Student helps regenerate an Albanian mountain village

Jiří Němec is an adventurer and a student of international relations and political science at the MU Faculty of Social Studies. In his free time, he helps to regenerate a mountain village in northern Albania. For this, he received the Rector’s Award for the Active Development of Civil Society at this year’s Dies Academicus.

Travelling is second nature to him. “Since secondary school, I’ve been going mountain hiking with my schoolmates and one year we decided to go to Albania. In the end, it didn’t work out because there were floods in the Balkans, so we had to postpone it until the following year,” describes Jiří. A year later, he discovered Albanian Challenge online – a project where he could participate by marking tourist trails around the village of Curraj i Epërm – and he did not hesitate. “The project focuses on developing this particular area. At the turn of the century, it began to empty and we wanted to help people come back. And now we’ve just started to be successful.”

In 2015, Jiří was a member and a leader of a trail marking team. “Since last year, I’ve also worked as the deputy for the project founder when he is away,” says Jiří, adding that in the last year this lasted seven weeks. Since there is no electricity, telephone signal, or running hot water, the project is both physically and mentally very demanding.

“Besides the marking, another task was the renovation of a village church. What’s interesting about that is that it’s one of the few places of worship that survived the harsh Albanian communist regime. They turned it into a cinema,” says Jiří. Besides carrying out repairs and removing some Marxist graffiti, they even invited a priest who reconsecrated the church.

But that’s not all. “We also built a bridge that we designed and smuggled into Albania all on our own,” laughs Jiří. “It’s not exactly easy to transport an iron bridge, which weighs a ton, from the Czech Republic all the way there.” Transporting part of the structure also happened to be Jiří’s first journey to Albania – talk about learning on the job.

At the moment, the project is beginning to turn into an experience-based community for young people from the Czech Republic and also from all over the world. “We’ve discovered unexplored caves, we want to temporarily move our camp to 2,000 meters above sea level, and besides renewing the trail marks and other small jobs like that, we want to explore the whole area more thoroughly,” says Jiří, who tries to balance his visits to Albania with his studies.

He has also visited the embassy in Tirana several times. Jiří concludes his description of the project by saying, “It is also good to have med students on the spot. It is actually training for them because there will always be the occasional minor injury at such events and people need to be treated.” He adds that he was not only surprised to win the award, but to be even nominated for it – so that makes it all the more precious to him.

Masaryk university