In the next months I will publish a series of eight countries articles on children with no future. Children from the ghettos and slums I know. First one is about Albania.
We don’t need superheroes. No Martin Luther Kings or any other charismatic super-leader you might think of. That need is just a way for bureaucrats, racists, dishonest intellectuals and opportunists to rationalize maintaining the existing status quo. An excuse for some well intended people to justify their own failures. A trap.
We just need enough ordinary people with the courage to say things as they are and with the determination to push for change. We are wasting huge amounts of money on irrelevant bureaucracies and faking actions while the very few people that do work at the grassroots are viewed as eccentrics, exceptions or stupid idealists. We put far too much effort into rationalizing our existing comfortable paradigm. With far less energy, we could change the lives of many children in ghettos.
Fancy rhetoric and glossy reports about good projects, positive practices or policies addressing the most vulnerable will not save these children from the hellish future they have in front of them. By the time we have a serious crisis (and we will) that will force bureaucrats to react, it will be too late for this generation of children.
He is Elvis. They just demolished his house and he looks at what is left. His house was illegally built He is eight years old but looks like a four year old. He has a strong, scary cough his parents didn’t take him to the hospital. No money for that – not enough money to survive – garbage recycling and begging bring just enough to feed the alcohol addiction of his already broken 26 years old father.
Tuberculosis was then and remains now a serious threat among vulnerable children in Albania. Elvis ate from what he managed to beg and sometimes from garbage bins. His pet was a rat. His mother wished they would manage to migrate to Greece or Italy– begging was rumored to be a good business there.
There is lots of garbage- mainly plastic- that waits to be sorted. The temperature is well over 35 Celsius. There are at least 20 children under six years old running around.
Some older children help their mothers with sorting the garbage. The toilets are just holes in the ground. It stinks.
garbage recycling, toxic pound and huts – ghetto Albania
In a hut a woman complains that her children have no papers. They were born in Greece. It costs a lot to register them in Albania she complains. The husband is drunk. Domestic violence is rife and affects mainly women and children. Theft and prostitution are the other alternative to garbage work. There is no water tap close by. The lake is used for washing.
The children here are the third generation of beggars. You start as a beggar- you end up sorting garbage. The stages in between are many times theft, prostitution, prison, selling prostitutes, robbery.
A truck full of construction waste comes and dumps its load ten meters from the huts. There is lots of dust. Two children none of them older than 3 years old start playing with the waste. They are fast covered in the white dust that makes me cough. Most probably the dust is toxic. None of the children here goes to school. Even if there will be transportation available for them there is no much chance they could stay in school. Abject poverty translates in no amenities whatsoever – the result I know it from my own experience– you stink. Children and teachers are not particularly happy with very poor and stinky children. When you are Roma the chances to be openly hated are even higher.
There is a boy that sorts garbage near by. He looks like 4-5 years old but probably is closer to 9 considering his dexterity in sorting rubbish. Parents are out together with 2 other siblings to collect garbage. He wears two different shoes a sandal and a sport shoe. The sport shoe is for the wrong foot – it should be on his left. He wears some dirty trousers and nothing else. He is severely bitten by mosquitos – the lake is near by. His body is drenched in sweat as he moves fast sorting garbage.
After some 10- 15 minutes he stops. He goes to his hut, gets a piece of cheese and some cucumber and sits down in front of the shack as he most probably saw his father doing. It is a sad view and makes me feel like shit. His chances to end up, hurt, addicted, in prison or as a male prostitute are exceptionally high while chances to get and education and manage to escape the ghetto are exceptionally small.
In the winter of 2005 Fatmir – 6 years old was digging out a piece of scrap metal to help him survive. He was living in a shack with his family of 7. His sister was sick. She was begging with his youngest brother on the streets of Tirana. There were over 100 people living in shacks – in the middle of Tirana.
The poverty nowadays is so abject that there are cases when shark loans will force the families to “rent” a child to them in order to recover the money. Some of the most productive criminal networks take children to beg to Pristina – the capital of Kosovo – the more powerful Euro and the massive presence of intergovernmental institutions there means better business for the gangs that use children for begging. A few years ago during the time the presence of international security forces was high there used to be a massive flux of underage prostitutes recruited from ghettoes such as this one here.
On August 5,2013 the mayoralty of Tirana decided to destroy the huts to force these people move. At that moment only 37 families were still there – close to 100 children. The video of women wailing and children watching the bulldozers destroying their homes is heart wrecking.
The children there are pushed even further into criminality. A criminality that will cost the state hundreds of times more than needed to address their situation and offer those children the possibility of a normal future.
Piles of garbage, adults watching powerless as their houses were destroyed, children that do not understand what is going on, solidly caught in the horrible cycle of living from garbage, an angry teenager sitting on a mattress watching the destruction of what used to be his neighborhood – these is what is left of the settlement.
Demolition of a Roma settlement – Tirana August 2013
I wonder if Elvis or Fatmir were among them. They could very well be here –angry teenagers with a hellish future in front of them.
In Albania there are a few exceptional people that are trying to change the situation I am honored to know some of them. That work with children nobody else wants to work with. We just need to empower them. Sign this petition: http://www.childpact.org/sign-our-petition/ . If you already did – thank you.