Twenty-five years after his first visit to Albania, John Arthur sits comfortably in his wheelchair, rejoicing that a lifetime dream has been achieved.
He is also a little surprised, and maybe embarrassed, that a newly rebuilt school in a remote mountain village in the former totalitarian state is now called the John Arthur School.
Arthur discovered the run-down school in Vrap, a small village some 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Albania’s capital, Tirana, in 2010, about 15 years after he started visiting the country as director of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Britain and later the Trans-European Division, which coordinates the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s work in 22 countries, including Albania.
Arthur, already retired when he found the school, was surprised to see students could only enter the building through a gaping hole in an outside wall.
“It was just like a scene from the Middle Ages, totally unacceptable for any European country in the 21st century,” Arthur said.
He determined to enlist ADRA’s assistance to raise funds back in Britain to facilitate a desperately needed upgrade.
But his hopes did not materialize as simply as with previous ADRA projects. On his return home, Arthur developed septicaemia and double pneumonia. This led to a severe stroke and then a long and slow path to a partial recovery.
Arthur, however, was not a man to give up easily. Despite being limited to a wheelchair and only able to type with one finger, he pressed ahead with fundraising and planning.
The funds were finally raised with strong family support and encouragement from a former BBC television reporter, Bill Hamilton. Incidentally, Arthur first met Hamilton in Albania, and their mutual passion to improve lives in the impoverished country meant that their combined skills in journalism and fundraising resulted in many successful ADRA projects over the years.
In late December, Hamilton delivered educational equipment and school uniforms to the totally refurbished school.
Thousands of Albanian lives have been changed though ADRA’s humanitarian work, including Hashmet Biba, the man who oversaw the refurbishment of the Vrap school.
ADRA supports numerous programs in Albania. The organization runs a full health program from its local headquarters in Tirana. It also works with Roma families, educates people on human trafficking, and assists national education authorities in reducing violence and bullying in schools. Over the Christmas holidays, ADRA workers distributed Christmas parcels to Roma children and others in need in cooperation with ADRA’s offices in Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands.
While ADRA entered Albania 25 years ago, its work continues to change lives and provide hope through the efforts of people like Arthur. Just ask the children at the John Arthur School.
Watch former BBC reporter Bill Hamilton’s 9-minute report about Albania and the new John Arthur School.