Ndroq and Tirana We drove to Ndroq, a village of about 5000 people, that is part of the municipality of Tirana, Albania, even though it took us almost an hour to get there. Most of the country we drove through was a mixed industrial area interspersed with some vineyards and truck farms yielding produce. We were scheduled to visit a high school where Marsela Allmuca, my associate, had done work with women and girls on education and awareness projects focusing on empowerment as a prevention against potential domestic violence and abuse.
Most of the young people we visited with here were the equivalent of sophomores and juniors in US high schools. Their English was good, and they were at that tipping point where they were still mostly children, even as they looked more like adults, but increasingly trying to sort out a path as adults and all of the craziness that goes with that in knowing both too much and way too little. The dynamics were such that some of the more confident in speaking English and more accustomed to dominating class discussions held sway in the beginning, but gradually, the more we talked about organizing, the more we broke through. In the beginning we largely heard what their fathers felt, but later we got closer to what they really thought, but it was a struggle.
The opening tone was one of hopelessness about their community and their country. On a show of hand, almost all of them wanted out, seeing no hope for change or employment in Albania or this small village. Surveys indicate that 79% of young Albanians want to emigrate to other countries. Marsela told me that there were some forecasts that projected the current population of more than two million could be halved to only one-million in coming years given the existing outflow of the young and aging of the general population. Their fathers’ issues were the conditions of roads, the inability to get paid for work performed, and the ever-present issue of resolving land ownership, which one teen thought required a $2000 fee to process, almost as much as a year’s annual wage at the minimum standard. Finally, one girl at the back spoke up and with help eventually rallied the majority of the students around the issue of needing a playground or cinema. The argument bizarrely focused on whether or not that issue was too trivial compared to the so-called “big” issue of better roads. Eventually, we carried the day on a show of hands about whether we should organize for an immediate win on playgrounds, but given the permeation of hopelessness in the room, it took everything I could muster to convince them that picking issues was not a zero-sum game, but both could be handled, and both were important.
Our next meeting was in Tirana at the Human Rights House with some of their volunteers and several activists. This smaller group ranged from 21 to 25 years of age with most in universities at some level. Here, I caught a break. One Roma activist told the story of how he and his friends supported a community of sixteen families being forcibly relocated from a river bank where they were living. Launching a determined campaign against the municipal housing agency, they eventually won resettlement and a land grant for the Roma families, so that they could rebuild their homes, which gave me a great community organizing story in order to push them more clearly in the direction of building power and creating change. Several other activists had long experience in disaster relief after a fatal explosion of an unsafe plant in their area and were now trying to create some of the first social enterprises, or so they claimed, in the country.
Perhaps if a young person can make it away from their local village and out of the homes of their families who have suffered through cataclysmic changes in the country throughout their generation, including the fall of Communism and mass deprivation and migration, there’s hope as they hit twenty for both themselves and the country. It’s a mountain to climb, but some at least seem to be making it, so we’ll have to help them build the bridge for a better Albania.