17 February 2022
It was once the pumping heart of a vibrant industrial city of 15,000. But, today, the former industrial neighbourhood represents its misery.
Fushë Arrëz is a small, picturesque town in the valley of Great Fan River. On the edge of which stood the Sawmill Plant, the Wood Fiber Factory, the Wood-processing Plant, the Foundry and the Furniture Factory.
All these plants were closed at the beginning of 1990, leaving most of the inhabitants of Fushë Arrëzi unemployed. In turn, the official data rank the city as the poorest in Albania in terms of GDP per capita.
In 30 years of unstoppable demographic haemorrhage, a little more than 5 thousand inhabitants are left. The exodus from the city is such that the high school students don’t doubt whether they will go but where they will once they turn eighteen.
However, a group of friends, natives of Fushë Arrëz, two engineers, a doctor, two economists, a teacher and former workers in the lumber industry are trying to bring back hope and give the city a future.
It is highly symbolic. The Social Center to Help People in Need is located in the exact location where the city’s pumping industries provided a decent life for the fathers and grandfathers of today’s students. The heartbeat of the Center is weak, it can surely not compensate all the industries lost, but it is enough to get the blood moving.
The Center today rises tall, in the middle of the ruins of the industrial complex, close to a river polluted by the copper mines upstream. It has become a roadblock, the most important gathering centre, in a city that lacks sports fields, culture halls, and even a library.
Opened in 2014, the 900-square-meter Centre is offering to the young people the chance to learn new professions or to increase their skills, while for the older and retired, many of them former industrial workers, tries to provide free food and activities, because according to the director, Hil Curri, for them is “too late to learn English or learn how to write a project”.
When he turns to the wall of fame his eyes are wet. He turns to a photo and says, “look, here are the grandmothers and grandfathers of our Centre in traditional clothes. Many of them fought in the Second World War. But from this picture, most have already passed away”.
The Centre has very few means to improve the life of the older community. But, they truly believe that they can make a change for the whole region, by empowering the youth. “Maybe because the air here is so fresh and pure, they have become so smart”, smiles Hila.
The Centre has currently seven cabinets; mechanics, electrical, plumbing, cooking, painting, sculpture and sewing. This provides to the young daily activities and a mean to get employed fast and provide for themselves and their families.
Soon, new IT Classes will be added, and the Western Balkans Fund decided to support the cabinet by donating computers, a printer, and some other supporting materials.
In the first six months of 2021, 104 college students or other young teens, 80 from families in need, turned to the Centre for free vocational education. Of these, 34 have already found work in the labour market, thanks to the diploma recognized by the Ministry of Education.
In the meeting with the college students of the area, all of them from 16-18 years old, and their teachers, the Public Relations Officer, Klevis Gjoni and Grant Coordinator, Enea Korkuti, made a detailed presentation of the work of the Western Balkans Fund, as well as the opportunities that our grants offer to young people throughout the Western Balkans.
After getting acquainted with our activities, the young people expressed their willingness to work actively in setting up a network with their peers in the region, in areas of common interest to their town, including those affecting sustainable development, environmental protection or the transition from industrial to a touristic town.
According to the founder of the Centre, Mr Doda, the assistance of WBF will be helpful in the development of technical skills, IT, English knowledge, but also increasingly essential skills in the modern market, such as writing projects, CVs or essays, giving a direct contribution to employment and capacity building in Fushë Arrëz.
Through this donation, the Western Balkans Fund joins many other important donors that have supported the Social Center over the years, including the Embassy of the Netherlands, the Embassy of Australia, the Embassy of Austria, USAID, Lëviz Albania, the Embassy of Norway, Save the Children, the Delegation of the European and Embassy of the United States.