In the early hours of the 26 November, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck one of the most populated parts of Albania- Durres County, and claimed the lives of 51 men, women, and children. Over 700 people were injured and as many as 4500 are homeless because their homes have been damaged, or they are too fearful to return.
In the days since, around 1000 aftershocks ranging between M 1.9 and M 5.6 have rocked the country, driving more citizens into the streets and adding to the devastation caused by the initial earthquake. The country, my home, has been plunged into survival mode with everyone functioning in a heightened state of panic- scared, sad, angry, and worried about what the future holds.
But as the dust settles and the international news cycles move on from the plight of the Albanian people, the disaster is far from over. This troubled land, my home and where my heart is, has been rocked from its very core in a disaster that will resonate for decades to come. This is the poorest country in Europe, and the struggle to rebuild not just buildings, but lives and hope is something that money cannot buy.
The real heroes of this catastrophic event are those volunteers who have given their time, energy, money, love, and every ounce of humanity they possess to pick up the pieces. The Alliance for the Protection of the National Theatre comes to mind as one of the leading providers of humanitarian aid over the last few days.
A team of some 200 volunteers have worked around the clock, collecting, sorting, and distributing 40 tonnes of aid, donated by 9000 donors. But more than that, with the money they have received from kind donors they will start to build temporary shelters for those whose homes are too damaged for them to return to. They will place the structures near their damaged properties, allowing people to continue some semblance of normality in their lives, without having to leave the place where they live.
Their tireless work is to be commended- putting aside their jobs, comfort, and their own lives, they have mobilised an army of citizens who have selflessly stepped into the role of the state, asking for nothing in return. These people, along with thousands that have used social media to identify those in need and connect them with those providing help, are the life and soul of this country.
Where the authorities failed, these brave people stepped in and gave their time and energy to help strangers in their time of need.
The outpouring of compassion and the coming together of all facets of society that I have witnessed since the earthquake has brought me to tears more times than I care to admit. To see this level of solidarity and the burning desire to help others at the country’s most difficult and testing time has been incredible to observe, and this combined with the overwhelming support from civil society and NGOs in neighbouring countries is something that will warm my heart for years to come.
Convoys from Kosovo with the Albanian flag tied to their cabins, trucks from Serbia and Greece who are not known for their friendly relationship with Albania, teams of rescuers from Italy who put their lives on the line to bring people out of the wreckage, NGOs from all over, and sniffer dog teams from Romania that dropped everything to be here- these are also the heroes of the hour.
Even just writing about these examples of humanity at its finest, brings a lump to my throat.
Without these brave men and women and the tonnes of clothes, food, mattresses, tents, water, and other supplies collected and transported to the communities that need it, I cannot even begin to imagine what situation we would be in now.
To see my home ripped apart in this way, and to read the names of those people who lost their lives that early morning is a pain that I know is shared far and wide. What happened that day and in the days since will never leave me because honestly, I have never felt grief like this.
But the struggle is far from over- people have still not received help, they continue to sleep outside either in tents or under the stormy skies, and the pleas for help that ping into my inbox are a stark reminder of how much of a struggle this recovery process is going to be. But there is hope- the power and strength of the souls of Albanian people and their genuine desire to help each other and overcome this moment of darkness makes me sure that together, eventually, no one will be left out in the cold forever.
I am scared, I am sad, I am angry, I am brokenhearted, I am fearful for the future, I feel helpless, and I am in mourning, but I have never been prouder to call Albania my home.
For those that want to donate items or money, I trust and fully support the efforts of The Alliance For The Protection of the National Theatre. You can find them at the National Theatre in the centre of Tirana.
This article was originally published on The Balkanista.