The story is told by Endri, 15, an Albanian youth who represented the voice of the Albanian children this year before the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
It shows how Endri and 12 committed World Vision peer educators, between the ages 12 and 18, together with peers of a partner organization were able to interview 100 children of various ages, from six district areas of Albania about the most common problems they face in their country.
The peer educators took what they learned from the interviews and prioritized five key issues affecting children in Albania. The group were able to finalize a four month process of monitoring implementation of Child Right Convention (CRC) in their locations and with the data they gathered they worked on writing the Universal Periodic Review (UPR report) which Endri and another youth from the partner organization presented to the Human Rights Council, among 45 other youth from different countries.
This was the first time children and youth in Albania have written such a report, which will be used to re-write the Convention on the Rights of the Child in child friendly language.
Endri explains how it started: “In the first meetings, we were trained by World Vision and a partner organisation to learn more about the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and decided what methodology to use to gather data from the children. We broke up into six groups and, after discussing together, we prepared the questions that would help us collect data from children of six various communities of Albania,” he recalls.
“In my hometown, where Shkodra Area Development Programme is located, myself and two peers meet with 32 children from different social classes and races. Our meetings were set up in their schools, so that it would be easy for them to participate. Together, we discussed the different problems they and their families face. Their problems were so many, but five issues: health, education, violence, discrimination and participation were the most prominent,” says Endri.
Although he is a peer Endri, recalls that many children struggled to speak about their problems as a result of their low self-esteem. “In the beginning, they had long faces; their eyes were not looking at us, but down at the floor. They were shy and didn’t want to show their problems because they didn’t want others to know what is wrong in their lives,” he says. “We found that many of them didn’t know any of their rights as children’s and I am sure many haven’t experienced anything close to a bit of love.”
This experience left Endri even more determined. “As I looked at them I told myself, ‘I am gone do something for them, maybe this is my chance to know their concerns and help them,’” he added.
For Endri, it was difficult to see so many of his peers in such desperate need of help. One little boy, Albi, 12, really moved him. “As we were discussing with the children, my eyes went to a little one. His name was Albi. He is a Roma child. He was nearly 12, but his body was short and fragile, making him look more like an 8-year-old,” remembers Endri.
“He wore ragged cloths. He was silent and thoughtful. He only listened to what we were saying about children’s rights. His hair was dark and his eyes where focused on the floor. He did not dare to look at me or at anyone else in the room. I understood he was feeling discriminated, different, although there were other children like him in the room. I’m sure he had left his work begging on the streets to come and hear about children’s rights,” added Endri, noting that he had seen Albi begging on the streets before.
“To help Albi and others talk with us, my friends and I decided to create an fun environment, with games to involve them in the discussion. First, we played a game of throwing the ball to one another. Through this game, every child had to introduce his or herself. When it was Albi’s turn, he said how much he loved to go to school, to play and to eat normally. It was so heart breaking to hear,” added Endri, noting how what is normal for many children is something special and treasured to children like Albi.
After gathering data from the children, Endri and his peers from each group wrote their own report. And, after each individual report was finished, they consolidated the data into a single report, representing Albania.
After the interviews, it was clear to Endri and others: that a significant number of children drop out of compulsory education due to financial causes, material and infrastructural reasons, due to parents’ attitudes or for health reasons. In rural areas, there is a lack of high schools, which leads to the children of these areas not attending secondary education and, some teachers aren’t professionals, or they are asked to teach a subject they are not familiar with.
Children didn’t understand the concept of violence. The interviewed children state that they experience psychological and physical violence from their parents as a form of punishment and education. All the interviews revealed that children, especially those belonging to the Roma community, do not know where to go when they experience violence; they also do not know about the child protection unit.
In the area of health the youth were told by the children that the health services in their areas are corrupted and both doctors and nurses ask for bribes before they treat patients.
Youth also find out that even when children suffer from a dangerous disease, many parents treat them with folk medicines due to the lack of money.
After finishing writing the final report, the youth sent it first to the Albanian government so they can see what children have noted as concerns and allow them take action.
[Endri and other youth from the partner organization presenting the UPR to the Albanian government on the presence of the Ambasador of the United States to Albania. Mr. Alexander A. Arvizu]
Endri has high hopes for what will happen as a result of this report. “I hope these recommendations go to the right place and person,” said Endri in front of the council. "I don’t except that we will see all of our concerns resolved 100 per cent, but even it gets done 70 per cent I will be happy. I believe every situation can change if we push it and work hard on it," he continues.
"We, youth, don’t have much in our hands, but just showing the world our example in helping the poor, we can have many followers and together we can do good things for these children,” he adds. “I won’t stop giving and being a hand for them. This is my personal mission,” he concluded.