2nd Place


      “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read,” stated Mark Twain some decades ago. Unfortunately, this remains profoundly true for the youth in Albania. Every day we see cinemas, coffee shops and bars full of students, while libraries and bookshops are dreadfully empty. The view of young people reading a novel in a park or bus station is becoming extinct; while the online forums and pages about celebrities and fashion are soaring, those devoted to reading and literature are few in number or poor in content. We are ending up with a generation who finds reading unenjoyable and prefers anything over books for leisure. Thus, the dilemma now does not remain “Where did we go wrong?”, but rather “What can we do to improve this alarming situation?”  
     First, it is extremely important to understand where this situation is leading us. As a country, we cannot afford a society of non-readers. Albania has been going through major uproars and civil unrests which do not date far back in the past and still burden our economy as well as our culture. Our nation demands a well-educated academic generation, to be future leaders in a wide range of fields. Not reading doesn’t simply decrease the probability of this happening, but also catalyzes general illiteracy and ignorance in the population, which should be avoided at any cost. As Ray Bradbury stated, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”  As this trend emerges, I believe there are four major fields to which the youth of Albania can contribute in order to raise awareness of the importance of reading: academic society, social media, family environments and governmental institutions. 
    Nowadays children and young adults spend most of their time in schools, universities and other educational facilities, which is why these institutions can be very important in helping to promote a culture of reading. As students now, my friends across Albania are able to take part in school governments and similar organizations. Consequently, it is possible for us to organize a plethora of events in order to promote good reading habits. We can start by requesting a “reading hour” from the schools: a special hour in the curricula, dedicated solely to reading and discussing books.  A related activity would be to create reading clubs as well as reading circles in schools, where students do not only use the school’s library resources, but also bring a book from home to circulate in class. Talented students in literature, in cooperation with school principals, could give lectures, seminars and hold exhibitions related to the importance of reading. Various international, famous and not so well-known authors would be discussed. This practice can be also extended to schools in the rural areas of Albania, where children have less access to books, to help them grasp the joy and importance of reading and enhance their imagination and creativity. In order for these to be student-led initiatives to be successful and all inclusive, we should not neglect book-promoting activities in orphanages and childcare centers, where children have almost no access to libraries. Donating books to these children and young people takes on particular importance, as encouraging reading will help them lose themselves in totally different worlds inside the books. Vicariously, they will learn to experience different stories and forget about the world they live in for a while. Such fulfillment is of the kind that only books can offer and whoever misses it has not lived his/her life to the fullest.  
    Another significant sphere of influence can be the social media. Youth here spend enormous amounts of time surfing the net, on social networks and watching TV. While we are well aware that these are some of the major contributors to the matter being discussed – decline in reading- they can also be used advantageously to promote good reading habits. How? Youth can create blogs and forums related to literature and authors, as well as online book clubs containing up-to-date information and extensive content. As for the efficacy of this practice, I can attest to my own experience. Five years ago, I used to read posts on a Facebook page called “Miku i librit” (Book’s friend). Its content was rich and authentic and a great number of insightful people joined the discussions. By reading their comments about literary topics, I became totally enthusiastic about books and although only age13, I wanted to be as smart as the people there. I started reading consistently and I still carry this new habit with me to this day. Unfortunately, that page’s activity has been diminished in recent years, and others that exist online are rather superficial and biased, posting mostly internet quotes and advertisements, instead of authentic, diverse book materials. 
    Additionally, family should be the core for educating the young generation and is the greatest influence on their future success. Therefore, one of the major responsibilities for children’s reading culture depends on family environment, as the seed of a healthy society. It is the youth’s responsibility to understand now that whatever we want to be in the future cannot be reached without knowledge; subsequently, nothing can more effectively help us achieve our goals than reading. To this end, in our families, we must inform and positively reinforce our siblings (and even our parents) about the benefits of reading. As future parents, we should read to our children before bed, take them to libraries and bookshops and bring them books when we came home. We should try to revive the passion of creating an excellent home library, as one of the biggest gifts we can inherit from our parents and pass down to the next generations.  
     An equally important way Albanian youth can contribute to fostering a love of reading is to lobby the government to allocate more funds for education and libraries. We can genuinely acknowledge that “Where there is a will, there is a way”, but this “way” can be terribly difficult if we consider the libraries in most of the Albania’s cities and provinces. The majority of these may not have been updated with new books and technology in the past ten years, making them far less attractive to the younger generation. Although our country has many concerning issues competing for civic attention, education is one of the biggest. As journalist Walter Cronkite pointed out, “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” 
   Finally, the importance of cultivating good reading habits goes beyond its predictions and immediately-seen benefits. Reading books as a practice is not simply constructive by nature; it permanently affects people’s lives and personalities by broadening their horizons and increasing their empirical knowledge. Therefore, it’s our responsibility, as the youth of Albania, to first grasp the importance of reading in our own lives and then do our best to influence others. There are thousands of ways we can change the world, but one of the most effective and long-lasting ones is, indeed, reading. 
Kamila Hasanbega