Eleven-year old Saleo, a second-grader who loves reading, is also known for tearing up the soccer field with neighborhood friends. He has lived with his relatives, the Cicos, since both his parents died in a neighborhood gun fight in 1997. Rushan, Saleo’s uncle, supports his family of eight by collecting scrap metal from garbage bins. Very little money has meant a hard life for the family, but for Saleo, it also meant his uncle could not afford to legally adopt him.
These circumstances are not uncommon in Albania’s Roma and Egyptian communities, where poverty and discrimination are pervasive. Children are often forced onto the streets to beg, making them particularly susceptible to exploitation and vulnerable to human trafficking. Unregistered children, such as Saleo, are at even greater risk, because they are not tracked in the school and health care systems.
Through USAID’s anti-trafficking program, social workers from the Fier branch of the Transnational Action against Child Trafficking (TACT) project, regularly visited Rushan’s family, but they could only do so much. “I always wanted to work, but I had nothing and I could do nothing,” said Rushan.
In order to help Rushan and hundreds in his situation, USAID’s anti-trafficking and micro-credit programs joined forces. In 2007, TACT signed a formal agreement with Opportunity International, a former USAID micro-lending project, to create a program that would provide subsidized loans to families vulnerable to trafficking.
Rushan is now one of 52 families to have received a loan and is one of several that have since qualified for a second loan. “Thanks to the loan, I am now bringing in more money and I have even managed to put some aside in order to buy more metal,” said Rushan. The loans have not only meant added income for the family; one of the lending conditions was that all the children must regularly attend school. Working with TACT social workers, Rushan has also completed the paperwork to legally adopt Saleo, which will become final this summer.