by Julie Holthaus
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “Ima vreme” is the Macedonian phrase for “there is time.”
It is a concept Shannon Feehan, a 2007 graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, has grown very familiar with of late.
Since August 2011, Feehan has been serving with the Peace Corps in the Republic of Macedonia, a country in the central Balkan peninsula in southeast Europe.
Feehan says Macedonians put great emphasis on faith and family and always making time for one another. Or, as the locals say, “ima vreme.”
“The Balkan countries all share breathtakingly beautiful sights and the friendliest people,” said Feehan. “They are committed to closeness, hospitality, and love.
“In America, we may plan our lives on work and let our other daily activities fill in the gaps.
“Here, they prioritize time with each other.”
Graduating from Kansas State University in 2011 with a degree in early childhood education, Feehan left the comforts of home to be immersed in a culture 6,000 miles away.
“I am living with a Macedonian family who has helped me experience the culture daily,” said Feehan. “The majority of Macedonians celebrate their holidays following the Eastern Orthodox calendar.”
Feehan says their Easter celebration started with a midnight Mass and continued throughout the week with activities like traditional Easter egg swaps.
“On Easter Monday morning, the village reunited at the church to exchange Easter eggs,” Feehan said. “This is their way to honor their deceased loved ones by standing near their graves and exchanging eggs with their friends and family.
“I was given eggs anywhere from the bus to the local grocery store. It is simply the hospitable culture of the Macedonians to be grateful for those who have been kind to them throughout the year.”
Feehan has been working in a school in the village of Peshtani and also teaches English to adults and underprivileged children in nearby villages.
“I have been overwhelmed by the kindness that my village has shown me in my time here,” said Feehan. “The children and villagers greet me in the school and on the streets with hugs on a daily basis.
“It really will be a wake-up call when I return to America and my name isn’t constantly yelled across the streets.”
While picking up on the differences between home and abroad, Feehan has also embraced the similarities.
“I am constantly reminded that people here are just like the people back at home,” said Feehan. “We may have been shaped by different cultures, religions and lifestyles, but we are all connected by the same desires. We all desire a way to connect to those around us.”
Since declaring independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, the Macedonian standard of living has ranked among the lowest in Europe, and it continues to struggle economically. Feehan attests to many Macedonians living paycheck to paycheck.
Feehan’s project and the goal of her school, St. Naum Ohridski, is to repair its damaged walls and ceilings. Neighboring schools in Trpejca, Elsani, and Konjsko are also included in the project, with similar goals to repair the buildings and improve their functionality.
“One of the goals in the Peace Corps is to help our community learn how to help themselves,” said Feehan. “The people here had never raised money. Under the communist regime, this sort of activity was neglected entirely as an option.”
Feehan helped the village organize its first fundraiser last year through the children selling Easter baskets. The community raised $900 to use toward the renovations.
“The community had their first taste of raising their own money,” said Feehan. “The village will continue to help raise funds as well as provide all the labor for the project. However, they are in need of additional generosity to help with the cost of materials.”
Feehan will remain in Macedonia for another year, working and moving toward completed school renovations.
“My goal in the Peace Corps was to help others but, in turn, they have given me so much,” said Feehan. “If you can give even a small amount, this could make a big difference for so many. The Peace Corps has endorsed this project and I will remain in Macedonia to ensure that the project is completed.”
To donate or for more information, go to the website at: donate.peace corps.gov and type “Feehan” into the search box. Or contact Feehan by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.