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It is now more than two decades 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 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 40 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 103 years ago, but its ancient valiant history spans millennia. Currently, 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 Institute in Tirana. Both are currently operating with volunteer staffing and very small budgets, but they have accomplished quite a few significant and successful projects, mainly in Albania. These are documented on our website (www.ivanaj- foundations.org), however, much more support and participation is needed to develop the long-range programs that have been formulated to expand these 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 institutions, and, against all odds, and after two decades, I finally won my battle.
The Ivanaj Foundations’ operations will be facilitated by having its own headquarters in the heart of Tirana. There they will provide several employment opportunities, while offering programs and projects that we already know appeal to, and excite younger Albanians.
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, but I now need to involve others who would be willing to 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 in the center of Tirana are currently under construction, and should be completed by mid-2016. The offices will fill the entire first floor of a modern new building housing personnel and management, a well-furnished library, technology driven trainings rooms, and a large public events area. This facility will be a dynamic cultural center that will offer unique cultural and educational programs for residents and visitors alike.
In what will become the Ivanaj Cultural Center, I envision a multiplicity of activities taking place to provide crucial services and programs that will 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 will be initially launched by the Ivanaj Foundations, I would hope that due to its unique setup and modern technological facilities, the Center would also 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 be a first of its kind self-sufficient ‘think tank’.
By serving as a meeting place for educational, cultural, artistic and intellectual exchange, the Center can become 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 could transform the current unsupportive environment to a more friendly, open and nurturing one. The Center could offer 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 would combine 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 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 that 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 will be my pleasure to welcome you on board the bridge that connects these two organizations!
New York, July 2015