Thursday, 5 December 2013

A very different Independence Day!

On 27 November 2013, our REFLECT project organized a party at the ADRA Centre in Fushe-Kruja for the Roma-Community for women, children and teenage girls.

To start, they sang the National hymn of Albania and the children sang many other songs. Then came the highlight everybody had been waiting and preparing for:
The girls had prepared a fashion show with traditional Roma clothes!
A jury proclaimed the winners of the show: 
 Miss Smiley, Miss Elegance, Miss Photogenic, Miss Public and Miss Neighborhood.
After the show we enjoyed a party with juice, cookies and music.
  To celebrate independence day, there is no better way than to celebrate the independence of women!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

November in the Roma community of Fushe Kruja

On 29th of November ADRA staff paid a friendly visit to the Roma community of Fushe Kruja, just to have a chat and visit all the families that live there.
For two months we have been going almost every day to the community to talk with the parents about their children’s progress at school, health, work and many other topics related to the Reflect project. The work in the community has been very intense and all families have been very kind and open towards us. This is why, on 29th of November, while everybody in Albania was celebrating the Independence Day, we decided to go and spend some hours in the community. 
Mira and Marsela are waiting for us at the ADRA center, and together we walk towards the community. We are pretty lucky today, even though it is very cold, there is an amazingly warm sun. As soon as we arrive at the entrance of the neighborhood, two girls, Kristina 6 and Sonja 7, come running towards us totally barefoot and only with one blouse on. When we ask them if they are cold they answer smiling “No teacher, we are not cold because we are working”. We continue our journey entering in the first house of one of our women, Nila (31). Nila has 4 children, the oldest one 13 years old. Nila is washing the clothes outside in her yard and stops a little while to talk with us. She is happy to see us because she wants to express how happy she is that her son, Orgito, is going to school regularly and doing his homework without anybody’s help. Orgito is one of the youngest pupils registered at the public school in the first grade and he is an example for the other children. We ask Nila if the water she is using is warm and she replies "Yes, the water is warm but only because I am lucky to have a stove and some pieces of wood."

After Nila’s house we stop at Kristina’s house. Kristina is a 12 year old girl that was obliged to get engaged to a young boy, Berti, aged 14. Kristina has decided to break the engagement after 4 months because she didn’t like her new family. As soon as she entered their house, which is situated in the same community, her future mother in law started to treat her badly and to make her work all day long. Kristina went away after four months and went back to her parents’ house. Kristina’s parents tell us that they feel very sad and embarrassed because their daughter’s reputation is ruined and they don’t know if any other Roma boy will choose her as a bride. In most of the Roma communities, also in Fushe Kruja, girls get married at a very young age, and if they don’t get married until they are 16, this represents a problem for the girl’s family.  We ask to see Kristina, and she comes out of the house, ashamed and keeping her eyes at the ground. We hug her, tell we miss her at the school and that it would be wonderful to start school  again after four months of absence. Her eyes look at her mother who has nothing to say but she accepts to let Kristina come to school again. 
We continue our walk in the community, meeting all the children who come out of their houses, smiling and asking us “Are you coming again tomorrow?”

We stop and play with them, spending time with each of them because they need to tell us about school and holidays. It is so amazing to see how the same timid children that two years ago couldn’t even say a word in Albanian have become so alive, speaking Albanian language, hugging and expressing so many feelings without any fear or shyness.
We stop at Suela’s house, one of our best students at the ADRA centre. Suela is 16 and she got engaged last week. After getting engaged, Suela’s new family decided not to let her attend our centre anymore; according to the Roma tradition, young brides should stay home and work as much as they can to earn the respect of the new family. Suela got engaged to a boy of her age who lives in the same community, so we have big hopes to work with her husband too and invite them both to attend ADRA’s activities.

We continue to visit many other houses asking families what their planes are for the winter but, as always, they tell us that their plans change whenever there is need for money. If they have to go and buy second hand clothes or shoes, they travel to Tirana, Durres, Shkoder or even Kosovo or Greece. Anyway, in general, at least during winter, women and children stay home, in the community.

In November we see how the community awakes and we are so happy to see women, men and children we haven’t seen for months, to re-open their houses and adapt themselves again to the community life.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

A sunny day at the beach with our project participants

As our readers already know, Reflect project in Fushe Kruja started in October 2011 opening a centre for roma women and children where they could gather, discuss, learn and participate in many psycho- social games. During the first year of the project many roma men and boys came around and asked us “why don’t you open a program for us too?”; “women don’t understand a thing, we can learn faster”.
Roma women who came at the project and enjoyed the program started saying “you can open our eyes and sensitize us about our rights and possibilities, but how can we fight for our rights if our men don’t support us? They don’t understand the importance of women’s education so please do something so they can change their way of thinking and support us”.
ADRA staff felt responsible to continue its mission by reinforcing the project and prolong it for other three years with the financial support of ADRA Austria and Austrian Development Agency in Albania.

“Literacy and social skills for roma men, women and children in Fushe Kruja city” started in October 2012 involving not only women and children but also all roma men and boys who want to be part of the Reflect program: get together, discuss daily issues and possible solutions, create group cohesion, learn how to read and write by using practical tools and participate to many social activities. Since the project started roma young boys were enthusiast to start learning; we could feel their wish to be part of something bigger than their reality limited to the roma neighborhood at the peripheral area of Fushe Kruja city.

They finally had the chance to come out from the ghetto for another reason different from work. We have organized many activities and they enjoyed very much being in group and play with each other. Even though some of them are already married, fathers at 17- 18 years old, they like to play, have fun with each other and live their age because they haven’t had a normal adolescence.

Last activity that we organized was a beach day together with 15 boys from the roma community, our two facilitators Mira and Marsela and their teacher Redjan.

The boys prepared the lunch, collected 300 lek each (2.50 euro) and bought food for all of us. Marsela and Mira cooked with the help of two of the boys Visi and Bledi, so everything was ready. They cooked stuffed pepperoni, byrek, tomatos, olives and cheese. ADRA staff was invited to their prepared lunch so we brought only something to drink.
We met at Gjiri I Lalzit, a nice place where the sea is clean and there is a lot of space to play. The boys were so happy; they were dancing, singing while we were searching for a nice place where to put our umbrella.

 As soon as we settled, they took the ball and started playing football. This is their favorite game, even though they have some problems managing their emotions. They get easily angry, yell at each other like they are going to fight, show a little bit of violence, but at the end, they always finish the game in peace. This is so strange, but also interesting and admirable. They look after each other and feel part of a group even though they have conflicts and sometimes they instantly become violent.

They day at the beach is a great opportunity to talk a little bit about their daily life in summer season. Ibrahim, 18 years old, father of a 1 year old boy, tells us about his working experience in summer: “summer is a very hard working period because of the good weather. You know what we do? We create a group of 5 or more boys and we put 5000 lek each (35 euro), we got to the shoes factories which are located in Kruja and Lezha and we buy as much shoes as we can. There are two kinds of shoes, the good ones that cost 700 lek per pair (5 euro) and the bad ones which cost 300 lek (2.50 euro). They look like the original ones because they have famous logos on them, adidas, nike, so we don’t find it hard to sell them, especially at the beach. We go usually to Durres or Saranda, where there are a lot of tourists from Kosovo and Macedonia. Every morning I wake up at 6 o’clock and I get ready to go to Durres with a big bag full of shoes. I sell them for 15 euro or 20 euro each if I am lucky. I have to shout at the beach walking long kilometers until someone asks me about the shoes. I don’t want to bother people so I try to stay at the edge of the beach just shouting out loud the price of the shoes.
There are days that I am really lucky and I sell even 5 pairs of shoes, but in general I sell 2 pairs. After I have sold them, I stop and I don’t work for the rest of the day. I take a bath and then I come home. We spend 1.500 lek (13 euro) to buy food and the rest I put it aside so we have some money left. It is hard to save money as I am the only one working at home and I have to maintain my parents, my bride and my son. Anyway I don’t complain.”

After Ibrahim has told his story we also have to ask him what about his work during winter time, how does he earn his living during cold days? He smiles bitterly and says that winter is a difficult period of the year. He has to work by collecting metal scrub. I work by collecting different kinds of metals because if I find some good metals I can sell them and earn good money to feed my family. I travel around north of Albania, in the villages near Burrel, Dibra and go from house to house to ask if they have metals to sell or give away. Sometimes I find myself in these lost places where I have to sleep because I don’t have the money to go back home everyday. I also have to sleep outside the car because police doesn't let you sleep inside. So imagine how cold it is in December or January up in the mountain areas. The good side of this work is that once you have found a big amount of metal you can go and sell it earning a lot of money. The best metals to sell are: aluminum (which I can sell for 5 euro per kilo) and cooper (3 euro per kilo). The rest of the metals I collect are very cheap (30 cent per kilo) so, I always try to find the precious two.”
Ibrahim has a great sense of business, he knows how to buy and sell, he has self confidence and all he cares about is his family. He wants to come to REFLECT classes to learn how a budget functions and how he can improve his work by getting some practical tools.

We are touched by his story and by his will to improve his life and his way of working. Ibrahim is only 18 years old but he already has a clear objective and knows he has to work hard to realize it. He is a really good example for the other young boys who listen to him carefully, looking at him with astonishment and curiosity. Ibrahim will be with ADRA staff on September and we will have a long way together to assist him while he is finding his own way to improve his life.

The day at the beach continued with games, activities and discussions. After a long day under the sun, we found a shaded area and we had lunch.

Everything was delicious and very well cooked. The day finished with some roma songs and dances during our way back home.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Summer time in Fushe Kruja city- 17 July 2013

Summer time in Fushe Kruja city- 17 July 2013

In summer time Fushe Kruja is emerged in a very hot weather and polluted environment. When you get out of the bus you feel like you have just been dropped near a metallurgic factory. The air is hot and very hard to breathe; it smells of gas, oil and polluted water.

In summer, Fushe Kruja has very high temperatures and a few places where people can find fresh shadows. Parks are inexistent, trees are rare and the river that passes by is polluted by garbage and city sewage water. The Roma children of Fushe Kruja find a way to fresh up by going to the river and play there with each other.

This activity gives them a lot of infections and that is why ADRA medical staff goes there often and talk with children and parents to avoid the river water as much as they can. In two years, ADRA staff has managed to convince many families of the community not to use the river water but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in this aspect.

Reflect project is closing the first phase of “Social training for Roma men, women and children in Fushe Kruja”. It has been a really good year in terms of activities, relations, community collaboration and positive results. For ADRA staff this is just the beginning because now it is the moment when problems, challenges and solutions are better identified. Now, it is the moment to start working more intensively with the community, involving it in public activities, engage community leaders in raising awareness on common issues, and be persistent in the integration of Roma children in the public schools of Fushe Kruja.

During these two months, May - June 2013, ADRA staff has worked closely with the Roma parents to make them aware about the importance of taking children to school.

It has been difficult to make them listen because of their urge to go to work as it is summer time. As our readers already know, Roma people start their journey at the beginning of April and they try to work as much as they can to collect money for the winter.

Summer is the most lucrative time of the year because of the enhanced commerce of second-hand clothes and collection of plastics and metal scrubs. Another way of earning money in summer is the fortunetelling at the beach. Many Roma women, wearing suggestive clothes, go in touristic areas, especially at the beach and practice the hand reading to tourists.

 In Albania it is not allowed to practice such thing but for the Roma women this represents the most lucrative job they can ever have. So, during summer season, there are Roma women who earn considerable amounts of money going mostly at the beaches of Durres and Vlora.
It has been a real challenge to take women to the ADRA centre these two months because of their summer and house work. That is why ADRA staff tried to reach them by going house to house and paying visits which were very much appreciated.

In June, ADRA staff organized the first Roma children’s camp in order to motivate and prepare them for the next schooling year. 25 children of 5-8 years old and 8 girls of 11-14 years old were present to the camp together with 3 women from the Roma community, 1 woman from the nearest neighborhood and ADRA staff who managed the camp activities. It was great to see how women got along together, working and collaborating in everything. Children were so happy to have this opportunity that couldn’t stay on their feet. They were very energetic, full of positive emotions and motivated to learn and listen.
 This was a great first experience and ADRA staff hopes Roma children understand the aim of this camp: motivate children to go to school because together with it comes friendship, education and many other good experiences, just like the ADRA summer camp.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Help ADRA defend the rights of the girls around the world!

ADRA Albania has been working for years in the Roma communities all around Albania. It was time to speak out loud about what happens to young girls at the age of 12. Finally, our voice was heard and here we stand on the gift catalogue of ADRA International to get visibility and raise awareness against early marriages in Albania! 

One amazing week with 25 roma children from Fushe Kruja - 24.06-28.06.201

This year ADRA staff decided to move step further and invite the children of the Fushe Kruja Roma community to Tirana. This was a big step for the staff and for the community itself because it was the first time ADRA took the initiative to take 35 Roma children and organize a weekly camp for them.
We planed and organized a jungle camp to prepare Roma children for the coming school year and to motivate them by giving a nice experience together with ADRA staff.

The camp with the jungle theme presented to the children the wide world of animals, and through this issue ADRA staff prepared different kind of stories related to school, healthy life style and hygiene. Each day, the program had a special theme such as: what the jungle is, why we should eat healthy food, hygiene, excursion day in the zoo and park and relationship between friends and in the family. 

Our goal was to combine interesting stories about the jungle with educational issues for the children. So we had every day a special time table. It started with morning gym, after that breakfast and then washing teeth and themselves.  We created for every day special games with the daily theme and organized some role play games to explain the children for example how they have to clean their hands and teeth. Our ADRA health team supported our camp team with these activities. Every day we had school time that means we repeated with the children numbers, letters and songs.

At the beginning of the camp the children were very nervous and full of energy and it was a challenge for our team to follow the organized plan. It was nice to recognize how the children got used and improved with these activities, listening and concentrating more and more each day.

 It was very nice to notice this positive process.  It was amazing to sit down with them and to do every day some creative activities for example producing soap. They enjoyed working with their own imagination. It was special to see how they looked to the animals in the zoo or how they play in the park and in the free time at the ADRA compound.
Not only our special medical man who explained and talk with the kids also our team with 3 community women supported the ADRA team very well. The goal to give to the children a special time and to prepare them for the new starting first school year was our  main goal and even though for a short period of time, 1 week, we realized our goal. Now, September will be a challenge for us all as we have to work hard with the parents and the Roma community in order to take Roma children to school.

 A warm THANK YOU to ADRA Germany that financed the summer camp and to the amazing ADRA Albania staff which worked really hard to give these children a great experience!

Summer camp June 2013

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Winter times in Fushe Kruja

Fushe Kruja city is very rainy these days. Spring has brought many weather challenges and who feels it the most are the poor communities who live in cold houses, without any heat, shoes or proper warm clothes. It has been four months of winter now, and the weather conditions are not facilitating the Roma community of Fushe Kruja to get started with their work. Women and men cannot work collecting metal scrub or selling second hand clothes because of the heavy rain; they don’t have shoes or even coats to be protected and they get sick very often. Sometimes they try traveling even in the rain, going from village to village and sleeping in tends, but there have been cases of tends flooding, lack of work and thus lack of incomes to continue the travelling. 

Many Roma families that live in Fushe Kruja community tried starting their work by going to Shkodra to sell second hand clothes ( North Albania)  but they came back saying that Buna river had come out of its riverbed and had destroyed all what they had in their self constructed tends situated near the city. Many Roma families came back to Fushe Kruja sick and angry because of this happening and they were really sad because every year, in Shkodra, where many Roma people work, there are many river flooding. (

Paola, one of Reflect Students, 12 years old, was to Shkodra for two months to help her parents work. She came back at the reflect centre last Monday (29 March 2013) saying that they were caught up by the river water at 4 am in the morning and they got really frightened. All their personal clothes and tend materials were destroyed and they had to come back to Fushe Kruja. “I was frightened when I felt the tend started moving and the water entered from below it. I couldn’t even put my feet on the ground”.
She is happy to be back and to have the opportunity to come to the ADRA centre and continue her learning. She misses school very much but she doesn’t have a choice: her family needs her.
Now Paola and her family are in Fushe Kruja just for a few weeks, waiting the weather to get better and re- start their journey.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Meeting young brides in Fushe Kruja

December in Fushe Kruja is a very cold month for the Roma community. The city is situated right next to a mountain so there are no hills, trees or something else that can stop the cold wind coming from the Adriatic Sea. Even though this area is not particularly characterized by low temperatures, the strong cold wind gives another perception. Roma families start collecting wood and prepare the old stoves for colder days. Many of them are not so lucky to have a stove, thus they get often ill and try to go and visit parents within the community, maybe the ones that own a stove. Some of them can’t find wood so they go searching in the rubbish, everywhere in the city, the important thing is to find something which can get burned. Little boys go searching for hours and sometimes they come home with pieces of plywood which can hold fire just for a couple of hours.
 When you enter within the community, little children, wearing only slippers come running. Their cheeks are read and noses cold, their skin is harsh and their hands are cold. Most of them do not have shoes or coats so they go around in light clothes and slippers. Many of them get ill during winter, but their parents don’t know how to take care of them. Even when they have fever, flu and they are cold, they go out and get even sicker. Parents do not have enough information on how to prevent or tackle fever, flu or any other disease. What happens next is that the child gets really sick, ends up in the hospital and takes a lot of medicines because his condition has deteriorated.

This presentation was necessary because it is important to understand how roma parents still are not conscious about the lack of information regarding health, education, children caring. All these situations have a main cause: Early marriages.

Young girls, 12 years old, get married with young boys who aren't more than 16 years old. These new couples are still children, they don’t live their adolescence, they don’t play enough, don’t go to school, don’t know how to take care for themselves. The ironic fact is that they get married at a very early age and become parents when they are still in their adult childhood. On the other hand their parents don’t know what to teach them because it has been the same for them, and the history repeats itself, perpetuating negative consequences.
Girls become mothers at 13 years old and they are afraid, they don’t know what to do with these new creatures. They tie them up as little dolls, so they are easier to carry up and feed them with what they can. There have been cases when they don’t have breast milk or other kind of food and give babies boiled beans, thinking it is nutritive. These babies grow up not only without vaccination but also without any medical control, and the most important  is that they don’t exist formally . As early marriages are not allowed in Albania by law, young mothers can not register their babies to the public institutions, hospital or health centers.

Ada Mexhiri, Zeqine Gatali and Adela Misha, three young students of Reflect school got married in the last three months. They were all 13 years old and were all frequenting the ADRA community centre in Fushe Kruja. These three young students had just started to read and write, to get involved in activities, to enjoy some free time far from hard work. From now on, they can not come to school anymore; they can’t even go out of their new houses. Now that they are married, they have to stay in their new house, cooking, washing, working more than all family members, just because they are the new brides.

When ADRA staff goes to visit them, they hide because they are shy, they don’t know what to say, they don’t even know to give an explanation about the decision they have made.
After a year working in Fushe Kruja, you understand that this decision is not taken by them; they don’t even think to take such important decisions. Their parents see them as burdens; most of the time, when a young bride comes in the house, the oldest daughter should leave in order to give space to the new arrival. This was the fate of our three students. In their families, a new bride came and, since they live in small rooms where there is not enough space for everyone, they have to go; marriage is the only escape. The same logic works also for the food. When a new member comes home, one of the girls should leave, because these families are very poor and can’t afford to feed everyone.Young girls are the once that sacrifice more than any other member of the community. They are considered as a mouth more to feed so the solution is to force them getting married. Parents put pressure on them, make them feel as burdens, treat them badly so they are forced to leave and to find a new house. 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Albania's 100 Years of Independence!

On 28 November 2012, Albania celebrated 100 years of independence. The country was covered by black and red flags, festive activities and many important events. In each city of the country there were organized many concerts, activities and celebrations in order to give this date the proper significance.

Even in Fushe Kruja city, where our REFLECT project is being implemented, were organized several activities, including a public school activity. Fatmira, our facilitator, had a brilliant idea: create a group of Roma youngsters and prepare a Roma dance for the public school concert. Our students were very excited for this opportunity, not only because they were going to promote their dance and music in front of everyone; but also because it was the first time they were participating in an event made especially for young people their age. It was very enthusiastic see Roma boys and girls gathered to (which is an exceptional case) to prepare the dance for such an important activity. They worked hard for a week; each day after class they gathered at the community center and practiced because they wanted to give the best they could. It was such a miracle to see these boys and girls playing and learning together for a common objective. It was one of those rarely occasions where Roma children feel their age and not forced adults.

As we have already written in our previous blogs, Roma community in Fushe Kruja is a very conservative and patriarchal community. Girls are forced to abandon school in early age because their parents don’t want them to go to school with boys and prefer marrying them in a very early age, even without the girl’s approval.  It was a very positive step seeing parents approving such initiative and allow their daughters to dance and stay in the same classroom with boys their age. The celebrating feeling was influencing everyone and strangely, Roma parents became more tolerant and allowed their daughters to participate to the event and dance in front of everyone. In a normal situation, there would be a big discussion about girls dancing in front of the public; Roma men consider it an unacceptable behavior for grown up girls of 12 years old. Girls at this age are considered as possible brides so they can not go to school, go out alone or participate in public activities. If they do so, they are considered women with doubtful reputation.

The day of the concert, on 27 November 2012, ADRA staff bought some nice shirts and hats with the Albanian flag because the Roma dancing group had asked to wear the Albanian flag for the occasion. They were very excited and couldn't wait to go on the stage and make their performance.
The concert was really well organized; young students from different classes sang and dance various Albanian traditional and modern songs. During the concert, our Roma participants were a little bit discouraged because they saw their peers, the Albanian children, the once who go to school, how free they were, how much they were enjoying the event. Instead of the Roma ones, who don’t go to school and are very marginalized. Being out of school, Roma youngsters are also out of the public life including sportive, artistic and cultural events.
Then their turn came, the Roma group went on stage and as soon as they began dancing, the hole public was standing applauding them. It was a memorable moment. It was one of those moments where there is absolutely no place for cultural and ethnic differences, discrimination and exclusion. People, for some minutes, were in total harmony with each other, sharing a beautiful song and accepting each other like there were no boundaries. Suddenly, some Albanian youngsters went on the stage and start dancing with the Roma group, creating a delightful atmosphere.

ADRA staff was on the same time astonished and proud to have supported such group because they really gave the best by making everyone feel united like never before. After the concert, ADRA staff and the Roma group went to the community center, celebrating such event and immediately planning the next one.
Everyone enjoyed the activity and we hope this will be the first of many others that will come in the future.