Community Ambassador alumna Ray Koçi works to make the streets of Tirana more child-friendly

An Open AQ Impact Story

Ray Koçi is the program director of Qendra Marrëdhënie (QM), which translates to Relationship Center in English. QM is a nonprofit group focused on urban research and action in Tirana, Albania. They examine neighborhood planning through the lens of building safe and healthy spaces for children and their caregivers, with a particular focus on improving quality of life through better air quality. Ray has extensive experience working with international and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that focus on human rights and on social issues that require communities to come together for solution-building.

In joining OpenAQ’s 2021 Community Ambassador program, Ray wanted to better advocate for improved air quality in Albania, especially in Tirana, its capital city. At that time, she was working with QM on improving streets for children and their caregivers. With expertise in urban planning and management and experience as a double community mediator and public institutions liaison, Ray had an informed perspective on how air quality affects communities and livelihoods and how to advance Tirana’s child-first urban planning policies where school streets are the primary focus.

As a result of the Community Ambassador program, Ray gained additional skills to support her nonprofit’s work in urban planning and providing a healthier environment for kids, as well as to help QM create and push forward a holistic agenda aimed at improving city-making in Albania. Specifically, QM was able to expand its School Streets program in collaboration with the Municipality of Tirana, vocally supported by the mayor and deputy mayors. Ray happily reports, “So far we have implemented tactical interventions in six school streets. One of them was the pilot from the year I started the ambassador program. Five more schools have been implemented [since then], and one of them has even had capital construction undertaken by the city, which is the greatest news for a project like this.”

Ray says that while it was challenging that the Community Ambassador program was completely online, she was glad that she was able to learn more about air quality and that she was able to expand her network through the program. The workshops with air quality experts proved valuable in supporting interventions with data and advocating for better quality in public spaces within Tirana. Ray shares, “The impact of the ambassadorship for me (both personally and in my daily work) was getting more in depth on air quality and its direct effects on loss of life; looking and understanding different data sets which is relevant to pursuing the policy and regulation changes; connecting to professionals in the world and getting an extra perspective from air quality experts focusing in different fields; understanding methods of work that could be used for our context here including communicating the impacts of air quality better; and setting up new connections here with the relevant authorities based on this experience.” As part of the Community Ambassador program, Ray also wrote a detailed air quality landscape assessment for Albania and thus gained a deeper understanding of the current air quality landscape in her country. Her connection with fellow Community Ambassador Melusi Molefe from Durban, South Africa also proved fruitful as they were able to swap development and action plans for their cities.

Learn more about Qendra Marrëdhënie at qendra-m.org, or visit them on Twitter and Instagram!

Follow OpenAQ to learn when the application period for the 2023 Community Ambassador program opens.

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