ReLOaD Albania: Shkodra Youth take actions to protect environment while advancing social inclusion

“It was amazing to be part of this initiative. It made me feel motivated to do something for our mother nature and feel respected among my peers. I have gained new life skills, and learned how to be active in my community,” says 18-year old Shpetime Gusholli, one of the youngsters from Shkodra municipality that was part of the project ‘Young friends of Taraboshi.’

Shpetime Gusholli is one of the youngsters partaking in the project ‘Young friends of Taraboshi’

Together with her peers, Ms. Gusholli took part in numerous creative activities to promote healthy lifestyles and environmental protection in this authentic north Albanian city.

Driven by the desire to educate young people about Shkodra’s natural beauty and resources, the local civil society organization ‘The Door’ has organized awareness raising briefing sessions, and outdoor activities to further underline that Taraboshi Mountain is a natural resort and attractive touristic destination for the entire region.

Young people from the community were brought together to learn more about life in nature while inspiring them to think and act in a more socially responsible way.

Group activities have inspired youth to think and act socially, as well as respect nature

While growing up in alternative care, Ms. Gusholli was acquainted with the work of the ‘The Door’ association since she was a child. Together with 200 young people from Shkodra, she was involved in the ‘Young friends of Taraboshi’ project through participating in ecological training, hiking trail marking, and outdoor trips. These activities were organized to raise environmental awareness in the community while providing social inclusion for the local youth.

“In a way, I grew up with ‘The Door’ staff, and I was connected to their activities since I was a child. After the presentation at our school, my teacher recommended me to participate in this project. Being part of this initiative was a good way to make my everyday life better. This was a possibility for me to get out of the alternative care and to meet new friends — to see life with more optimism, gain new life skills and to have fun,” says Ms. Gusholli.

The project ‘Young friends of Taraboshi’ was a part of the Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans (ReLOaD). The Programme, funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), lead to the establishment of the first club of young mountaineers in the Shkodra region. Apart from joint climbing activities, young activists initiated the marking of seven trails at the Mountain of Taraboshi with a wish to contribute to the development of tourism in their local community.

Furthermore, this project empowered young people in Shkodra to get involved in environmental actions. Under the slogan “Live in nature, live in Taraboshi”, they have learned how to turn their community into a sustainable touristic, eco-friendly attraction while developing healthy lifestyles for themselves. Together, close to one thousand young people got involved in outdoor activities — they have built camping sites, went hiking, climbing, and canoeing together. Moreover, they have explored flora and fauna in their surroundings to learn how to live in harmony with nature.

This initiative aspired to improve the social and cultural life circumstances of children and young people, especially vulnerable ones. Apart from learning about environmental protection and healthy leisure activities, young people in Shkodra benefited from team building exercises and developed a sense of belonging to the community.

The project ‘Young friends of Taraboshi’ was implemented with the financial support provided by the European Union and the Municipality of Shkodra. Building capacities of local civil society while supporting efficient cooperation with local governments was one of the ReLOaD’s main objectives.

Mr. Kastriot Faci, project manager at the Association ‘Door,’ says that they are proud to be a part of this programme. ReLOaD has brought together local authorities and civil society organizations to work together on various social initiatives that bring benefits to citizens across the country.

“We see it as a good opportunity to nourish trust and get to know each other better. This project has improved our organizational capacity. It increased our knowledge about transparency, financial procedures, and reporting in project management. ReLOaD’s support was highly valuable,” says Mr. Faci.

ReLOaD programme has presented local actors with an opportunity to develop partnerships for better service delivery to citizens.

“Apart from giving us a possibility to turn ideas into tangible results, this programme is important for Albania because it supports citizens’ participation and social inclusion while improving the transparency of civil society funding,” says Mr. Faci.

Civil society organizations and local governments from 12 partner municipalities were part of ReLOaD. All of them approved the LOD methodology as part of their regulatory framework, which was a vital programme component.

Developed and presented by UNDP, the LOD methodology consists of a transparent, project-based mechanism for funding civil society organizations from local budgets. By institutionalizing the relationship between local governments and civil society, this mechanism enables efficient implementation of local priorities in line with local development strategies.

“ReLOaD introduced us with an important instrument for the allocation of funds to civil society organizations in our opinion, unifying project management practice based on EU standards is of crucial importance. Not only we were able to implement various social initiatives that are in line with strategic goals of the Municipality, but also, we applied an efficient model for transparent management of public funds,” says Ms. Stela Mardusha, from the Municipality of Shkodra.

After being part of the ReLOaD for three years, the Municipality of Shkodra will continue the LOD methodology implementation and has already foreseen it in their budget projections.

From the beginning of 2017 until the end of 2020, citizens across Albania were given the opportunity to choose interventions that will improve the quality of life and implement small projects benefiting community members.

Through ReLOaD, 82 projects have been implemented, benefiting over 28,000 people in Albania — all contributing to social and environmental protection, women empowerment, and supporting groups risking being left behind.