The International Community of Capodarco is an Italian NGO engaged in Albania in the field of disability. Albania News interviewed Riccardo Sollini, project manager in Albania.
Disability is one of those social phenomena experienced with annoyance and modesty by the Albanian society, which for years remained invisible and out of the great debates of public opinion. Despite the many obstacles linked to the development of a social conscience on the phenomenon, the lack of a culture of disability and a consolidated institutional policy, it seems that something is slowly moving and building thanks above all to international cooperation committed on various levels.
One of the foreign NGOs involved in this field is also the International Community of Capodarco (CICa), strengthened by the long experience of the Community of Capodarco, a reference reality in Italy in the field of disability. CICa operates in Albania from the 1996 and currently, in addition to the management of the Primavera socio-educational center, it is engaged in spreading the culture of disability and policy development in this field. It is also present in Kosovo where it runs a day center for mentally disabled people.
Riccardo Sollini, Project Manager in Albania, told us about CICa's experience in the land of the eagles, the way in which Albanian society experiences disability and its impressions of everyday Albanian life.
How many years has the Capodarco International Community worked in Albania and what are the most consolidated projects?
The International Community of Capodarco works in Albania from the 1996. Our journey started at the request of CRIC, another Italian NGO already present in Albania that found itself having to welcome disabled people and called us because in that field we had more experience. The situation was still dramatic and we started to do a job of reception, physiotherapy and job reintegration of the disabled. A path that went on until 1999, the year in which the war broke out in Kosovo. At that time we opened a refugee camp, the only one equipped for the reception of the disabled and we kept it standing between the 1999 and the 2000 with the help of the UNHCR.
From the 2000 another important experience has begun, still in progress:. At the time we noticed that there were two types of needs. The first to do something for these children who were not followed either from a health or social point of view. On the other hand, there was a need above all to build a culture of disability, understood in the sense of being able to welcome the disabled person into society, giving them the prospect of being able to have a job, a family, rather than being recognized at the level politic.
The Spring Center has a physiotherapy gym for children, and rooms where they make cognitive development paths. In recent years, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has funded one of our projects aimed at this center that has allowed us to take a further quality shot: now we deal mainly with children with mental and mental disabilities, especially autistic ones, who come to the center and they make a path of both cognitive and social reintegration. Throughout this process we have tried to carry out a close political action with the ministries to be able to make the most of what we have but above all in favor of families.
We have tried to set up an association of families to become aware of the fact that they are not alone and can tackle a common problem together, and this step - in my opinion - becomes fundamental in the sense that people are inevitably forced into Albanian history to move on their own. They have little awareness of their rights, they suffer what is imposed on them.
We have somehow tried to make a small contribution also in this sense. Certainly some progress has been made, both from the political point of view with a greater awareness on the part of the institutions on the issue of disability, and from the social point of view with the awareness of the families that now demand what is due to them for law: the invalidity pension rather than the inclusion of children in public schools.
In your experience, how is disability experienced in Albania by families, society and institutions?
The disabled person is worth nothing. On the disability side, I traveled around Albania. I saw both the asylums and the various centers for the disabled, and the situation is devastating, beyond what we can tell. In Tirana the situation is objectively difficult even if the presence of foreign NGOs, but above all the growth of conscience among the population of Tirana has allowed a greater integration. It must be said that what remains is little. From the political point of view, the drafting of the new strategic plan for disability remains paper, it is not applied, and it is an aspect that already becomes a problem. The institutions think that it is enough to write things to be able to do them.
Then the next step of the application is missing. Probably the excessive presence of the NGOs has meant that within the institutions themselves the awareness that foreigners are involved in this area, and therefore automatically becomes a delegation of what the state should do instead. From the point of view of families there is still a huge closure, which depends above all on the origin of the families.
Also in Tirana the families who come both from the south and from the north have a very closed conception towards the disabled, therefore they tend to keep it at home. We had kids at the center who had never left home for 15 -16 years in a row, with everything that comes from both health and social issues. The conscience and culture of disability I was talking about earlier is lacking, and the culture of disability I was talking about, in the sense of conceiving the disabled person as a person.
Another completely different subject is what can happen to the mentally disabled. The asylums of Elbasan rather than those of Scutari or Valona, are still open and full, and above all that of Elbasan pours into. I was more or less during this time last year. There are about 250 people in there for over 40 years, left to themselves, with a huge level of dirt, so it's a pretty precarious situation.
There is a different situation in Tirana and Scutari where an action of deinstitutionalization of the mentally disabled was made. They opened shelters, family houses, closing the mental hospital and leaving the ward. In those realities they are moving better. But on the other hand, there also lacks a structure of networks for welcoming the disabled in the territory. We have children perhaps with psychiatric disorders that come to the center, they make a path, then when they grow up, there is no subsequent step where they can be inserted if not in the psychiatric hospital, which however depersonalizes the person and does not allow him to live, is a containment for the family. I have been in Albania for three and a half years.
The first two and a half years have been fixed and I have lived the Albanian everyday life. Objectively a passage there has been if for no other reason than the attention that the media give to the question. Therefore it is easier to see that on television there is talk of disability or services are performed on specialized centers. There is growth, but the road is still very long.
How does Albanian public opinion experience disability? Is something moving, is there more awareness?
I give a practical and beautiful example that gives hope. We took an initiative last July in Tirana. Among other things we took care of the screening of the film on Franco Basaglia, "Once upon a time there was the city of fools", on the anniversary of his death and of the same 180 law that in Italy gave a huge turning point to the passage on disability mental. We were offered a free room in the National Museum of Contemporary History.
I hadn't seen it and when I got there, there was this huge room, 700 seats will have been. I thought that for an event on psychiatry in Tirana, in July, a room like this would have remained empty and so frankly I told the others that we had made a mistake a little bit about everything. Instead it was a huge surprise to see that the hall was filled: it was full of young people.
Not even in Italy such a thing happens. In me the prejudice that the subject was interested in probably prevailed, instead I saw that it interested many. I said to myself: "ok something is really changing", especially since they were all boys and university students. So people who, hopefully, sooner or later will be the ones who will have the country in some way.
If they already have more awareness in this sense, I think that something is moving in public opinion. Logically then there are the different Albanian realities, the north is different from the south, and vice versa. The center is another reality and Tirana is a country in itself.
Instead, what are the ongoing projects in Kosovo?
In Kosovo we started working from the Tirana refugee camp, in the sense that all the disabled people who were kept in the camp were taken back to Kosovo and from there the experience was started. We initially worked in the city of Peje with the reconstruction of the houses, the theater, the town hall, establishing a strong link with this reality. Later, we opened a day center for mentally disabled people.
The Municipality of Peje also had the sensitivity to follow the center and partly finance it. We did an important action in those years, welcoming both Albanian and Serbian mentally disabled people. We put them together despite the enormous difficulties that can be imagined in a context with a conflict that has just ended.
We all had Albanian operators who absolutely did not want to work with the Serbian mentally disabled, but in seeing the person in difficulty this limit was also surpassed. Currently the center is going well. On the other hand, the Italian Cooperation had the mandate from the Kosovar government to elaborate the disability intervention strategy.
Are there any differences between the Albanian and Kosovar reality in the context of disability?
The biggest difference is that Kosovo has important professionals who have studied and worked in Belgrade and therefore inevitably the professional level is very high. A fundamental thing that is the state is missing. In Kosovo the state is still not there, if not bound by the international presence. This raises a rather big question about the future of Kosovo and inevitably about actions in the field of disability.
Another difference is the fact that despite the presence of important professionals in Kosovo, Albania has been working on it for several years and consequently more achievements have been made. In Kosovo it is as if we had started now because up until the 2005-2006 the presence of the soldiers was so invasive that it was impossible to work even in a large way.
Indeed, it is also true that the same Kosovar state with the recognition was able to start the legislative phase on disability. I personally see more future in Albania than in Kosovo, in the sense that the military presence is too important to be able to see a growth of the state therefore a growth of the state also at a social level.
How did you experience Albanian daily life during your stay in Albania?
In Albania I was last September 2007 until two weeks ago. I have seen a country that is enormously in motion both from an architectural and a daily life point of view. In three years, Tirana has been transformed, buildings and skyscrapers are continually being built. There is an increase in the level of fun.
The birth of so many night clubs, of so many clubs, in my opinion, also demonstrates a desire for growth of people especially young people who are still looking for independence. Then I was always struck by the fact that the clubs and nightlife of Tirana took place in what was once the "bllok" of the regime in which one could not enter.
The criticism that I can make is the fact that in my opinion, we try a little too much to imitate what is Western Europe, forgetting what traditions and culture are. For me, Albania has somewhat abandoned what is the beauty of history, in the sense that we almost want to hide, we try to be European by force. On the one hand this is inevitable, in the sense that it is a country that, being in Europe, has been mistakenly treated as a second level country. However, this desire for redemption risks making the young people forget a little about their own history. Then, everything is fine in everyday life in Tirana, so ..
And in that of the other areas, like Scutari, Elbasan?
I was little in Scutari. I went to Elbasan a lot. There it is a bit more complicated because at seven it is already completely closed. Even just because of the pace of eating, it was complicated. Then in the north I came up to Pukë. The south, on the other hand, is a reality that is transforming itself under everyone's eyes. I read a few days ago that on the guide of Lonely Planet has been listed as a tourist destination of the 2011.
Inevitably because the place is beautiful, but even the north itself is very beautiful. Then we notice a cultural difference that perhaps we Europeans can upset us because we are no longer used to seeing a strong link with traditions. In my opinion they are values to be maintained, logically overcoming questions such as the situation of women, rather than violence. But things are moving fast. Therefore, in addition to the loss of traditions, care must be taken that things do not go too fast.
Instead of what idea did you make of the way in which the Albanians see the Italians?
You give us more value than we give ourselves. My landlord made me smile a lot because he told me that hearing Sanremo during the radio-controlled regime was a subversive event, when in Italy it is the opposite. There is a big ... I would call it almost veneration for Italy. Especially among adults from 40 years upwards. Instead, young people fortunately begin to have a critical conscience on this side.
Having them badly treated all this time and the fact that often in Italy Albanian is connected to criminal, makes them angry. Rightly. I always liked the anecdote of a friend of mine who worked for the world health organization. A very intelligent girl who wanted to do a master's degree.
"I can't do it because they never saw me and they always treat me like someone who isn't worth it" he used to say to me and then he asked me "why can you go where you like and I can't do it?".
So, if on the one hand, there is so much boost to growth even on the part of international organizations, then the possibility of making that extra step that is somewhat the limit of Albania is always blocked. Even inside the institutions the air remains the same, when you find a politician who wants to do more, they leave it there for months, then they cut it.
Instead the Kosovar everyday life with the Albanian one?
In Kosovo I have not been long. Maximum two weeks and always at work. The biggest difference I've seen in terms of perception is order. In Kosovo everything is more structured. Peje itself is very organized, unlike the districts of Tirana where the houses are one above the other. However, I know Kosovo less and above all from a working point of view.
Finally, what are the next projects planned in Albania?
In Albania, we are making contacts to expand the project we have in place with the children. So the idea is to do an action also to train Albanian health personnel. Now we are looking for contacts with the Ministry of Health, the Emilia Romagna Region and the Puglia Region to see if we can do a project together and move forward.
28 November 2010 interview released during the training seminar for journalists entitled "Beyond the apocalypse. How not to get caught up in fear of the new ". The Seminar arrived at the XVII edition, is organized annually by the Social Editor at the Community of Capodarco.