Lezhe Cultural Palace, Lezhe, Albania
The municipality of Lezhe is fairly large, and is made up of around 60,000 people. There are many villages surrounding Lezhe, and each one seems to have its own special flavor. The city of Lezhe is considered the center. You know you’re in Lezhe when you look up and see its beautiful castle up on the mountain. The sunset over Lezhe is extraordinary year-round, but during the Summer, you can stay out late and watch the sun go down over the seaside. Although Lezhe is a tourist hot spot in the Summer because of its beaches, the rest of the year is similar to many other Northern Albanian towns. There is an outside market where you can buy vegetables, fruits, clothes, and household items for very cheap prices. There are many different cafés available for Albania’s favorite pastime, drinking coffee. Most everyone in Lezhe either knows one another, or is in some way related to each other.
Lezhe has an old-Albania feel to it, but it also seems to be on the rise and progressive. As a female, you can go out for a coffee without public shame, and on the same day you can also see a villager riding his horse and carriage filled with firewood. Many people in Lezhe have a good basic understanding of English. The surrounding villages are green, beautiful and full of generous, hard-working people. Lezhe inhabitants are proud of their traditions and values, yet still aim to advance with the times. This attitude shapes Lezhe’s character.
The bathroom in the Cultural Palace is so damaged that it has been boarded up for safety reasons. A few volunteers (including project manager Miranda) actually crawled through the spider webs, and sewer-like atmosphere to check out the remains of the Cultural Palace’s bathroom. The first thought was to re-do the piping in the old bathrooms, but it was quickly realized that the pipes would run straight to the river, and while not only harming the environment by distributing waste into the river, every time it would rain in the future, the bathroom would run the risk of flooding back into the facility.
After carefully looking at the situation with an engineer from the Directorate of Education, where Miranda volunteers, she saw an opportunity to rebuild the bathrooms in a room currently being used as a storage space. This space offers enough room for one bathroom for females and another for males. It also provides a space for windows and ventilation, which the other bathroom did not have. Most importantly, this space allows for tubes and pipes to run properly to an appropriate place for waste removal, not the river!
The cultural Palace has taken on a new responsibility this year, agreeing to not only host all cultural events of the county, but also monthly movie nights. Besides pool halls, casinos, and cafés, Lezhe does not offer any community entertainment. Movie nights are a great chance for families to come together to do something fun, but without a bathroom, a movie theater is difficult to enjoy. The last thing anybody needs on a fun family night out, is to worry about needing to go to the bathroom when there are no appropriate facilities around. A basic bathroom facility needs ventilation, running water, a toilet, and a place to wash hands, light, a door, soap, and toilet paper. The previous bathroom did not have any of these necessities.
The current plan for fixing the bathrooms involves permanently boarding up the old bathrooms, cleaning out the storage area, installing windows, and creating 2 separate restrooms (one for girls, another for boys), which includes a new floor, 2 sinks, 2 toilets, 2 secure walls, 2 doors, new tubes and pipes, and a water heater.
The engineer from the Directorate of Education has designed a plan and has already shared it with the Director of the Cultural Palace as well as the engineer from the Municipality. All three institutions will collaborate together with Miranda (the Peace Corps Volunteer) to see this project through. The Municipality will provide workers as well as 62% of the material and labor costs. The Directorate of Education will continue to provide support, the plan from the engineer, and supplies for future activities. The Cultural Palace itself will provide labor and will ensure the facility’s maintenance.
This project will positively impact around 7,200 people.
Peace Corps Volunteer Directing Project
Monitoring and Maintenance
Monitoring and maintenance will be in the hands of the Municipality and the Cultural Palace. The Municipality pays custodians to clean the facilities daily and to do routine check-ups, and the Cultural Palace will keep an eye on the bathroom to report any damage. As a back-up, the engineer from the Directorate of Education has offered to assist the project in any way, including helping with the original design and construction of the bathroom, as well as providing routine maintenance.
The community organization involved in this project include the Directorate of Education, the Municipality, and the Cultural Palace of Lezhe, which will assist in the financing and rebuilding.
Let Girls Learn
Learning for girls extends to many places outside of schools. As development increases in Albania, so does the inclusion of girls in outside-school activities. It is important for girls and women to have a proper place to go to the bathroom so that they can have a place to appropriately tend to their menstrual cycles, wash their hands, and avoid health issues such as urinary Tract infections from holding in their urine. It is much safer for women to have a bathroom facility since if they go outside they run the risk of public shame, as well as sexual harassment and assault. For these reasons, all places of education and learning should have a bathroom facility available for girls. Schools in Albania offer the basic forms of education, but do not act as institutions where students may find and improve more specialized and specific skills (i.e. acting, musical, public speaking, debate, creative writing). Girls have started to participate in activities outside of school such as Girls Leading Our World conferences, Albanian Model United Nations, and Write On, and the desire for them to keep participating in such activities is constantly increasing.
The theater in the Cultural Palace of Lezhe wants to play a big role in school-related activities. It will act as a place for students and community members to come watch and partake in musical and theatrical performances, films, and assemblies. Girls already have a difficult time participating in activities outside of school since many old mentalities of families believe that women belong in the house when not at school or work. This pressure, particularly from fathers, makes many girls hesitant to join in extra-curricular activities. If the venue where these activities take place lacks a proper bathroom, it just gives girls another reason to not want to be involved in such activities.
The new director of the Cultural Palace, Albana, is a famous Albanian Opera singer. She thrives on the idea of giving children a place to be creative and artistic. She also sets a great example for girls to see that if they really love something and follow their passions, they can become anything they dream of. When Miranda first heard Albana’s voice she was moved. When Albana told Miranda about how passionate she was about improving the Cultural Palace, Miranda was even more motivated to help her out in some way. Lezhe is a town with a theater, and you can believe there are many people that want to watch an event in those chairs and even get up on that stage. Creativity and passion live in the director of the Cultural Palace and in the young minds of the children in Lezhe, and by providing basic facilities such as a working bathroom, we will get a beautiful artistic movement started here.
As such, this project falls under the Let Girls Learn Initiative, a program we have to support the goals of FLOTUS Michelle Obama’s worldwide effort to help women and girls around the world receive and maintain an education.
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