„YMCA Europe is a working fellowship to strengthen movements where people grow in body, mind and spirit.“

BLOG POST: THE BIG LITTLE SOLIDARY GIANT

9th November 2021

An inspiring post about solidarity, friendship and networking in the YMCA

The 5th of August 2021, we sat down on our 37 years old Renault 4L in Spain, with the goal driving all the way to Tirana, Albania to give scholarship material in a school there.

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First of all, we would like to present ourselves. We are Daniel Ruiz, Manu Dávila and Teo Ruiz, three students (22-23 years old) from Valladolid, a Spanish city two hours north of Madrid. At the beginning of 2021, after a lot of months with a lot of restrictions due to the COVID crisis, we decided to start a project where we could help people that needed it and where we could also travel again. Thus, we joined one of our passions: cars and driving, with solidarity; and that is how everything started.

The project consisted of going with an old car from Spain to Albania to give scholarship material to children. It might sound impossible to do so many kilometers and take enough material in a car that is half in size of a current one. But all we needed was good preparation, gather the material, financial help, a NGO in Albania and the desire and conviction to do it.

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The first step was to find the car, it was not an easy task, but we finally founded one in a village near ours. Then three mechanics helped us to fix the car and prepare it so that it could last the whole trip. We started to go to many firms to ask for help in order to get money so that we could go to Albania. At the beginning, we struggled a little bit because the idea sounded unreal, but once we got two sponsors it was much easier to find the rest. At the end, the companies were the ones that called us to participate in the project.

The next step was to gather all the material, here we could see that people are caring and all our friends and relatives gave us a lot of material. Also, libraries gave us notebooks, pencil cases and schoolbags; an optical shop gave us glasses, a t-shirt brand gave us a lot of t-shirts, a farmer gave us lentils and chickpeas and another company gave us reusable plastic bottles.

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Once we had everything prepared, we had left one of the most important aspects of the project: finding and choosing the NGO that helped us to give the material. When we contacted YMCA, they were very friendly and open to help us from the very beginning. We have been collaborating with this organization for three years in Valladolid, so everything fitted.

Thanks to Juan Simoes, the Secretary General of YMCA Europe, we contacted Egla, the person in charge of YMCA Tirana. Both of them helped us to organize the trip and Egla welcomed us in our arrival to Tirana, but we will get to this part later.

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Now we had everything to start the trip. We appeared on the front page of a spanish newspaper, as well as in other articles, on TV and on the radio. This gave a lot of visibility to the project that was also one of the parts of our scope. The 5th of August we started from Cantabria with the hope of making it to Tirana. The first three days were the ones with most kilometers to cover, we slept in Toulouse, Nice and Venice. It was the third day on our way to Venice when the car first started to sound weird, we tried to fix the problem, but we were not able to find where it came from.

The following day was from Venice to the coast of Croatia. We stopped in a Slovenian village to have lunch, and when we wanted to continue with our journey the car stopped in the middle of the Slovenian countryside, and it was Sunday when everything closes. After three ours, trying to solve the unknown problem, we at least were able to start the car again and go back to last city of Italy: Trieste (we were only 15 min away).

We slept in the outskirts of the city hoping we could find a mechanic the next day that could fix the car. And we were wright, a mechanic from the Renault factory in Trieste screwed in a screw and we enjoyed all the amazing road beside the sea that afternoon.

That day we did not have a place to sleep, as the problem from the previous day changed our plans. Therefore, we stopped in an old house near on the coast and we convinced a Croatian grandmother that did not speak English, to allow us to sleep in two rooms that she had free, and she also cooked us dinner. There was nothing more authentic than that experience, unforgettable.

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The sixth day we thought that all our problems were solved, but only two hours were enough for the car to have more problems. We made it to enter Split, but we could not visit it as we the car was about to die, and we had to urgently look for a mechanic to continue the trip. We asked to five mechanics and explained them the aim of the trip, but all of them told us unpolite that they did not now how to fix such an old car. We were closed to call the tow because the car could not move anymore. The extreme temperatures made the car be very hot and there was a problem that we could not solve it.

We let the car rest for a while and try to move it to a mechanic that we found, it was our last chance. There, we met an old mechanic that spoke some English and we convinced him to help us. He fixed the car in a couple hours, and we were able to continue. This mechanic called the car: The Big Little Giant, he said it was small and old, but he could last more than any modern car.

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The next days we drove through Bosnia and Herzegovina, the south of Croatia and Montenegro, with beautiful landscapes and not without problems due to the high temperatures. Finally, the ninth day we entered Albania and went to Tirana in an endless traffic jam.

In Tirana we met Egla, who took us to the school where we gave the material to. The center belongs to the association Nisma per Ndryshim Shoqëror, and is a very equipped center with classrooms, kitchen, offices, a room where the mothers can do activities to develop their skills and a room to do special activities for the children.

The director and the psychologist showed us the school and explained what they do there and how are they organized. This was very enriching, as this was the purpose of all the trip. After that, we visited with Egla another center of this association that was for children that are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. This visit was very shocking.

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After that, Egla took us to try typical Albanian food that was delicious and then we had to say goodbye to Tirana. We want to thank Egla, because she was the best host possible and thanks to her, we were able to give the material in a place that really needed it.

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That night we took a ferry from Albania to south Italy, and we started our way back home. We drove all Italy up, then we crossed France until we arrived back home 19 days after we departed. In our way back we had some problems with the car, we had a flat tire and the brakes stop working one day, but nothing we could not fix.

This was a unique experience we will never forget, and thanks to YMCA we could achieve the goal of the project. In our Instagram and Facebook we have all the information about the daily adventures we went through in the trip.

 

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