Marsilda Bialczak

Marsilda Bialczak

Marsilda Bialczak

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My name is Marsilda Bialczak and I am a student at the University of Connecticut (UConn, Storrs, CT), majoring in Marketing. I am also an active member of the Albanian Student Association (ASA) at UConn.

On May 2014, I started a fundraiser for my dear friend Olsi Alushaj, a 25-year-old from Fier, Albania. He suffers from Becker Muscular Dystrophy, which is a progressive incurable disease that destroys the strength and flexibility of muscles. The muscles that are damaged can never be recuperated. Both his mom and brother have the same disease but theirs haven’t progressed quite as rapidly as Olsi’s has.

We were both in the same class in elementary and middle school. I knew he had a disease but I was too small to understand it. I would see him struggle every day to climb the stairs or make friends. Even though I was just a child, I was deeply saddened by his situation. I would yell at my friends when they would tease him, call him names, or push him. I would try to help him get up but I could do little more than that. I did not know how.

After middle school we both went to different high schools. Back then Facebook didn’t exist so I did not see him for many years, even though we lived in the same small town. I went to college and when I was about to finish my Master’s degree I fell in love with and married a Polish-American man. I moved to the US and have lived in Connecticut for more than two-and-a-half years now.

One year ago, Olsi and I found each other on Facebook and began conversing. I was embarrassed to ask after his health. Yet, I decided to ask him to meet up for coffee when I went on vacation to Albania during the summer of 2013. Olsi initially asked that we meet at his home for coffee, since he could no longer walk and did not even have access to a standard wheelchair since his parents couldn’t afford one. His father worked here and there in construction, and his mom would sell vegetables in the street. There were 5 members to be fed in the family.

This was a shocking realization to me. It hurt me to see him in such a state; so I decided to enlist the help of my brother and friends in transporting Olsi to a restaurant outside of town. It was difficult to transport him as we had to carry him in and out of his building, vehicles, and the restaurant. After much maneuvering, Olsi and I were finally able to sit and talk about old memories. I was so happy to see him laugh with us. When I brought Olsi back to his home, his father took me aside and with eyes full of tears told me: “I have never met you before; I just know your name from Olsi. What you did today not only made my wife and me happy as parents, but with my entire soul I will from now on call you my daughter. I have never had a daughter, and I want you to be the one. God bless you and your family; no one has done something like this before for my son.”

His statement made me so emotional because I did not feel as if I had done anything extraordinary. Yet I could not forget the smile on Olsi’s face and the mixture of joy and relief in his father’s eyes. This is one of the reasons that I decided that I could do more than simply take Olsi out for a cup of coffee. With the help of others, I knew that I could provide Olsi with the means to live a happier life.

After several conversations, Olsi and I decided to reach out to the Albanian Student Association at University of Connecticut (of which I was a member), and ask for help in providing a wheelchair or anything of sorts to help him with his situation. The following is part from the letter that Olsi sent to the Albanian Student Association (translated from Albanian to English):

“In elementary school, people would always make fun of me and call me names because I walked weirdly. I remember when I was in high school, two guys made a big scene by pushing me down. I fell and they laughed so hard because I couldn’t stand up. I tried to stand up three times and each time they would push me with a finger and would say ‘Look at me, I am Superman. I can make this guy fall with the touch of a finger.’ Luckily they were bored so I stood up and went to class. I could never go on school trips. With the exception of a few close towns, I have never been outside of Albania.

In Albania, only a few banks and expensive private schools are handicap accessible. I had to drop out of school at 16 because I could not walk up the stairs. America, to me, seems like paradise because of many conveniences such as elevators, automatic doors, and pathways for wheelchairs. Not going to school was very dramatic for me, because my dream since I was a kid was to be a doctor and to find a cure for Muscular Dystrophy. That dream was over as soon as the reality of my disease hit me. In Albania, if one can’t walk they are considered garbage. Even relatives won’t look at you as a normal person. People will feel pity for you because they believe that your life is over.

My situation became more severe when I was 22 and I was no longer able to walk. I have not been able to leave my house for three years and live a normal life. When my friend, Marsilda, asked me, “What has been the happiest moment of your life?” I replied, “When my dad brought home an office chair that had wheels so I could slowly move from one room to another.” She thought I was joking. I was not.

I want to be independent and I don’t like to ask people for help, however my life has come to the point where I feel hopeless and depressed. I am too young to spend the rest of the days that God has given me inside the walls of my house. My wish is to have a chance to get some fresh air and be around people. I cannot afford to buy a wheelchair nor do I have the strength to push it. Unfortunately, my parents cannot afford to provide me with an electric wheelchair or with the physical therapy necessary for stopping the progression of the disease because they need to work hard all day to provide for our family of five. Both my parents have unstable jobs. They sell vegetables in the streets of our town and my father does small construction jobs here and there. The government gives me as a pension of only $99 a month which isn’t enough for anything.”

I believe that changing the world starts with something small. If we are too scared or indifferent to make small steps towards big changes then nothing will ever get done. If we do not take action for the causes for which we are passionate, then who will?

With the help of my friends at ASA, I managed to raise around $4500 and bought him the electric wheelchair and shipped it to Albania. In the money raised included a 1 year internet contract, a new HP laptop, and a manual wheelchair. If we all unite our efforts, we can make a great change in the life of one very courageous individual. God bless you all!

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