Tijen Horoz, member of the Muslim Hands Fundraising team, reports from Albania, one of the locations where MH teams distribute vital winter relief...
When we first enter the courtyard of a cluster of buildings in the mountain town of Kukes, I can’t understand why we’ve stopped here. Shkelzen, the Muslim Hands Country Manager for Albania, tells us we’ll be distributing winter relief in this spot and I’m shocked to learn that what looks like farm outbuildings and abandoned store rooms to my eye, are in fact family homes.
It’s snowing heavily and the wind is blisteringly cold. Soon, small children appear outside doorways, smiling cheekily and wiping their running noses on the backs of their hands. Not a jacket or coat in sight. The jumpers knitted by their mothers are all they have to protect them from the weather. Two of these children are the sons of Rabia Cena, one of the beneficiaries receiving warm blankets and food from your winter donations. Rabia, mother of three boys, is only 38 years old, but she looks much older. She greets us warmly and insists we come in for tea. Already shocked by the exterior of the house, I feel completely overwhelmed once I enter.
The first thing to hit me is the temperature. I had hoped to get out of the cold, but it’s no warmer in here than it is outside. The walls are infested with damp and mould and the bare stone floor offers no insulation.
Straight ahead of me I can see a make-shift wooden staircase leading to a second-floor room which is not even fit for habitation. Broken windows, no floorboards and a leaking roof means the only thing it can be used for is to store some of the family’s meagre possessions. This means that Rabia, her husband and her three young sons all live, sleep and eat in one room, heated by a small wood burner. The family chop their own wood to keep it going, but this can be difficult when there are government restrictions on where they can collect wood from. The small, cold bathroom consists of a hose and a hole in the ground. All around are buckets which the family use for washing, laundry and storing water. Rabia says the thin walls and cracked windows mean that, ‘whatever wind is outside gets inside’. Unfortunately, there is nothing she can do about it. Any income she does receive goes on essentials such as food. In Kukes, where unemployment levels are at a staggering 80% it is no surprise that both Rabia and her husband are unable to find secure work, but with no help from the state, every day becomes a struggle for survival. This is only exacerbated in the winter when keeping warm brings extra costs that Rabia can’t afford.
Despite having so little, Rabia is a gracious host. She keeps insisting on preparing us tea before we leave. Her youngest son, just two years old, doesn’t stop crying the whole time we are there. I ask what’s wrong with him and Rabia tells me the damp on the walls keeps making him sick. I tell her I can’t imagine how hard it is to care for children in these circumstances. Rabia’s reply is simple, ‘We raise these children with sacrifices’.
This picture of poverty and hardship is not one that comes to mind when we think of Europe, but for too many families in Albania, this is the reality. Yes, it isn’t the Europe we know, but it exists and we need to do everything we can to help our suffering neighbours. The food parcel we have delivered to Rabia will at least keep the family going through the month and the blankets will help to protect them from the cold and snow that finds its way into their home each year. And for those in real need, even these small interventions mean so much. ‘We are needy people’, says Rabia., ‘and this is the only help we will receive this winter. We thank Allah and we thank the Muslim Hands donors for remembering us when no one else has’.