For at least once each weekend, the students of Alba Life, sit in classes across New York boroughs to engage in learning their mother tongue. The creators of the school, Kozeta and Qemal Zylo, are aware that diffusing the knowledge of the family language to the young generation born here is to the advantage of all Albanian people. The ones who carry out this honorable task are teachers at Alba Life that first opened its classes in the early 2000s. To appreciate the educators, in the tradition of the motherland, over 100 school students ranging from toddlers to teens, performed in front of their families and guests on March 7 at the Christopher Columbus High School. The date commemorates the opening of the first Albanian language school in the home-country in 1887. The venue represents the new Bronx addition of the Alba Life School operating now in all New York boroughs.
The performance brought all the students on the auditorium stage where each group that was called stepped forward to recite, sing or dance. It was a touching display of an enormous commitment by the school’s faculty who had built a program that showcased each child’s skills and level of proficiency. The presenter, Ms. Rea Ulaj, who is also a Board Member of the School, introduced fluidly each class with the corresponding teacher and each student performer. Dressed in red and black, the American-Albanian children of the 21 century generation, recited immortal poems written by Albanian poets of 19th century like Naim Frasheri, Andon Zako Cajupi, and modern day authors like Odhise Grillo, Adelina Mamaqi, Ali Podrimja and more. And the audience was overcome with emotions. Guests like Mr. Mark Qehaja, Chairman of Albanian-American Skenderbeg Association, Mr. Lulzim Krasniqi, Counselor at Kosova’s New York General Consulate, praised teachers as the unsung heroes who motivate students throughout their lives. Mr. Mehill Velaj, Chairman of the Albanian-American Writers Association, shared bittersweet memories from the time he was forced to abandon his students and his profession from the threat of persecution by the Serbian regime. Dr. Manjola Duli, who introduced herself, spoke with heartfelt admiration for her beloved high school teacher Mrs. Kozeta Zylo. They both recounted the bleak experience of Albania’s civil unrest in 1997, that “forced me and the family to immigrate to the US”, said Mrs. Zylo. After more than twenty years, teacher and student were reunited in what was a very touching and befitting moment at the performance. The poems dedicated to ‘the divine language’, the alphabet, the teachers who have been in the front line of the Albanian national movement for independence, motherland and so on echoed poignantly at this time of troubling news from the home country. Whether timid or confident on stage, each student assisted by their instructors delivered their lines, carried the tunes and danced in a performance that lasted over two hours. Their voices grew stronger and rose up as the celebrated Albanian singer and Vatra member, Ms. Valbona Peraj encouraged them to join her in singing her hit songs – Jam Arberore, Kuq e Zi. Speaking in Albanian and then English. New York Councilman Mark Gjonaj, said that he was honored to be invited and be included in Alba Life’s programs. Mr. Mark Gjonaj awarded each teacher with a Letter of Citation in recognition of their valuable work for the community.
My personal connection with the school began when the directors, Qemal and Kozeta Zylo, invited my father, Naum R. Prifti at the Brooklyn classes on March 7, about ten years ago. He is a writer who also taught for a number of years in Albania. Since his birthday happens to be on the same day as Teacher’s Day, Alba Life celebrated both jointly. Last June, during the Albanian week that culminated with the midtown parade led by Albanian Roots, I covered the open classes dedicated to Chameria at the Staten Island affiliate of Alba Life. Students presented proudly the posters they had prepared with thoughtfulness and diligence. The performance of March 7, 2020 was an opportunity to see all the students and faculty of Alba Life from all boroughs. I got inspired to ask the students to write a short description of their performance experience. Much like the school and the teachers, I also aim to cultivate the love for our language by following the footsteps of the founders of Dielli. For it is to the advantage of all Albanian people to know both – the first language and mother tongue – equally well.