Day of the Event
Lushnje, Albania June 25th, 2019
Preparing for the Event
The days before the event, we spent countless hours speaking with the hospital director (Panorea Veliu), blood bank center director (Dr. Endri Susaj), and the community members. Whether we were advertising the blood drive or planning for the event, we always had one goal in mind: maximize the aid to the community. We had to carefully choose the best plan of action. We needed to choose the best day for the event, the perfect time, and we had to carefully select what goods to give out to those affected by thalassemia. After so much time planning and thinking, we finally chose our plan of action.
Once in Albania, we dedicated a lot of our time into advertising for the event. One of the main challenges we faced was trying to change the culture. Albanians aren't fond of blood donations because many believe it is bad for their health. People generally do not donate blood unless it is desperately needed for a family member of theirs. People tend to think that donating blood will impair their health. Having this in mind, we spent a lot of time in the community handing our flyers and explaining our purpose.
We printed over 1,000 flyers to hand out to the community the week before the event. Since we weren't sure what time to have the event when we printed the flyers, we had to write them in for all flyers. You can find pictures of the information in the flyers below. There is an English version provided, as well as the actual flyers handed out (in Albanian). One thing we learned about the Albanian culture is that they love to play the lottery. This was the foundation for the lottery system we decided to introduce for our blood drive event. Since we knew it would be hard to get people to donate blood, we decided to designate $200 from our budget into a lottery system where every blood donor would receive a ticket and there would be a draw at the end. The person chosen first would receive 10,000 Lek (equivalent to around $100), and so on. Considering that Albanians usually make around $200 a month, we thought we could help people as well as those who suffer from thalassemia. The Minister of Health, who we spoke with prior to the event, thought this would be an excellent since she reassured the fact that Albanians love to play the lottery.
Our advertising required lots of community outreach. Between the hours of 5-8 pm, we went out to the community and targeted different groups of people to hand out the flyers. This was a rewarding experience because we had the opportunity to inform the public regarding the need for blood donations in the community. We were able to explain to the community that thalassemia is a very pressing issue in the community (especially in cities like Lushnje) and those who suffer from the disease need very frequent blood transfusions, yet the blood bank is severely depleted because not enough people donate. We decided to split into two groups in order to maximize the amount of people we spoke to, and each day we'd target different sites of the city. Since only 3 of us spoke Albanian, we were limited to two groups doing outreach.
As a group, we decided the best course of action with the money donated would be to directly help orphan kids who suffer from thalassemia and regularly visit the Lushnje hospital. There were 20 kids who met the criteria, so we decided on two things: part of the money would be used to help the kids out financially, and part would be used to purchase goods for them. The Albanian-Aid team went to the store and bought medically-related items that were needed by the kids. Since there were 20 of them, we had to buy each item 20 times. Some of the things provided to them included non-perishable food items such as pasta, rice, sauces, as well as toiletries including soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. We bought enough supplies for the kids to have for months so that all their basic needs would be met. Then, we donated cash in order to help the kids financially. We wanted the caretakers to have an extra financial help and not be burdened by the financial costs of basic necessities.
The images above show all the goods we bought for the orphan kids who suffer from thalassemia. The car was entirely full: the trunk and the three seats in the back were full of goods that we had to organize and equally distribute later on. Overall, we bought 3 bags worth of stuff for each kid. Each bag was full of basic nutritional and hygienic needs, as mentioned above.
After designating part of our budget for the goods, we also decided to to designate another portion for the cash we donated to each kid. We were aware the children were in need physically and financially wise, so we wanted to help both by doing the blood drive and also giving some financial help.
Part of the money was also used to donate to the Thalassemia center itself, since supplies were needed. Their most urgent need, however, was the blood. Many people refuse to donate, hence why we were committed to the blood drive since it was the essence of our project. Food and money were extra sources of help, but what the kids needed the most was blood donations. We were committed to increasing the blood bank's blood supply because, as we were informed by the director, those who suffer from thalassemia need blood transfusions as frequent as once every two weeks. It is very hard to accomplish this, however, if the community doesn't help.
The event became bigger than what any of us expected. The morning of the event, we were told there were at least three news stations waiting for us at the hospital. Word had gotten out that a group of 5 American students from the University of Florida were in Lushnje attempting to help the hospital and those who suffer form thalassemia. As soon as we arrived at the hospital to set up for the event, we were immediately taken into the Lushnje Hospital Director's office. On the way to her office, we saw cameras pointing at us from all angles. As we walked up the stairs, we saw more people with cameras following us. Once we arrived at her office, we sat down and had a talk with the director, as more people with cameras came into the room. The director, Panorea Veliu, told us this was the first time a group of American students did such a project in order to help the Albanian community.