”This event inspired me to learn more about the Albanian culture, which led to the creation of the organization Albanian Voices with Bora Shehu. We are a not-for-profit organization whose goal is to connect Albanian communities around the world by sharing individual stories and experiences. We also aim to educate non-Albanians about the richness of the Albanian culture through preserving its oral history in writing”, said Ashley Wood.
Kosovo Center of Diplomacy: Where did the idea for Albanian voices originate?
Albanian Voices: The idea for Albanian voices began when Ashley was writing her first book. In the university libraries where she was conducting research, there were so few books that she could not learn what she needed in order to write her own. As she traveled in the United States looking for Albanians to interview, she discovered that many of them had a need to express themselves and their personal histories, whether it be in her book or somewhere else. They told her that they felt misunderstood and as though their voices were not heard or recognized in the global community. As she began to write her book, so many stories were submitted that they did not all fit. It was clear at that time that an organization was necessary in addition to the book but help was needed in order to bring the project to reality. By chance and good luck, Ashley met Bora at a coffee shop in Atlanta, Georgia. Both noticed that there was not an existing organization that solved this problem so they decided to create one. Albanian Voices believes that it is crucial for the world to understand Albanian culture and history because it is part of world history. Most people do not know that the Albanian culture is descendent of Ilyrian culture. However, history books can be boring and most people these days do not read a lot. That is why our organization has chosen to have such a strong presence on social media. We also want to reach the youth through the internet so that the new generations can better understand Albanian culture and its importance.
Kosovo Center of Diplomacy: The Albanian tradition of Besa saved your life, what makes Albanians different than other cultures?
Albanian Voices:The Albanian culture has many unique aspects that stand out from other cultures. The concept of besa isn’t just to protect guests with your life, but it also extends to include honor and respect toward all people. In my experience (Ashley’s), I have not seen another culture that gives as much respect to people, whether they are the people who sell something in the street or the president of an organization. I have seen people respect beggars in the street the same way the respect me. I think that is really unbelievable and unique. Also for me, the way that the Albanian culture works together to help each other is something I have not seen in other countries I have studied about. It is very rare for Albanians to be homeless or starving because everyone works together to make sure they are all well.
Kosovo Center of Diplomacy: Tell us something else about your visit around Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia?
Albanian Voices: We have experienced so much during our time visiting these countries. We have not yet been to Macedonia, but our time in Albania, Montenegro and now in Kosovo was outstanding. We have struggled a bit with the different dialects in each city, but we love learning the new words, phrases and expressions. Seeing the beautiful landscapes is only part of the amazing experiences we have had. We have also been welcomed into many homes, businesses and events with open arms. The warmth of the people is overwhelming. Something we love that is the same everywhere we go is the intuitiveness of the Albanian people. They seem to always be aware when we are hungry, cold, tired or in need of something. It makes you feel very safe and appreciated.
Kosovo Center of Diplomacy: How do you think Albanian Voices will contribute to the promotion of Albanian culture and traditions?
Albanian Voices:We promote the culture and tradition of Albania by showcasing the individual characteristics of each Albanian person’s story. Through personal, individual stories, we create a combined understanding of the uniqueness of the Albanian culture that is difficult to define through history books alone. We want American audiences to read these stories and be able to understand the aspects of Albanian culture that are foreign to English speakers. This also works to unite Albanian communities world-wide since our project is based online. This way the Albanian diaspora is able to gain more understanding and insight into the lives of Albanians living in other countries. We do not only focus on the past and history that is no longer in the memories of Albanians, but also current history and evolving history so that future generations can understand the time we are living in right now.