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Despite Poor Conditions, Albanians Are Rich in Compassion

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TIRANA, ALBANIA — From a land of despair and hopelessness, comes tremendous tales of humanity and compassion.

Several such stories lie hidden from the crowded refugee camps, and are found in the desolate homes of hundreds of Albanians, who have extended a heart-felt welcome to many Kosovo refugees.

One Kosovo couple married just a few days ago in a quick ceremony at a refugee camp. The newlyweds now share a tiny apartment with 11 other people from two families, and they could not be more thankful.

"I am very grateful to these people, and a big thanks goes to [this man] who is helping me. And God bless him for what he is doing for us."

The generous man is an Albanian evangelist. He has plucked Kosovar refugees from camps all over Albania. He gathered donations through his church work to rent five apartments that 63 refugees now call home.

"I really feel love for those people," the evangelist said. "Because I see something which, my heart is broken. And I can't...I just want to do something, and what I do is this."

Several children were playing in the alleyway outside one of the apartments. They escaped into the fresh air because most of them are packed into one tiny room.

"We are two families here and 11 persons," says one father, who is one of many fathers whose families had nowhere to go until someone helped.

"We were there in the tent, and he saw us, and he offered help to us," the father said.

The man who offered help was the evangelist. "I don't say really anything, I just give love," he said. "They have asked me 'Why are you doing this?' And I tell them because God loves you, and God does not want you to suffer."

All over Tirana, Albanians who do not have much, have given a lot. In another building, an Albanian man donated three apartments he owns to refugee families. He explained his generosity by an old Albanian saying.

"Bread and salt and heart," he said. "I put myself into their shoes and understand their sufferings, and that's why I am helping them, not in abundance, but with my simplicity with my modest means."

Those modest means gave a refugee family of ten, a one bedroom apartment. One look at the cramped conditions, and then at their faces, shows that they long for home.

"I cannot speak about any hope," the mother said. "We want to go back to Kosovo, but what shall we find there? We will find nothing there. It has been about two years that we have been terrorized by the Serbs."

The family is living on top of each other, but they have not lost their spirit. The mother shared a final thought. She said that Milosevic thinks they will not go back to Kosovo, but she says they will go back. That although "Milosevic has destroyed our houses, the land is there, and the land is ours."

Albania is one of the poorest countries in that part of the world. Many Americans would consider the main streets of Tirana to be slums by U.S. standards. However, the Albanians continue to extend helping hands; one grandmother offered her own apartment to a family of refugees.

"I didn't know these people before," she said. "It was just love and compassion I felt for these people that made me offer my house to them."

A family of three now lives in her apartment. She says the Serbs torture the Kosovars, and that the suffering of the refugees cause a great pain in her heart.

"It's this great pain that urged me to help these people, to lessen their suffering a bit by offering them shelter in my house," she said.

The Albanians are a poor people, but many are rich in human kindness.