In September, Arise travelled to Albania.
After months of travel restrictions and video calls, we were excited to connect with our Albania network in person and experience first hand their brilliant and evolving work against human trafficking and exploitation.
Albania is a large source country for trafficked people within Albania and in Greece, Italy, Western Europe and other Balkan states. Trafficked Albanian men, women and children are commonly subjected to sexual exploitation and forced labour.
Travelling with a local group and long-time partner in anti-trafficking, Mary Ward Loreto (MWL), our first stop was the remote town of Bajram Curri, tucked into the high mountains of Tropojë in northeastern Albania. There we were introduced to the girls of GLOW.
Now an umbrella group, the first GLOW project was started by Peace Corps Volunteers in Romania in 2001 to create a safe and supportive environment for learning, cultural exchange, creativity, leadership and fun for young women.
GLOW Tropojë was established in 2019 by United States Peace Corps volunteers and has changed the town of Bajram Curri irreversibly.
Arise Head of Programmes Jess Templeman and Communications and Outreach Manager Tove van Lennep visit GLOW’s new youth centre
The group is first and foremost ‘a psychological space where local girls feel safe and strong.’ From Bajram Curri and surrounding villages and farms, girls ‘come together to consider all of the issues that women in Albania face and to develop and implement local solutions’ said GLOW’s Student President Fjorela Hoxhaj.
Because Albania remains a largely patriarchal society, the girls say it took time for their families to come to terms with their involvement in the group. Now, they say, their parents trust GLOW and value the voice and confidence it has encouraged in their daughters.
Making waves through their community, the GLOW girls have observed a marked shift in the mindsets of their mothers, fathers and brothers regarding women’s rights and roles. This they regard as their greatest success.
In the two years since its establishment, the girls have benefited from countless trainings and courses run by MWL, Peace Corps and others, from self-defence to CV-writing, entrepreneurship to mental health. ‘As girls boldly pursue their education and goals for their future, their mentors help them navigate the hurdles they face as they work to achieve their dreams.’
Bajram Curri is the gateway to Valbona, one of Albania's largest national parks, so to help decrease poverty and unemployment, GLOW identified tourism as a focus area. They set up a tourism centre in their town centre, installed dustbins and developed a rubbish collection system to keep their streets clean. They run frequent clothes and food drives for the most vulnerable members of their community and lead human trafficking awareness marches through the region.
GLOW girls send welcome letters to Afghan refugees in Albania
Honouring ‘bravery, leadership, sisterhood and candour’, the GLOW girls run an annual camp for younger girls of the community, inspiring them to become part of the project when they are old enough.
GLOW has been such a force for good in Bajram Curri that, in a breakthrough event in August, the municipality granted them premises for a youth centre in the town hall. Inspired by its own strength and successes, GLOW is now working to become an independent NGO, with infrastructure and training from MWL.
In Albania, women are often targeted by sex traffickers when they move away from home to larger cities for university. Building the resilience of local girls is therefore a highly effective means of prevention.
Arise believes that the most effective anti-trafficking work is local. It is embedded and it is trusted. After meeting GLOW, we can’t imagine a more powerful group of anti-slavery agents than the daughters of a given town or city. The GLOW girls are effectively overturning an age-old ideology that perpetuates the abuse and exploitation of women. They are creating resilient women, households and communities.
We are grateful to MWL Tropojë Advice and Service Centre Coordinator, Lulzime Gjyriqi, and Neda Jahangiri, Returned Peace Corps Albania, for introducing us to GLOW.