In a shed on the outskirts of the town of Shutka in North Macedonia, 17-year old Lirija lives with her blind mother, Saadet. The shed consists of one room that serves as a bedroom, kitchen and bathroom combined. There is no toilet and every time it rains, the shed is flooded with rainwater. Lirija has hardly any teeth left and the other pupils are ostracising her at school; a school she can no longer attend as she has to spend her days gathering metal and plastics to provide for her and her mother.
About a year ago, Lirija met Sabina Grubbeson, the founder of Loza Foundation, who happened to be in the country to visit areas of social deprivation. Lirija started telling Sabina about the life her mother and she leads and that each day is a fight for survival.
“It was impossible to listen to Lirija’s story and not do anything to help them. They are suffering in inhumane living conditions, which no human being should have to endure. Basic hygiene and getting a good night’s rest is impossible in their situation, which I would say are required if a person is to even attempt getting out of the complex situation that extreme poverty is”, says Sabina Grubbeson.
Lirija and Saadet lived in a house together with the maternal grandparents, but they died and the house collapsed. Lirija has not attended school for quite some time and the family are not being given any social welfare benefits. She says they are living with constant stress as they are worried about not having enough food, poor health or keeping a roof over their heads.
“We have to take one day at a time. People in this area are all poor and we try to help each other out, but most of the time, everyone has to focus on themselves in order to survive. Things turned worse when my mother started to lose her eyesight and today, she is 99 percent blind and cannot work at all”, Lirija tells us.
In August 2020, Loza Foundation partnered up with the non-governmental organisation Dendo Vas to repair the house that had collapsed. A new roof, new doors and windows as well as a toilet, which will make a huge difference to the family’s health and hygiene. Loza Foundation also supported the family with volunteers that took Lirija to a dentist, who then replaced her eroded teeth.
On 20 October, Lirija went back to school thanks to NGO Dendo Vas that helped her with the registration process and in November, Lirija and her mother will be able to move into their new house. This relief effort is also the start of the new project and mentorship program “Families with children in extreme poverty”, which Loza Foundation and Dendo Vas are initiating right now; a pilot project that will run for a two-year period.
Eight families will be included in the first year of the project. The purpose is to improve their living conditions by offering hands-on relief such as house repairs and also knowledge-sharing and education so that the families will be able to make ends meet and the children should have the opportunity to go to school.
“The goal with this project is to create reasonable living conditions for these families and to work as a mentor to help them achieve a fully-functioning work life and to be included at school. When we meet these families, we feel these relief efforts stimulate their willpower, determination and hope of a better future, that they have been missing for a long time. We will do everything in our power to support them when it comes to escaping the complex situation that extreme poverty actually is”, says Sabina Grubbeson.
The World Bank defines extreme poverty as a living off less than 18 SEK per person per day. The families with children included in this project are living off approximately 5 SEK per day and several of the families are also suffering from illness, disabilities and homelessness, and some of the children face particularly vulnerable situations. As a consequence of the Corona pandemic, the World Bank recently increased their forecast for extreme poverty and earlier this summer, the UN reported that the number of people living in extreme poverty is increasing for the first time in 22 years.
“That proves how critical the situation is and how important this type of project is right now. I am convinced we can contribute to vital, permanent results for the future of these families, just like we have done for Lirija and Saadet. What we need now is financial support”, says Sabina Grubbeson, founder of Loza Foundation.
Lirija and Saadet will continue to be included in this mentorship program, where they will be taught home economics amongst other things. For the first time in a long time, Lirija can finally see a brighter future.
“My mother and I are so happy to have received this help. We are no longer as stressed and we believe in our future. My only goal now is to manage the school assignments, so that I can start working, become independent and support both my mother and myself.”
Even though life has given her a tough start, she can also see other people’s needs and are pleased for their sake too.
“I can see the other poor children in the area who Loza will help and I am so happy for them. To think that more people will get the kind of help my mother and I received is amazing”, says Lirija.