From total oppression to student organizing international conferences in one generation:

How Albania youth are more international than ever.

By: Hector Nava (h.nava@wateryouthnetwork.org)

In the small and not so well-known country of Albania, engineering students pulled off a remarkable feat: organizing a 4-day international conference by themselves with no budget. Spoiler alert: they did it and even with room for parties, workshops and a field visit to the beach.

This accomplishment is remarkable in any circumstance but even more impressive considering the countries recent history. One generation ago, in other words, the parents of the students lived in a completely different world.

At their age, none had left the country or spoke any foreign languages. Even to neighboring countries such as Greece or Italy which were impossible to reach since the penalty for trying to cross the border was simple and brutal: death. The border police were authorized to shoot on spot any  ‘detractor’ trying to escape the communist regime.

The only option was to stay in the country and follow the oppressive communist regime, but the liberties and freedom of choice were not great either. Dajana Disha, a promising Environmental Engineer student and a key organizer of the conference, told the story about how her dad wanted to become a doctor but the communist party decided that the village required a farmer and agronomist, sealing his fate to work on the fields.  Dajana’s college experience could not be more contrasting: she as most of the students speaks English, understands Italian and has international projects and ambitions. Dajana did an Erasmus study abroad program that helped her broaden her perspective. Now she along with other proactive students organized, fundraised and delivered a full conference.

Dajana might not have realized just yet but she has learned a valuable lesson, one that cannot be learned inside a classroom. Engineering is only a part of the puzzle — conveying ideas, organizing and getting clients and fundings are as important.

To quote Enrik Shehu, a Civil Engineering student and key conference organizer: “This is the first time that the engineering student takes up a challenge of this magnitude. We have to convince and sign in sponsors to get the funds, fly in keynote speakers and manage the full 4 day program. I sent like 1,000 emails to companies to seek sponsors, the last ones confirm just days before. They were crazy but exciting times.  In the end, we put a great conference and we are able to solve behind the curtain all changes and cancellations to deliver in time (and on) budget.”

The conference first day was held in the top floor of Albania’s tallest building giving great views of the city and surrounding valley. The conference was a success and the student did it their way, planning all night parties along engineering technical presentations and workshops. The Youth from Albania show us what is possible given the right drive and opportunities, a glance of this small country’s great future.

The students also produced a professional-looking video with drone aerial shots. Please watch the video here to see what is the outcome when the Youth is empowered.

It was an honor for Water Youth Network to participate and promote youth-led events in engineering and water.