News and Updates
Tuesday, 29 November 2016

‘We Raise These Children with Sacrifices’

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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 entered the courtyard of a cluster of buildings in the mountain town of Kukes, I couldn’t understand why we stopped there. Shkelzen, the Muslim Hands County Manager for Albania, told us we were distributing winter relief in that spot and I was shocked to learn that what looked like farm outbuildings and abandoned store rooms to my eye were in fact family homes.

Through the heavy snow, and blistering cold, I saw two small children appear outside a doorway smiling cheekily and wiping their running noses on the back of their hands. There wasn’t a jacket or coat in sight. All they had to protect them from the winter was the handmade jumpers knitted by their mother.

The two children are the sons of Rabia Cena, one of the beneficiaries receiving food and warm blankets from your donations. Rabia is only 38 years old, but she looked much older. She greeted us warmly and insisted we came in for tea. Already shocked by the exterior of the house, I felt completely overwhelmed once I entered.
The first thing that hit me was the temperature. I had hoped to get out of the cold, but it was no warmer in the house than it was outside. The walls were infested with damp and mould and the bare stone floors offered no insulation.

Straight ahead of me I saw a make-shift wooden staircase that lead to a second-floor room which was not even fit for habitation. There were broken windows, no floorboards and a leaking roof which meant the only thing it could be used for was to store some of the family’s meagre possessions. This meant that Rabia, her husband and her three young sons all lived, slept and ate in one room, heated by a small burner. The family chop their own wood to keep it going, but this can be problematic when there are government restrictions on where they can collect wood from.

There was a small, cold bathroom that consisted of a hose and a hole in the ground. All around were buckets which the family used for washing, laundry and storing water. Rabia said the thin walls and cracked windows meant that ‘whatever wind is outside gets inside’. Unfortunately, there is nothing she can do about it. Any income received went on essentials such as food.

In Kukes, the unemployment levels are at a staggering 80%, there is no surprise that Rabia and her husband experienced a lot of difficulty finding secure work. With no help from the state, every day was a struggle for survival. This is only worsened in the winter when keeping warm brings extra costs that Rabia can’t afford.
Despite having so little, Rabia was a gracious host. She kept insisting on preparing us tea before we left. Her youngest son, just two years old, didn’t stop crying the whole time we were there. When I asked, what was wrong with him, Rabia told me the damp on the walls keeps making him sick. I told her I can’t imagine how hard it is to care for children in these circumstances. Rabia’s reply was 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’.


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Muslim Hands ZA

Established in 1996, Muslim Hands South Africa is an aid agency and NGO aiming to help those affected by natural disasters, conflict and poverty. It is a branch of Muslim Hands UK established in 1993 in Nottingham.