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Youth in Albania unfortunately encounter aggression, violence, and other risk factors for various types of abuse in many homes and communities. Increased awareness of risk factors, and evidence about and access to appropriate responses can mitigate them and help build safer environments. USAID’s Planning and Local Governance Project (PLGP) recognizes the transformative power of youth within their communities to alter those cycles of violence and build more resilient societies moving forward. To enable young women and men to act as agents of change, PLGP pursued a variety of engaging capacity-building activities. Two of these programs were the Empowerment through Self-Defense Program (ESD) and Girl Scout Troops.

Youth Empowerment through Self-Defense

To enable youth to identify and address conflict situations, PLGP conducted the Empowerment through Self-Defense Program (ESD) with young women and men from six Youth Boards (YBs) in PLGP’s partner municipalities of Bulqizë, Cërrik, Dibër, Kamëz, Librazhd, and Pogradec.

The ESD, an innovative program tailored for women, children, and youth, includes awareness-raising activities on different forms of violence with empowerment through the development of simple, easy-to-use, self-defense techniques. These experiential courses combined awareness, assertiveness, and verbal confrontation skills with safety strategies and physical techniques to protect those at-risk of becoming victims of violence. Two hundred and thirteen youth participated in the ESD Program and were equipped with the ability to successfully prevent, resist, and escape threatening situations. However, the ESD trainings went beyond simply physical scenarios and also provided psychological awareness and verbal skills to participants. It taught youth that when they are confident with their personal space, boundaries, and physical skills, they can enhance their relationships with positive and fulfilling interactions.

“I am glad I could get this training. I feel stronger and prepared to face difficult situations now. We learned about the power of words, importance of setting boundaries, and controlling our feelings and minds.” -Kleart a 17-year old from the Pogradec YB.

The ESD Program also increased Youth Board members’ self-esteem and confidence as they learned strategies and practiced tools to respond to situations using the ethic of inflicting least harm in resolving conflicts.

“The ESD Program was a wonderful experience. I didn’t know I had all this power in me. The class allowed me to release the fears around my physical safety and gain self-confidence and self-control.” -Hera, a 17-year old from the Dibra YB.

Benefits from the program are numerous, both for the youth and their communities. The young women and men who participated have shown greater acceptance and trust of themselves and one another and continue to cultivate improved relationships among YBs and their peers. ESD trainings also reduced the fear associated with potential attacks and equipped them with techniques for effective self-protection, extending the circle of safety that is crucial to build resiliency in youth and communities across Albania.

“I would describe the ESD Program as a great combination of emotions, energy, adrenaline, and empowerment. It was a very useful experience which I’ll always remember, because it taught me to be strong and know how to protect myself or a friend in need.” -Arjola an 18-year old from the Dibra YB.

Building Strong Foundations for Future Leaders

The Girl Scouts of Albania (GSOA) was established in September 2016 with support from the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and Peace Corps Albania. Girl Scouts is based on non-formal education and participatory learning. This method uses games and activities to create challenges that girls are encouraged to solve on their own, a practical way for Scouts to learn and build self-confidence.

Inspired by the scouting programs established by the Peace Corps, PLGP established six Girl Scout Troops (two in Kamez and four in Pogradec) in 2020. To begin this process, PLGP worked with the Girl Scouts of Albania (GSOA), the Peace Corps volunteer placed in Bathore (Kamez), and Une Gruaja (a CSO in Pogradec). Troop leaders and co-leaders were identified in both communities and trained in the creation and management of Scout Troops, including tasks such as selection of Scouts, action planning, and conducting regular meetings and activities.

“I am a retired teacher who has raised generations of young people in Pogradec. From my experience, I believe that the empowerment of girls starts at very early stages and is crucial for their growth and development. I knew about Girl Scouts from American movies and could not believe they would be a reality in our community! I was so excited to join this initiative supported by USAID’s Planning and Local Governance Project and create the first Girl Scout Troop in Pogradec, named “Girls’ Power”. The girls from this troop possess the determination and passion to become strong, successful women. We have organized different activities and will continue to do so, not only because the girls are excited to be part of the troop, but their parents are also very happy that they are engaging in activities that support their development. This is the best leadership experience for girls in this age. I am sure that Girl Scouts will make our community a better place to live.” -Shpresa Nikolla, Girl Scout Troop Leader

As part of these Troops, over 60 girls (ages 6 to 14 years-old)  are engaging in important community activism, leading programs on environmentalism and recycling, generating funds for activities and outreach, and learning life skills like  cooking and knitting. The program provides these new Girl Scouts with tools that will support their personal development and set them up for success throughout their lives. Through team-building and reflective activities, they can gain the skills necessary to develop a strong sense of self, identify and solve problems in their communities, display positive values, and form and maintain healthy relationships.

“Being part of Girl Scouts is awesome. It’s so much fun. I have made new friends, and together we spend great time together and plan for new activities,” says Naomi Mato, a 10-year old Troop member. “We also discuss our future profession and how we’ll become strong women in the future.”

Girl Scouts Troops deliver a foundational experience that generates benefits that can span a Scout’s lifetime and echoes in her community through her leadership.

By embracing critical-thinking skills and increasing their physical readiness to respond to danger, young women and men are able to extend the circle of security to those around them. Building healthy relationships disrupts cycles of violence and builds a foundation for positive interaction as today’s youth grow into tomorrow’s community leaders. PLGP is proud to have supported the youth in our partner municipalities to amplify this potential and looks forward to seeing how these amazing young women and men will continue to grow and lead.

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