The police officer opened the door in a hurry and said something to the office worker, Ermanda, who immediately approached us, saying there was an urgent case to consider.
Our meeting was interrupted.
Azem apologized and headed right away to the makeshift meeting room, which was actually a small "anteroom" office, where the three office workers had their work corners next to shelves almost falling from the heavy files.
The small computer screens in the Social Welfare Service Office of the Municipality of Maliq struggled against the reflection of sunlight coming in through the windows, showing some Excel workbooks that probably belonged to the multitude of Maliq residents under social assistance. I learned that 2,487 families are currently on the social assistance list in the Municipality of Maliq.
This small town in the southeast of Albania, a few kilometers from the city of Korça, surprises you with its contrasts. According to the archaeologists, the city has been inhabited for at least 4,000 years and has been an important economic and cultural center for several centuries. Part of the archaeological evidence was discovered during the drying up of Maliq swamp (1946) – a controversial event in the post-World War II Albanian history as the communist dictatorship was being cemented in the country. The famous 'Sugar Beet Factory' (now out of order) was built in Maliq in 1951, placing the small town on the country's industrial map. Residents from many parts of Albania - swamp drying volunteers and factory workers - settled down in Maliq after these two events.
The Municipality of Maliq includes seven administrative units, including the city of Maliq and the administrative units of Gora, Libonik, Moglica, Pirg, Pojan and Vreshtas, with a total population of about 66 thousand inhabitants.
I had asked to meet with Azem Nuhu, Director of the Social Welfare Service of the Municipality of Maliq, having read that Maliq is a success story when it comes to social welfare. This Municipality had already drafted and started to implement its Social Plan in 2019. The drafting process had been carried out thanks to the support of UNICEF and World Vision, while the implementation was greatly supported by the "Leave No One Behind’ programme or the ‘LNB’ - a joint effort of four United Nations agencies in Albania - UNDP, UNICEF, UNFPA and UN Women - with the support of the Swiss Government. (Learn more about results achieved during phase on of LNB programme implementation, 2017-2021 in the video below).
The conversation with Azem resumed a little later at the Community Center for Children with Disabilities, after the morning emergency seemed to have been towards some solution. The emergency was related with some young woman who was in the process of divorce. The woman, whose little children were currently left with their grandparents, who were also poor and vulnerable, needed proper mental health care and help to overcome the situation. The morning meeting with the police officer was part of a local domestic violence referral mechanism supported by UNDP and UN Women.
"This is my daily routine." - Azem explained to me. "We are a small office, but we work with passion, and we cooperate with other local and central government teams. Our social plan is not only a guide to our work, but it is also a guarantee that our challenges can be solved in a sustainable manner.”
The Municipality of Maliq started to overcome the challenges it faced in solving problems in caring for children with disabilities in 2020, when the UNDP, through its LNB programme, rehabilitated the Community Center for Children with Disabilities, making it operational.
Azem speaks with passion about the Center and the support the LNB programme has given to make sure that services are successfully offered and sustainable. "This center is a role model that makes us proud. The support from the LNB has been tremendous in every aspect of construction and development of the center and its services. What is most important is that we have understood how to build sustainable processes." - he says.
The center is staffed by five specialized staff members: a psychologist, a social worker, a teacher, a speech therapist, and a physiotherapist. The staff has received appropriate formal training, peer-to-peer, and on-the-job training thanks to the support of the LNB programme.
During the visit in Maliq, we met Endri, a young man who had become part of Maliq municipality as the Head of Recreation, Tourism, and Youth Sector, and Alda, a youth activist. Talking about the problems the city faces, they told us about a number of initiatives that the city youth network had undertaken with the support and advice of UNFPA and UNICEF, including revitalizing the sports corner and remodeling and enriching the library of the city general high school; the construction of "Fari", a symbolic youth landmark in the city; the placement of informative and orientation signage in the "Pheasant Forest", a place of tourist attraction in the city, etc.
Overcoming poverty and securing food, education, and health, as well as ending violence against women, reducing inequalities, and many other challenges that would be understood as reading the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are actually part of the job of the dedicated social services team in the Municipality of Maliq, and a photo of the team next to an SDGs poster at the entrance of the Social Center would be the most beautiful greeting to a dedicated team, as we conclude this pleasant visit in the Municipality of Maliq.
 The Municipality of Maliq counts a total of 868 people with disabilities, including 30 children aged 0-3 years and 153 children aged 4-16 years (data from 2021). The Community Center for Children with Disabilities, in its ideal conditions, has a maximum capacity to serve 25-30 children during the day.