A protected space for the children of Elbasan

In the Albanian town of Elbasan, the city council works closely with local nongovernmental organisations to protect children. Whether it’s at the counselling centre, during the trips carried out by advisory teams or at the jointly run child day care centre, the staff are always engaged with the town’s children and families. A supra-regional meeting to share experiences with colleagues in Kosovo has provided a further boost.

One of Nadire Kreka’s most recent cases was brought to her attention by none other than the deputy mayor of Elbasan, who noticed a boy begging at tables while he was out having dinner at a restaurant. Nadire Kreka is director of the department of child protection and equality in Elbasan, a city in central Albania. Her job is to help neglected or at-risk children who are begging on the streets and in shops, trawling through bins looking for things to sell or simply loitering outside because their parents are too poor to care for them at home. There are many such children in Elbasan; so many that the city council, and therefore the deputy mayor too, wants to help protect them.

The shared aim: permanently getting children off the streets

In collaboration with local nongovernmental organisations, the town has set up a free child day care centre to get these children permanently off the streets. Many children come here to eat, play and learn, and a number of them benefit enormously from the daily routine and the love they receive. Nadire Kreka has decided to present the case of the boy in the restaurant at the next ‘large meeting’. This is the name given to interdisciplinary meetings between colleagues from the city council and the participating nongovernmental organisations. Large not only because of the large number of people involved, but also because this is where people from different departments and disciplinary backgrounds meet. This ensures that all of the city council bodies which could potentially be involved can listen to the needs of these street children. ‘We are pooling our knowledge and energy,’ says Nadire Kreka, ‘and this has allowed us to become far more efficient.’

At the meeting, they discuss recent cases, determine which families and children to prioritise and decide who deals with what tasks. Moreover, they need to plan the trips undertaken by the advisory teams, who go to the places in the town where these children are most likely to be. ‘We go directly to the children,’ says Kreka. This is the only way to reach them. ‘Here, we can make contact, talk and take care of them.’ With a bit of luck, they will also meet the boy the deputy mayor pointed out. ‘Then we could look for his family and find out how to support them.’ Kreka would prefer the boy to go school again, instead of begging on the streets. ‘That would be a positive outcome,’ she says.

Making sure the door is always open

As important as these advisory teams are, nothing can replace an office with an open door, says Nadire Kreka. ‘Our door is always open for all families from Elbasan. Each day, parents visit us asking for advice or assistance for themselves and for their children. Sometimes they also just pass by to say hello and chat – that’s how well we know each other.’

Nadire Kreka and the members of her team have established a particularly good relationship with the parents of the children who come to the day care centre. One of these women is Tatjana Hida, a 38-year-old Romni woman whose son comes to the centre located directly opposite the department of child protection. Every now and then, when Tatjana Hida drops off her son in the morning, she stops at Nadire Kreka’s office on her way out. ‘I have learnt to ask for help when we have a problem in our family,’ she says. Before, it would have been unthinkable for her to ask for assistance. ‘I wouldn’t have known who to turn to either. But I trust the people here. They have never let us down.’

The support Kreka and her colleagues receive from Social Rights for Vulnerable Groups the GIZ regional project means that they can continue to do their work well and efficiently. The project aims to improve the living conditions of at-risk groups in the Western Balkans. The project has offered training opportunities and arranged a meeting for the staff of the city council and local nongovernmental organisations, so they can share experiences with similar organisations in neighbouring Kosovo. ‘Oh, yes, we definitely learnt a lot from that,’ Nadine Kreka says enthusiastically. ‘Hearing how our colleagues in Kosovo identify cases, categorise them and then follow them up helped us see things in a completely new light.’