A Kosovo girl discovers her “Polish part”

Article published on Jan. 19, 2009
community published
Article published on Jan. 19, 2009

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The European Voluntary Service is a sponsored international volunteering program for young people between 18 and 30.  In 2006, more than 4500 volunteered in NGOs throughout Europe with the so called EVS, including some volunteers in and from the Balkan countries[1].

Albina Syla, 25, an ethnic Albanian girl from Kosovo, volunteered nine month long in Wroclaw, Poland, where she took care of physically and mentally ill people.

Looking back in the past, Albina Syla, 25, has already seen much from the world. The young ethnic Albanian girl from Kosovo studied English at university and has been working in a radio station for five years know. In 2006, she decided to go on a European Voluntary Service in Wroclaw, Poland. Nine month long, Albina took care of physically and mentally disabled people.  After her time abroad, Albina came back to her family and former job as a radio journalist and became also a youth trainer.

Not according to the clichés

With her short blond hair, blue eyes and many piercings, the young woman does not look like the stereotype Western Europeans may have about people coming from Kosovo. Albina’s odyssey to Poland started when she heard of European Voluntary Service at the time she was volunteering at the Youth Center of her city of origin, Gjilan, a small town called Gnjilane in Serbian language, situated in the East of the now independent Republic of Kosovo, near the Macedonian border.

For her friends, Albina’s decision to go abroad was quite curious. “I wanted to discover myself”, says the young woman. Because of the difficulty for people coming from Kosovo to get a visa, Albina decided to travel to Poland rather than to the United Kingdom, where she originally wanted to go. “I was interested in the project in Poland”, she remembers. “I wanted to know if I was able to live without my parents, my brother and my friends”, she says.

I felt in love with that job

Nine month long, Albina worked every day from 8 to 15 in a center called Ostoja, where physically and mentally ill adults would get a preparation to be able to take jobs, for example in fast food restaurants. Each day, Albina had to take care of a group of 5 people with diseases like hyperactivity, autism, schizophrenia or epilepsia. “It was really hard in the beginning”, remembers Albina. Now she knows how to deal with this kind of diseases. “I felt in love with that job. I was missing the radio but I was feeling good helping people”, she says.

 In Wroclaw, Albina lived in a big shared house with other volunteers coming from all over Europe. “I was lucky I had a lot of nationalities in the flat so I learned a lot of things”, she says happily. That’s how Albina got to know not only Polish culture, but also culture from Spain, Germany, Macedonia, Bosnia and Ukraine. She still has contacts with the friends she made during her time in Poland as well as with the families of the patients.

Learning in tandem

When Albina first arrived in Poland, she started to speak English and Serbian with the people. As a Slavic language, Serbian is close to Polish, so it was easier for her to communicate. Then she found a tandem partner to learn Polish properly. Albina and her tandem partner will speak only Polish for a while, and then switch the language, so that both of them were obliged to learn and to progress quickly.  “After one month, I was OK with communication. I could understand even if I could not respond”, she remembers. With this technique, Albina was able to overcome the little misunderstandings of the beginning and speaks now not only good Polish but also better Serbian and better English.

EVS gave me a lot of things, things that made me braver”, she sums up, two years after she came back. She even thinks about volunteering in a centre for mentally ill people in Kosovo to use her specific knowledge from Poland. Although Albina is happy with her job at the radio station, the young woman misses Poland and Polish culture and language a lot. “I still think I am going to come back. I think I am born for Poland!”, she says.  

Margot Reis for LDA Kosovo

[1]  Estimate 2006, Source : Injep, French National EVS Agency http://www.injep.fr/IMG/pdf/8psvefr_output.pdf