Sajmir’s parents were brought up under totalitarian communist rule. For many years religion was banned, and for decades Albanian people were completely isolated from the outside world. Sajmir’s family were forced to move from a small village in northern Albania to the capital city, Tirana, as part of a government policy to promote integration. Sajmir’s father was the oldest of 5 brothers, responsible for taking care of the whole family.
Sajmir was born in 1991 during a period of crumbling economy and non-existent infrastructure. His family lived in an area known as ‘The Cowsheds’ in Bathore, a suburb of Tirana. Informal unregistered homes were made in simple buildings previously used to keep cows for the Agricultural University during Communist rule. His father struggled to support Sajmir, his two siblings, and the extended family. He was unemployed, his only work came from day labouring jobs… but he often went weeks without work.
There was no money for shoes and walking barefoot to school was painful, school was a long way away and there was no road. Sajmir started school when he was six, but found the journey too hard and stopped going. Near his home was the EJA (Welcome) Centre, now known as New Day Centre, opened and supported by Global Care. When Sajmir was nine, he decided to go and see what it was like. He found a place where he could do all kinds of things he couldn’t do anywhere else. He could play, have regular meals, and was encouraged to go to school. Sajmir said, “I was free here.”
He was free from the unrest at home, from watching his family suffer the repercussions of poverty and unemployment. Through New Day Centre, Sajmir received shoes, school books, a school bag and pens. He was welcomed with love and friendship.
Sajmir returned to school and eventually started attending the Youth Group at the Centre. However, he struggled with his life at home and when he saw people migrating illegally, he wanted to get away. He was just 14, and joined a group heading for Greece. After five days of arduous trekking through the mountains, hungry and exhausted, the group reached the border …but their ordeal wasn’t over. They were captured by customs officers and sent back to Albania. Sajmir had no money and no food and was now denied a passport for five years.
Eventually, traumatised and starving, Sajmir made it back to Bathore. He began working in a car wash – and went back to the Youth Group. He loved the group. Sajmir said, “The people that work here, they are kind and hospitable. They helped me. I grew up here, part of what I am is because of this influence. I see so many youngsters who are not part of this group – they are not like me, I am the way I am today because of the Centre.”
When he was 16, Sajmir’s uncle found him work as a DJ at weddings and other events. Eleven years later he still has this job. His brother can’t work as he is sick, his sister is married and lives away. Sajmir’s work as a DJ supports his parents and brother. He said, “If I was not working, it would not be a good life for my family”
Sajmir talked about how New Day Centre supported him and provided stability throughout his hard life. Sajmir also got to know Jesus as his Saviour through the Centre and was baptised in a river near the mountains. He said that he’s following a Bible Study which is helping him deal with his past – he’s finally able to be emotional when he remembers things – he used to be very closed-up. Through the Youth Group, Sajmir also met the girl he’s engaged to.
Sajmir said New Day Centre gave him hope. He said, “Hope keeps us moving. If we fall, hope gets us up again.”