Have you been to Albania? The Western Balkan country is not one of the main destinations of AEGEE. However, AEGEE-Tirana is trying hard to change this. Erald Aga, President of the antenna: “Many AEGEE members they have lack of information about Albania.” The Golden Times took a closer look at the antenna in the capital of the country.

Active members of AEGEE-Tirana

Golden Times: Erald, although AEGEE-Tirana is organizing its fourth Summer University this year, Albania is still a white spot on the map for many AEGEE members. Tell us about your antenna.
Erald: AEGEE-Tirana has a long and complicated history to explain. In fact, the first time that AEGEE-Tirana was recognised by AEGEE-Europe was in 2004. After that it worked for only six months and then stopped working. So, it was not active for a long time until February 2009. Why February 2009? Well, I took part in the Model European Union Krakow in 2008, where I met Mr. Dragan Stojanovski, former President of AEGEE-Europe. After talking with me he pushed me to contact people here, to make elections and start activating this local. For this reason in February 2009 we did our election in the presence of another former President of AEGEE-Europe: Mr. Manos Valasis, who was not president yet. In December 2010, also the Albanian Court recognized AEGEE Tirana officially.  Since that time AEGEE-Tirana has done a lot of activities and we have right now 11 people who work hard.

Tirana is famous for its colorful buildings

Golden Times: What did you organise in 2012?
Erald: Last year we do organized one LTC about Healthy Lifestyle, one Training Course about Human Rights Education, one SU with the topic “Creative Education” and several local events for our members.

Golden Times: AEGEE-Tirana is organising the SU “4 Crazy Summer” in 2013. What is it about?
Erald Aga: We chose the title, because it is our 4th SU in a row. “4 Summer Crazy” is all about creativity and sports. The 40 participants will have the possibility to practice their athletic skills in different types of outdoor sports. They will learn how to navigate outdoor by marching in the forest. This will connect them to nature. Furthermore, everyone will have the possibility to play and create instruments and learn how to sing.

Golden Times: How much will the participants see of our country?
Erald: We are going to visit six different cities in Albania, plus Ohrid in Macedonia, which is a beautiful border city with Albania.

Tirana SU Creative Education
AEGEE-Tirana’s SU Creative Education in 2012

Golden Times: Can you give some examples of the programme?
Erald: Sure. The first three days the group will spend in Durres. The official opening and team building will take place on the beach. One day before moving to Tirana, we will visit Kruja city, a historical place, meaningful for the Albanians. In Tirana, where we also stay three days, we will get to know the city, have sports and creative activities. The following four days of this 11-day event will take place in Pogradec, from where we will make excursions to places such as Voskopoja, Korca and Ohrid. Especially in Voskopoja we will explore the wild nature. The final day in Pogradec is to say goodbye to all participants and creating a “Crazy Summer” album which the idea is to have all those memories in one small album.

Golden Times: Your antenna has ambitious plans for 2013: International Training, Youth Exchanges, Local Training Course, Regional Training Course, Model European Union Tirana, Summer University, Winter University… How come that you can make so many events?
Erald: Well, I am aware these are many events, but taking into account that I have some experience in writing projects and applying under the Youth in Action Programme, I think it is going to be possible to realise them. Sure, after the SU we have the strong intention to organise a Model European Union Tirana event for the first time in Albania – and we hope we are going to have the support of AEGEE-Europe, too. For the rest like RTC or NWM, we will apply and let’s see if we are going to get the right to organise them in Tirana.

Tirana Healthy Lifestyle
Participants of the Healthy Lifestyle event in Tirana 2012

Golden Times: How can AEGEE-Tirana or AEGEE as such help to create a more open society in Albania?
Erald: Actually, we have started doing it since 2009 – by organising many events such as training courses, campaigns, seminars and conference and also by sending our members abroad to participate in different youth exchanges. We will still continue to do it year by year, because youngsters here deserve more and have to be equal to the other European youngsters. The ambitions of young people in Albania maybe are higher and they seem really motivated to be part of this change.

Golden Times: Are there other locals in Albania?
Erald: There used to be AEGEE-Shkodra, which was established in 2000, and AEGEE-Elbasan, which was established with our help in 2010. Both were deleted in 2011 because of not being active at all. So, we are doing an important job here as far we are the only local who can represent Tirana and all Albanian youngsters at AEGEE.

Golden Times: Are you cooperating with other locals in your region?
Erald: We have not started a cooperation yet. I have been in touch with some of the other locals but until now nothing has happened. Maybe in the Balkan region people needs more support in terms of grants and motivation, as far as institutions here don’t support the events of AEGEE locals. Also AEGEE-Europe should do something about it by changing some policies or supporting these locals anyhow.

The castle of Kruja is an important place in Albania – and one of the places the SU will visit

Golden Times: Economically, Albania has to catch up with other Balkan countries. At least since 2010 visa is no obstacle anymore for your members. What do you see as the biggest challenge that your antenna is facing?
Erald: As you said in the beginning: “economically”. I would attach on that. Yes, we have visa liberalisation since 2010 and it is a facility we have, but still it is very difficult to travel abroad from Albania when the minimum price of a flight ticket is 250 Euro. This obstacle creates also barriers not only to the members of AEGEE-Tirana to travel but also for other people who want to come to our events. This is a sad fact and I really hope there will be a solution to it found soon.

Golden Times: In 2011, the Lonely Planet put Albania on its top 10 list for countries to visit, last year the Huffington Post promoted Albania as an insider location. Do you think enough AEGEE members realise what a special place Albania is?
Erald: Indeed, I don’t know what AEGEE members think before coming to Albania, but usually I have heard that they have a lack of information about Albania and consider it a really cheap country where you can buy many things with 5 to 10 Euro and be rich. When they actually come here they realise that it is not true. I can say that a lot of urban legends are spread about Albania. Sure, we get visitors from other countries, but mostly we get them at Summer Universities. So, my personal opinion is that Albania is a wild beautiful country with contrasts and diversity. Furthermore, I can say Albania is Europe’s next adventure destination, in part because of its natural beauty, but also because there’s so much to do. The sea is empty and many tiny beaches are secluded. It is a paradise for mountain biking, rafting and kayaking, and the best yet: you’ll feel almost alone because there are simply not many people around.

Erald Aga brought AEGEE-Tirana back to life

Golden Times: Tell us about yourself: how old are you, what do you study, how did you join AEGEE?
Erald: I am 26 years old. I have finished Law University. Right now I am a part time lawyer, but at the same time I work as facilitator or trainer under the Youth in Action Programme. So, I do write projects and implement them. I have joined AEGEE-Tirana in 2009, I am really active, sharing my experience to develop this antenna more. I hope I have done good things until now and will to do even better things in the future.

Golden Times: What other hobbies do you have except for AEGEE?
Erald: I like playing football in my free time, I used to play for the team of K.F Tirana. Bowling, table tennis, chess, jogging every morning and listening to music are my other hobbies.

Golden Times: What were the greatest AEGEE events so far that you attended?
Erald: The Model European Union Krakow in November 2008 and the Network Meeting in Thessaloniki 2009 were the best events I attended. I have also been to Agora Skopje in Struga in 2011, but the previously mentioned ones I consider my greatest one ever.

Golden Times: Please complete the sentence: “AEGEE is for me…”
Erald: AEGEE is for me like a rainbow with a lot of colors.