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WBF-EU action/ Providing lifelong access to the work market for disabled citizens

21 September 2022/

Sustainable Development is one of the main areas of intervention of the Western Balkans Fund Regional Grant Scheme, co-funded by the European Union, IPA – Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance. 

A partnership formed by Association Tirana Ekspres with Art Lab in Sarajevo and NGO Creative and Active in Struga, North Macedonia, is one of the 30 recipients of the 4 Call for Proposals grants.

This innovative project successfully integrates disabled people into the work market by teaching them handicraft and artisan skills. 

The Western Balkans Fund had the pleasure of speaking with one of the beneficiaries, Mr Flori Kofsha. 
 
Born with autism syndrome, the 28 years old Flori gained skills that allowed him to become an active participant in the work market. 
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Flori (L), with his mentor Rudina (M) and his mother Donika (R)

“With the help of God and those who have a pure heart and soul, everything can happen. Good luck, our son, on this path of your dreams”.

 

Two sentences. A proud mother post about her son, who, after a challenging and arduous path, realised at 28 his biggest ambition: debuting as an actor in a theatrical performance.

 

To Flori, breakthroughs have been easy. However, he never gave up. A real fighter and a true winner, Flori enjoys playing ping pong and volleyball in his free time. He studies, and finally, thanks to WBF-EU funded project, he has found real passion and a part-time occupation. 

 

This summer, he was one of the participants in the artisanal workshops of Tirana Ekspress Association and partners, Art Lab Bosnia and NGO Creative and Active in North Macedonia. 

 

First Picture. Flori, with the Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama
Second Picture. Flori with the Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj
Third Picture. Flori with the former captain of Albania National Football Team, Lorik Cana
Fourth Picture. Flori posing with the World Cup

“He felt terrific and sold some products”, says Donika Murati Kofsha, Flori’s mother and primary caretaker. “The truth is that people with similar difficulties must feel good to stay until the end of the workshops or be fully engaged. If they don’t feel good or don’t like it, they leave, and you can’t stop them”.

 

Rudina, Flori’s mentor during the workshop, describes how he insisted on working overtime to make more bracelets. “All of them were working 1-hour shifts, but Flori kept going on. It was impossible to stop him”. For him, the craft has opened a tremendous door of possibilities.

 

Slowly but with a melodious and convincing voice, Flori himself says he would love to open a kiosk where he can sell different products, including self-made bracelets. 

 

It was not always like this for the Kofsha family. Born at a time when therapy in Albania was little known, Flori received his first logopaedic treatment at 20. 

   

1-3 Picture. Flori posing after and during the Theatral Performance
4 Picture. Flori in a TV Studio. 5 Picture. Meeting with the Minister of Youth, Bora Muzhaqi

The doctor advised him to engage in as many activities as possible. Still, no one agreed to hire him for many years, even voluntarily. The projects that keep him engaged are “a recent thing”, underlines Donika. However, thanks to Flori and his family’s persistence, the progress has been remarkable. Now, he is a fully functioning and very busy young man.

 

As a matter of fact, he reached the WBF-EU-funded workshop after a trip with a sports team in Berlin. Shortly after, he went to shine in a dramatic piece played in Theatre on 16-17 September. Now, he is ready to embark on a new challenge. 

 

However, the effect of being one of the participants in the workshops is long-lasting. Long-lasting as is his smile when he receives the first check, a small sum from the bracelets sold. “I will keep going!” he promises. Keeping in mind that he never left a dream hanging or unfulfilled, almost certainly, he will.

 

*Fortunately, several projects have significantly changed the situation of Flori, who is currently also attending high school. Now, his day is particularly busy. However, the Kofsha family is always looking for new activities, so anyone interested is asked to contact the Western Balkans Fund for further instructions.

 

Like Flori, the opportunity to become part of the market through learning new handicraft skills was given to over 30 talented and hardworking disabled individuals in the Region.

 

Due to the high number of applications, the applicants went through a selection process. Only the shortlisted candidates could attend the workshops organised for nine days. 

From the workshops

 

However, the many interested individuals demonstrated the need for much more support in this regard.

 

The workshop itinerary started in Tirana from the 19th of May until the 1st of June, divided into three days in each field of artwork (copper jewellery, beading wire jewellery and clay modelling).

 

The second workshop proceeded in Struga, from the 3rd-4th of June, and the last one in Sarajevo on the 7th-8th of June. Thirty-eight persons participated (15 in Tirana, 11 in Struga and 12 in Sarajevo). 

 

The products realised from the participants’ work were sold by “Artizanes”, a hub through which 55 Tirana artisans trade their crafts. 

 

Thanks to the project’s successful realisation, “Artizanes” has already invited disabled participants to become part of its pool of freelancers. 

 

And they are already working to submit a proposal for a large regional fair. It intends to be an exhibition that unites the best products developed for disabled citizens in the Region. 

 

The goal is simple and practical: Fight marginalisation, provide equal opportunities and offer a long-lasting link with the work market.