of the town. Representatives of the Papal Nunciature, of the local Catholic Church, of the hospital, of the World Health Organization took part. The painter Anastas (Taso) Kostandini with his intervention introduced the art exhibition, taking again the subject of the beauty of a "world in colour, free and multicolored, respectful of the variety and of the individual talents".  

The patients exhibited and sold their paintings and manufactured articles with great pride.


All ended with songs and popular dances and with abundant refreshments prepared by the participants in the courses of cooking of sister Gertrude.

The party in the square was a really special event because it was the first public show in the small town in which the patients of the mental hospital took part. The sick people, "invisible" to the residents of Elbasan, were protagonists of a city event and thus returned to be part of the human fabric of the town.

This week was an effective and strong reply to the despair and to the resignation of the condition of illness, of solitude and of segregation of these people.  It is a strong sign of liberation from evil.

Really we saw realized the words of Jesus:  "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me."  (Lk 7:22-23)

 The School of Peace in Berat

  Also this year the school of Peace in Berat had as subject the alliance between generations.  The 10-12 year-old children met Bardhok, an old man aging 75, to renew the friendship between youngsters and elderly. 

Bardhok told of the time when, being a little children in a village of the north, he saw arriving first the Italian soldiers and then the German army, and also of how one lived and worked under the communist regime, showing the children the great value of peace and of freedom, often given for granted.

"Not always the elderly are treated well here - Bardhok said - but you have listened to me with patience and caution, and this is the sign that we can live close to one another. Treat well the elderly because you will be elderly yourselves and you will demand respect".

 The School of Peace in Pogradec

A faithful friendship that continues. it has been three years that the Communities of the Czech Republic, and this year also of the Slovakia, live a summer of solidarity in Pogradec. Also this year the school of peace has continued, with 70 children working and playing together for one week, gypsy and Albanians that come from a very poor district of the town.

The common subject that accompanied the days and that united all has been friendship with the elderly. In the final party there were the grandfathers of different children, without barriers of ethnicity. 

For the gypsy children the days have concluded having together a nourishing lunch, a true lunch, prepared and thought for them.

The afternoons were dedicated to the  friendship, attractive and now long dated, with the gypsy families (about 60 persons), that live still today in a former barracks, in very precarious conditions.  For this, the packages-gift of garments, material for the house and toys, collected in Czech Republic and in Slovakia, were very agreeable. With the women of the camp we also had a catechesis, where we talked about Jesus as a poor migrant child, close to their life. All them have then participated in the former -barracks to a prayer for the sick. One of the older women expressed the feelings of all, adults and children:  "When you are here, we revive of delight and friendship, and we do not die under the weight of our problems."

These words are for us a commitment to faithfulness, to continue to work during the year also in our countries. In this time when our societies in Central and Eastern Europe esperience violent expressions of antigitanism, we feel with greater force the responsibility of not forgetting them.


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