I worry for the health of my children and family

Engjellushe Pepaj in the yard of her house in the village of Qelez, Albania. Photo: Malin von Strauss
Engjellushe Pepaj in the yard of her house in the village of Qelez, Albania. Photo: Malin von Strauss
Living was never easy in rural Albania, but as the corona pandemic swept across the country, the situation only aggravated further. And as with any crisis, it is the poorest and most vulnerable who suffer the most. Engjellushe Pepaj’s world certainly changed overnight.

“The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Covid-19 is the health of my children and family. I fear all the time, since I may be the one carrying the virus because of my profession as a nurse,” Engjellushe says.

Being at the forefront in the fight against the coronavirus in rural Albania can be a challenging task. After an hour walk on foot, Engjellushe starts her round, going from one house to another, visiting patients. But it’s not just physically existing job.

“It is also hard considering that we are provided only 5 pairs of gloves and 5 masks for one-month period which is disturbing and unacceptable given the situation we are in. How am I a safe person as a nurse or even a family member?”, she reacts.

Apart from being a trained nurse, Engjellushe is also a farmer and member of We Effect’s partner organization AgroPuka. In the mountainous Puka area almost everyone makes their living from subsistence farming.

“It is very hard keeping up with all of the activities that are imposed on me during this time. I can’t help but get involved in farm work because my husband alone can’t do it,” she says.

Due to the earlier ban on vehicle movements, this year Engjellushe and her husband were not able to leave their village to buy seeds and seedlings. “No one but a farmer understands the importance of the the spring phase for the farm which is basically the indicator of our income in the near future from selling the products.”

Agriculture and farming play a fundamental role in the economy of the Puka region. According to the available data, around 70 percent of families in the rural areas live only on agriculture and livestock. Alternative opportunities are scarce in the villages, even for those with good education.

“I thank God every day because at least I have food on my table, and I am able to go to work and provide income for my family during this time. I have seen many cases around in the village of people struggling to have food on the table for the next day,” Engjellushe says.

She hopes that the pandemic would pass soon. “If it doesn’t, then the products we will produce on the farms will be used to feed the cattle, making this huge loss for each of us in the village”.