Suela Rexha — changing her life, one sequin at a time.

Suela is not a simple tailor — for many of the women that know her, she is also a source of inspiration for being able to gather her strength in the most desperate moments of her life and make a change for the better.

Suela in her workshop

A 30-year-old mother of three children and part of Lezhas Egyptian community, Suela was stuck in a troubled marriage that lived under extreme poverty. She struggled with constant psychological and physical violence and was hopeless in securing her children a better future. Life seemed to be challenging her with many questions, most of which revolved around divorcing and offering her children a normal life and education.

This was Suela’s situation back in 2018, when she first became part of UNDP’s assistance under the ‘Integrated Social Services for Sustainable Social and Economic Development of Roma and Egyptians’ Programme in the framework of the UN Joint Programme ‘Leave No One Behind’ (LNB), funded by the government of Switzerland. The initiative mainly aims to establish new models of integrated social services for vulnerable groups.

Suela was approached by Programme members and was counseled on a number of social services that could offer her a way out of her situation. She soon realized that such support would require her full engagement in trainings, in order to be able to earn her own living. Decidedly, she went for it.

Under the Programme, social inclusion of people and communities in need foresees the provision of a series of social care services, such as integration to the school and pre-school system, vocational training and employment, income generation and legal and institutional support.

While she was attending the LNB counseling sessions with municipal social workers, she ensured her that her eldest daughter attended school regularly. She also enrolled her two other younger children in the town’s kindergarten. She was additionally provided free legal support to proceed with her divorce, as well as receive the protection order against any form of violence by her ex-husband.

Suela’s daughter

LNB tackles the issue of enrollment of Roma and Egyptian children in primary schools and their integration to reduce dropout rates. The Programme is pursuing a holistic approach addressing issues related to employment, income generation and housing targeting Roma and Egyptian families through integrated services, in partnership with local government units and social care service providers, Roma and Egyptian communities and related NGOs.

To help her with a job, the social workers discussed with her the possible options.

Suela had always dreamed of becoming a tailor. So, she was supported to enroll in a tailoring training course, which she eagerly attended and was distinguished among other trainees for her commitment and high results.

During working hours

Right after the training, Suela tried to work full-time as a tailor at a local company in her town, but the salary could not meet her children’s needs, in addition to keeping her away from them all day long. So, she decided to quit the job and use her skills to start up her own small business.

LNB social workers were on her side every step of this professional journey too. Once again, she committed to learn how to start and run a business, beginning with tailoring her own business plan with the help of the expertise offered by the project staff. She was also supported to find a store to rent and make her business model a reality.

The collaboration with the Municipality of Lezha is part of LNB support to the municipalities of Fier and Fushe-Kruja to deliver integrated social services to families in need, aiming to provide inclusion to the furthest left behind. Its implementation aims to help individuals or groups in need to create and have a normal life by entailing a process of substantial dialogue between people in need and civil servants in local units.

Programme support towards Suela’s business during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, which caused many small businesses to shutdown, continued.

In the context of the Programme, Roma and Egyptian families and individuals were supported during the COVID-19 pandemic through emergency food and sanitary packages, information on coronavirus preventive measures and regulations, as well as advice and ways to access emergency assistance measures, especially regarding war payment, economic aid (cash assistance) and rental subsides.

Currently, Suela continues to work, feed, and look after her children’s education by keeping in touch with their teachers and being present in their lives. She is now supporting and referring other women and girls in need of the same services that helped her regain her life.