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Amy Fladeboe, right, and three students take a rest during a hike in Albania. The two students to her left, Alban and Iris, will be participants in an Outdoor Ambassadors excursion to Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in northeastern Minnesota in July. (Submitted photo)

Willmarite leads Albanian students to Minnesota

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Amy Fladeboe of Willmar remembers teaching her parents about recycling.

And her parents remember teaching their parents not to burn trash or throw pop cans out the car windows.

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Today, Fladeboe is working with students in Albania -- a small country north of Greece on the Adriatic Sea -- to teach them some of those same environmental issues Americans dealt with 30 to 40 years ago.

Right now, Albania is considered by the European Union to be the most polluted country in Europe, Fladeboe wrote in a recent e-mail.

"The young people in Albania have never seen a landscape free of plastic bags, bottles, pop cans and other garbage," she said.

"The drinking water is severely toxic due to the highly polluted rivers, lakes and seas. As the infrastructure in Albania slowly develops, the means to take care of these problems are beginning to appear, but cannot be utilized until the mentality surrounding these issues also begins to change," said Fladeboe.

Through her efforts in the Peace Corps and working with Outdoor Ambassadors, a nationally recognized club that develops youth leadership skills through environmental education, community service and team-building activities, Fladeboe is helping to create a safe and positive experience for Albanian youth that instills in them an appreciation of nature and a sense of responsibility for protecting it.

A 2000 graduate of Willmar Senior High School, Fladeboe is the daughter of Craig Fladeboe and Laure Swanson of Willmar. She attended Metropolitan State College of Denver and later transferred to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where she received a degree in English: Literature, Language & Culture.

She spent a year studying in Scotland at The University of Stirling and a summer teaching English in France. She has traveled a great deal and found some of her "most precious learning and teaching opportunities in other countries."

Those experiences inspired Fladeboe to join the Peace Corps.

"I wanted to learn about another culture and help people," she wrote.

She has spent the last two years volunteering in Albania.

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, which currently has more than 7,500 volunteers serving 76 countries by providing a helping hand with various development needs and sharing cultures to promote world peace, said Fladeboe.

"For my particular post, I have mainly been teaching creative and academic writing, amongst other projects, at a university in the southern part of Albania. ... It's been a great honor to have been a part of this unique humanitarian effort."

She completes her service next month, having worked in the Teaching English as a Foreign Language sector.

However, Fladeboe said she has found herself working on various other development projects in Albania as well. "The most rewarding of which has been my time with Outdoor Ambassadors," she wrote.

In June, Fladeboe will return to Willmar to spend the summer catching up with family and friends and to attend her 10-year high school class reunion. After the summer, she will begin a master of fine arts program in creative writing at Minnesota State University-Mankato.

A part of her Peace Corps service will be following her home in July, in the form of eight Albanian teenagers.

"My last project before leaving Albania is to help a local environmental youth group expand and develop its programs," wrote Fladeboe. "For the last year, I have served as board president of an Albanian national club called 'Ambassadorët e Natyrës' or Outdoor Ambassadors."

Through the program she has worked with about 200 youth spread throughout the country and "a lucky eight of these kids," between the ages of 15 and 18, have been selected to attend a two-week training at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in northeastern Minnesota near Finland.

"This project has been the most personally rewarding work I have done as a Peace Corps volunteer," said Fladeboe. "I have led, guided and at times simply observed as the youth of this organization have learned, grown and become the leaders of a new movement toward a cleaner and more environmentally friendly Albania. It's been truly remarkable."

Fladeboe will meet the Outdoor Ambassador students when they come to Minnesota and will spend two weeks with them, coordinating activities and home-stay families for their time outside of Wolf Ridge.

Jenny Bushmaker, summer youth program director at Wolf Ridge, said the students from Albania will be in camp July 25 through Aug. 7.

Bushmaker has been working with Fladeboe since this winter on coordinating the camp experience for the Albanian students. She said that for a portion of their two-week experience, the students will spend time with campers from the Upper Midwest to exchange leadership and environmental ideas and culture.

"Showing these students the great progress the United States has seen in regard to environmentalism will be an eye-opening experience for them all," Fladeboe said. "And showing them one of our most beautiful national forests -- the Boundary Waters Canoe Area -- will give them a great vision of how the most precious areas in nature can be preserved and protected."

Fundraising efforts

This project is being funded by a number of individuals, organizations and businesses within Albania. It has also been supported by the U.S. Embassy in Albania, which has purchased the plane tickets to Minnesota for the students. However, the project is still seeking additional funding to cover the tuition costs of Wolf Ridge.

Currently, there is a stateside fund being collected by the Peace Corps Partnership Program. Any donations collected here are tax-deductible and 100 percent of the money goes directly to this project, specifically the tuition costs of the students' training. A brief summary of this project, cost projects, donations to-date and an avenue to make a donation to the project is available on the Web at https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shellresources.donors.contribute.pr...

A collection is also being set up at LuLu Beans Coffee Shop in Willmar for possible donors interested in giving cash.

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Sharon Bomstad
Sharon Bomstad is the features editor at the West Central Tribune in Willmar, Minn., and is the editor of the newspaper's lifestyle magazine Live it!, as well as the new business publication Business2Business. She has been an employee of the West Central Tribune for more than 30 years.
(320) 214-4336
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