CAAHT Grantee Helps Youth Gain Skills for Employment

February 29, 2008


On his way home from school, Renato Pelo learned to love carpentry while watching his cousin work in his own shop. But after the first year of high school, the pressures of helping his parents in the fields led him to drop out of school.

Like many of his contemporaries who leave school, Pelo’s life seemed destined for limited prospects; he would have likely migrated abroad for work and possibly fallen prey to traffickers.

Now thanks to the Murialdo Social Center (MSC), a non-profit organization which provides vocational training and other services to at-risk children, youth and formerly trafficked victims, 16-year-old Pelo has new ambitions and opportunities.

“I want to start my own carpentry business,” he says, adding that “I made a good decision when I came to Murialdo, otherwise I would have been another street child.”

The MSC is a grantee of the Albanian Initiative: Coordinated Action Against Human Trafficking (CAAHT), a project which supports the Center’s vocational courses, including training in carpentry, electrical work, auto mechanics and tailoring. CAAHT is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Creative Associates International, Inc.

Another beneficiary of Murialdo echo’s Pelo’s enthusiasm for the impact the Center has had in his life.

“If I hadn’t heard of Murialdo, I would be doing random jobs, or simply migrating [undocumented] to Greece with no clear ideas on what to do or what my future would be,” says 19-year old Ervis Hoxha, a beneficiary of the MSC’s services since he was 14, and now a master carpenter thanks to its vocational training.

Located in the city of Fier, near the Adriatic coastline, the MSC provides an integrated response to the needs of youth through services such as education, counseling, vocational training, job placement, and recreation activities. Many youth flee to Greece and beyond from Fier in search of work, so the MSC’s services are critical to enabling youth at risk to being trafficked and exploited to protect themselves.

“One of the main objectives of Murialdo is prevention of human trafficking through provision of vocational training, awareness raising, and education,” said Carmelo Prestipino, project coordinator for the MSC’s USAID/CAAHT-funded project. “This is a complex and delicate process that requires continuity. Our aim is not only to provide youngsters with professional skills, but also to help them build self-esteem and confidence.

Since he began frequenting the MSC, Hoxha has gained much more than skills in carpentry. “Most of the program was based on carpentry, but I also studied mathematics, Italian, and technical drawing,” he said. He added that being surrounded by the MSC staff and their “good manners” made him “learn more and seek to behave the same way. I learned and gained a lot of cultural background there.’

CAAHT’s mission is to help eradicate human trafficking in Albania. This is achieved by promoting coordination of activities between civil society and government agencies and through grants to local NGOs that provide awareness raising, prevention services for those vulnerable to being trafficked, and reintegration support for victims of trafficking. True to the CAAHT philosophy that coordination across broad sections of society is more likely to produce positive results, the MSC also ensures the successful implementation of its activities through a network of partners. They include the Department of Education, Police Directorate, municipal and other local government agencies, NGOs that are active in anti-trafficking efforts, the Department of Labor and private businesses. Prestipino observes that initially private businesses may not be keen to hire MSC apprentices. MSC’s record of 100 percent employment for graduates from it’s two-year vocational course impresses business owners.

“Ervis Hoxha was the first student from Murialdo who approached me. I could see that he had developed very good professional skills and I praise the work that Murialdo has done with him,” said Artan Papaj, Hoxha’s boss and owner of the Fier carpentry shop. “Ervis’ professionalism served as the motive to cooperate with Murialdo and now I have five boys from Murialdo who are working with me.”

According to Prestipino, more than 3,000 youth have benefited from MSC activities since the center opened nearly 10 years ago. CAAHT has been supporting the MSC since 2005. This year, its assistance is supporting directly over 100 girls and boys, as well as many others who benefit from anti-trafficking awareness-raising activities. Annually, the MSC provides vocational training to approximately 200 youth and over 200 children take part in cultural and extra-curricular activities. “I’ve always wanted to be a carpenter and now I want to start my own business,” Hoxha said. “Carpentry is nice, it requires good skills and imagination about designing new models of furniture. It gives me great satisfaction and pleasure when you start something piece by piece and then build the entire thing on your own.”

“Murialdo is helping create an army of professionals who are quite able to compete in the market,” said business owner Papaj.

—Dolor Tozaj in Albania and Alexandra Pratt in Washington, D.C.

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