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.