The Albanian Alps Institute came slowly into being as a result of Steve Cook's work helping Albanian school children. Steve first traveled to Albania in 1992 as an "enlightened tourist" and found a post-Communist country that was barely avoiding chaos. It was on this first trip that he met Marash Rakaj, now AAI's In-Country Representative. Steve returned in 1993 to lead trekkers through the rugged Malesia e Madhe (Great Mountains) region of northern Albania. What they encountered were incredibly hospitable people living in dire circumstances. In 1994 Steve returned to conduct research in Boga, one of the villages in the Shkrel School District. In 1995 he conducted more village research, and in 1996, with a Fulbright grant he taught at Universiteti i Shkodres in Shkoder.
During the 1990s, Steve helped several Albanian university students, as well as personally sponsored two high school students to study in the United States. Both have received university degrees in the US.
In the Winter of 2001, Steve returned to Boga, with the seeds of AAI in mind, and consulted with Marash Rakaj (AAI Albanian Manager) on how to contribute to education in the impoverished villages of the Malesia e Madhe. The outcome of these conversations was the delineation of the five programs that AAI has decided to concentrate on: School Libraries; School Supplies; English Language classes; School repairs; and Scholarships for promising students, especially girls to go out of the mountains to high school (see our projects for more information).
Note from the President:
In the fifteen years since AAI began working to improve the education for students in Shkrel, the students are now reading books, swinging on swingsets, using computers and dreaming of a future unimaginable to them or their parents before AAI. One of the biggest successes is that girls are now attending high school and eight of our female scholarship recipients are currently enrolled in universities or have graduated from a university.-- Steve Cook
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