Although youth in Albania are recognized as agents for social change, they continue to be largely excluded from local governance and face a daunting lack of opportunity in their communities. This environment leads many to seek education and employment abroad, and leaves those who remain feeling hopeless that they could contribute to a “better Albania.”
USAID’s Planning and Local Governance Project (PLGP)’s experience with young women and men shows they possess the strength and vision to be positive forces within their communities. Empowering them to recognize those strengths and act on them, PLGP created Youth Boards (YBs) in the six partner municipalities of Bulqizë, Cërrik, Dibër, Kamëz, Librazhd, and Pogradec. YBs are comprised of energetic volunteers and provide members with social interaction, as well as outreach opportunities to engage with local government and other community organizations. Nearly 450 youths actively engaged in constructive dialogues with municipal officials on relevant issues. These sessions give a voice to these young advocates, and help LGUs build constructive, representative policies to better serve their citizens.
“USAID’s assistance in the creation of the Cerrik Youth Board significantly supported municipal efforts to build the capacities of local youth on leadership, active participation in decision-making, and community development,” said Erjola Çalja, the General Director of Cerrik Municipality.
The Youth Academy Program equipped YB members with foundational knowledge and skills for their adult lives, and numerous collaborative activities nurtured their engagement with local authorities and the broader community. After-school activities such as field days and festivals enriched their social lives. Environmental clean-ups and issues-based campaigning not only elevated their awareness of the problems facing citizens but provided a platform for them to discuss tangible steps they could take towards change.
“I joined the Youth Board because I knew it would be a great way to meet people with similar interests, meet with local authorities, and contribute to my community in a meaningful way. I’d never been part of a group like it, and I’d never been involved in youth activism before. I try to help my community through my everyday actions, but it’s also good to do something more direct, such as becoming a youth board member.” -Erson, an 18-year old from the Kamza YB
“We have gained so much from various trainings we got on leadership, advocacy, youth activism, effective communication, and personal development. We also had open sessions on volunteerism, safe spaces, recycling, and antisocial behaviors,” said Alda from the Dibra Youth Board.
Although all six YBs were formally recognized by the municipalities, many lacked safe spaces to meet. Reinforcing the value of YBs as hubs for social engagement and activism, PLGP created six Youth Centers, one for each board. Ranging from refurbishment to complete building renovation, each of these centers now functions as a gathering point for youth and many are further utilized to engender community engagement as a whole.
“When we started our work with youth in the partner municipalities, one of the biggest challenges was the lack of venues for organizing activities. None of the municipalities had a youth center or similar place to convene. Now youth have a home to meet and spend time together, and municipalities have a place to bring youth together and organize activities,” said Laureta Memo, PLGP’s Civic Engagement Expert.
PLGP’s Youth Boards have empowered young women and men to recognize their value, develop and utilize tools for transformation, and enjoy the physical and social space to move positive change forward, for themselves and their communities.