Update: (26 February 2008)
A UNICEF video feature of footage shot on this trip was released 25 February 2008
Less than 200 km from Tirana but Peshkopi is a world away. Our driver declared the curly pot holed road to Peshkopi as the worst in Albania.
Our mission was to film conditions in two schools. One in Peshkopi without new books in the library and the other, some 40 minutes away in New Village, that had received books through UNICEF's Albania Reads project.
Classrooms are at best rudimentary and teaching is classic chalk and talk. The all in one chair-desks that I sat in as pupil in Sydney seat three squeezed together. And, perhaps that's some comfort as classrooms are cold and heated by firewood stoves. Lucky for the kids sitting up the front. Before morning classes older pupils cut wood with axes and younger ones haul in the wood and kindling. Mud is everywhere and many kids wear Wellingtons.
Talking to children you sense immediately that any new resource is appreciated. New books are and will be used and treasured.
In homes with large families, books come second to other basic needs. Households may have a handful of books but probably not all appropriate for teenagers. Parents I spoke with felt schools and municipalities should provide access to books and maintain libraries. With books costing 5-10 euros, for say a new novel, one can not find too much fault with that argument for families that are surviving on no more than 100 euro a month - even less. However, TV antennas sprouting from roofs suggest there's money for information, education and entertainment via the Tube. It's a matter of priorities, and again that may reflect the state of reading as a past time in Albania.
New books will make a big difference to children who may have never travelled beyond nearby towns. But while that's positive, where are the books that they can afford? The choice say between a block of chocolate and a book? A book that could be shared between friends. What about serialising books in newspapers or printing ultra cheap paperbacks? Maybe we should peer into history for ideas? It's been done before... Dicken's Cheap Edition comes to mind.
No rock stars in sight, just me and my camera causing a little stir among kids in New Village school.