Hopelessness and Hope Among Young People in Albania

high school students

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.

activists and volunteers at Human Rights House

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.

well-known graduates of the high school

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.

he school’s namesake in NDROQ which is the name of the village

The Children’s Guide to Changing the World


New Orleans  Every once in a while, the New York Times prints a section for children.  The alerting tag line is an admonishment for adults to not read the section.  What is it about being told not to read something, that draws me to it immediately.  In this instance my curiosity was richly rewarded.

There was a column entitled “How to Change the WORLD” by Caroline Paul drawn from a book she is debuting now.  She describes the book, “You Are Mighty:  A Guide to Changing the World” as a guide that “lets kids know that civic engagement can start early, and that activism is both important and fun.”  Ok, count me in!

She starts with a clever admonition about voting by speaking directly to her audience.  In saying that only 60% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2016 election she compares the turnout to a party.  She calls the vote “as disappointing as inviting 10 people to your party and having only five arrive, with the sixth staying just long enough to eat your cake.”

Her first section was about how to make a protest sign, which includes the tip that you can make one on an old t-shirt and can write with cake frosting or glitter.  She defends letter writing as boring but effective according to studies.

But, where she scores high in my book is in the section headlined, “speak face to face,” where she speaks truth-to-power to a generation that increasingly believes that social media and social change are what and what.  Paul writes,

“Texting is fun.  So is Skype.  And soon, holograms!  But we’re humans, not robots, and ultimately IRL is still the most effective method around.  Talk in person to those who can make the change you want to see.”

Of course, I had to Google “IRL” to find out that it is a texting abbreviation for “In Real Life,” only proving again my lack of hipness, but the point is inarguable when it comes to building a base for your protest, even if Paul is trying to get her audience to believe that the target of their protests will be accessible enough to engage in real life.

The last advice offered for changing the world is “walk out.”   The Parkland students are the benchmark for young people now, and for many others as well.  She notes that “…like many activist tactics, they’re most powerful when done in a group (as passionate as you are, if you walk out alone, it’s very possible no will notice).”

True that!  Good advice for changing the world.  Let’s go do that and have fun!