It is now more than a quarter of a century since a lifetime wish of mine began to take shape on my life’s horizon. It was when Albania, my country of origin, shed half a century of isolation and communist dictatorship, heeding its Albanian youth’s revolution, to start living like the rest of the world by opening its borders to democracy and a new way of life.
It was then also the perfect time for me to take another big step and re-direct my life. Although in early retirement, I knew it was time to serve and contribute to the development of Albania, which I never thought I would live to see again. Thus, after two careers, and almost 50 years of work in the fields of business administration and computer technology, it was time to dedicate myself to more personal endeavors. So I returned to Albania from the USA, where I emigrated to in 1952, and visited the country of my birth, which I was forced to leave with my family when I was still a baby in 1939.
During this third stage of my life I had to overcome indescribable hurdles of all sorts to re-obtain the properties of my family, which were confiscated, used, and abused by different governments from WWII until very recent years. While planning this future during the mid 1990’s, I first established a public foundation in New York, followed by the creation of a sister organization in Tirana. Both are legal, non-political and non-religious, entities, which share a common mission in the fields of culture and education to benefit Albanian people and to bring attention and value to Albania and its role in the world. This is a relatively young country having declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire only 108 years ago, but its ancient valiant history spans millennia. It has one of the youngest populations in the world, which is eager to advance its education, and to play an important role in its future. It is these challenges that deserve our help!
The Martin and Mirash Ivanaj Foundation in NY is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3), public and charitable organization, as well as the M. & M. Ivanaj Foundation Institut in Tirana. Both have been operating for years by a small force of volunteers and very small budgets, but they have accomplished quite a few significant and successful projects, currently taking place mainly in Albania. These are well documented on our reorganized website (www.ivanaj- foundations.org), and now, supported by a young and dedicated Albanian staff, more of them continue to be conducted and formulated also in collaboration with other organizations to expand our institutions’ future usefulness and effectiveness.
That is why the aspiration to create an appropriate base for both organizations, became a top priority in my retirement. It turned out to be an incredibly complex task, a long-term burden, and a continuous financial investment. I plunged into whatever sorts of procedures and actions became necessary to reach the planned objective of putting my Albanian properties at the disposal of these two Foundations, and, against all odds, and after 25 years, I finally won my battle.
The Ivanaj Foundations’ operations are now facilitated by having their own headquarters in the heart of Tirana, where in addition to some employment opportunities, we provide programs and projects for a variety of audiences, and can count on a large following of enthusiastic volunteers whom we train and share also with other collaborators and/or needing organizations.
In my many trips to Albania since 1993, I have had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know all sorts of people, of all ages and backgrounds, and even to reconnect with several old acquaintances of my family. Most surprisingly, I found that what my father Martin, and my uncle Mirash did for their country during their lifetime was not forgotten and was well known by people who transmitted it via oral history over three generations! This has made my lifetime wish even more meaningful and precious, and worth the effort and enduring very challenging experiences.
What I learned during this process, and through the people, has been invaluable and it has given me strength in my new role, which now I am trying to transmit by involving others who are willing to lend help in my undertaking. Getting to know the dark times of people’s lives during more than half a century of dictatorship and isolationism, their yearnings now for more ‘know-how’, their hopes for a more meaningful future, especially for their children and their willingness to participate in shaping it, is a rewarding exercise. It brings to the forefront the fact that we all have something to offer that can make a difference in someone else’s life. Toward this end I know that more valuable input could be gained by enlarging the Ivanaj Foundations’ governing Boards which are in need of more expertise and networking skills to support the Foundations’ undertakings.
The Foundations’ premises located in the center of Tirana, consist of workplaces that fill the entire first floor of a modern new building complex, completed in the fall of 2017, which houses offices for personnel and management, a well-furnished library, technology driven trainings rooms, and a large hall for public events.
This entire facility is a dynamic Cultural Center that offers unique social and educational programs for residents and visitors alike. A multiplicity of activities takes place within it, providing crucial services and programs that impact a diverse group of people from the public and private sectors, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, youth, seniors, international and Albanian researchers, artists, entertainers and more.
While some of these activities were initially launched by the Ivanaj Foundations, I hope that due to its unique setup and modern technological facilities, its Center will continue to attract serious minded individuals to voluntarily dedicate some of their time and expertise to enhance and support the country’s cultural and educational climate through diverse programs and activities, for the benefit of all their fellow citizens. With appropriate contributions of this type, the Center could also be a first of its kind self-sufficient ‘think tank’.
By serving as a meeting place for educational, cultural, artistic and intellectual exchange, this Center is also becoming an incubator for new business ventures while also being an appealing venue for civic, business and social events.
Albania has no shortage of individuals and organizations looking into making a difference in their communities. Often, these highly motivated people with great ideas and initiative do not have the resources or support to help realize their goals and missions. The Cultural Center can transform the current unsupportive environment to a more friendly, open and nurturing one by offering services not found elsewhere, all in one place: spaces for activities, a well-furnished library, a networking center, sponsorship for publishing projects to preserve Albania’s rich culture and history, and even a national volunteer program that combines mature expertise with youthful training possibilities.
The Ivanaj Cultural Center aims to become Albania’s first ‘cultural hub’. This aim is founded on the belief that in order for a community to thrive, its residents must have a secure and free environment where they can be provided plenty of support and opportunities to network with each other, learn, create and give back to their communities.
It is in this belief that I created this Center where I hope to engage whoever would like to share my dream and work toward a reality that could have immense effect on the future of Albania, which may be beyond what we can visualize today. Let’s make it a common goal for benefactors and volunteers alike, on both sides of the Atlantic; and it is my pleasure to welcome you on board the bridge that connects these two organizations!
New York – Tirana – April 2019