- Title: ALBANIA: Albanian villagers battle poverty by excavating rocks and stones
- Date: 2nd January 2008
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (English) ZONE DEPUTY, ALDO BUMCI, SAYING: "And I hope this will create job opportunities and other services, and we will help to lift the area from the current poor conditions." CAR DRIVING ALONG ROAD IN FRONT OF CLIFF FACE
- Embargoed: 17th January 2008 12:00
- Location: Albania
- Country: Albania
- Topics: Employment,Lifestyle
- Reuters ID: LVA2STAPGRNPHYEHV42WMTERJE94
- Story Text: Villagers in one of the poorest areas of Albania are attempting to supplement their meagre incomes with the excavation of rocks and stones.
Along a semi-abandoned road an hour and a half away from Albania's capital Tirana, villagers of all ages and both sexes carve rocks from the cliffs to sell later for a price lower than the market in an effort to overcome poverty and eke out their existence.
The villagers settled down from the Alps of Puke in remote northern Albania to the area of Shkembi i Kuq (Red Rock) soon after Albania toppled communism and restrictions on movement were lifted.
Zef Prela says he has been excavating rock for 13 years now, with help from his wife and nephews. His little children also look on as they work.
"I have been doing this business for 18 years. I start work at seven in the morning and finish at seven in the evening. We work with these rocks to provide the family with bread for the day. It is better to work than to do nothing, it is as God wills," Prela said.
Marta Prendi, a 46-year-old mother of three, began extracting rocks seven years ago when her husband had an accident, which left him disabled.
"I work for bread, only bread," she said, managing a wooden rod with her thick-fingered calloused hands as one of her seven daughters removed the stones she extracted.
"My husband became ill seven years ago. He is crippled and he can't work. He was cured in Italy, but he cannot be cured anymore because money is needed. I have seven daughters. The local authority does not help me, so I am forced to provide my family's daily bread in this way," she added.
Marta's husband Gjon stays at home with his mother-in-law who helps care for their children. He says it is a burden to be alive when his wife must do the heavy work of a man, and he cannot help.
63-year old Pjeter Frroku says around 30 rock excavation sites have been developed along the narrow road that links the capital Tirana to the northern town of Shkoder, but he says the villagers are too poor to pay high taxes imposed on them by the government's forestry service.
"The government should not tax us as if we were businesses using heavy machinery because we use just our hands and rods to take rock from the mountain. We're just poor people extracting rock with our hands; we do not own heavy machinery," he says.
The villagers have instituted a makeshift safety system by making sure the road is blocked when there is a blast.
According to local zone deputy, Aldo Bumci, the building of a new high-speed road nearby has meant the road is only used by local traffic, reducing the danger of the extraction activity.
He says the area is one of the poorest in Albania, and the villagers are attempting to supplement the subsistence agricultural activity that is common in the region.
"I think, considering the economic conditions of the area, extremely poor and the intensity of the activity, which is very small, I would say, it's like a small business, done by families to survive. I am in favour of them to continue this."
Bumci says it's hoped that conditions for the villagers will improve with future investment in the area. He says it's expected the New Year will see the start of a water supply project and cement production company in the region.
"And I hope this will create job opportunities and other services, and we will help to lift the area from the current poor conditions," he said.
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