Sara Linnoinen, the Junior Adviser of the Embassy of Finland, visited a shoe factory in Peja municipality to explore the atmosphere in a Kosovan small-business. With the help of Active Labour Market Programme, funded by the Finnish foreign ministry, the shoe factory has employed two young Kosovars this year. After a one month of working at the shoe factory the two interns Vjollca Muqaj, 25, and Muhamet Rabaj, 23, described the internship as a positive experience.
The dizzying smell of polish and glue, piles of leather pieces, half-done shoes and shoeboxes. This is how it looks like inside a 50 square meter shoe factory in Peja. This miniature factory produces almost 900 pairs of handmade shoes per year, only by power of eight employees. The owner of the factory, Ajshe Kastrati, serves coffee to the visitors and begins the story of how she ended up producing shoes of RIGGA-brand.
Ajshe, an economist from Mitrovica, moved to Peja with her husband in 2006. The leather factor, which used to belong to the grandfather of her husband and which later produced also slippers went through transformation thanks to the enthusiasm of Ajshe. Determined woman didn't hesitate to apply assistance for her business and with the help of several organizations she managed to increase the production. RIGGA-shoes have been sold even in Finland and Sweden through Balkan Spring online shop. With the help of Peja employment centre Ajshe also found the Active Labour Market Programme and managed to employ two new interns. In future Ajshe wants to expand the production, find bigger facilities for the factory and become the leading women shoe producer in Kosovo.
For the two new interns, Vjollca and Muhamet, the internship in the shoe factory is their first real job. Vjollca, who was unemployed for more than three years, lives with her parents and siblings. Vjollca's father is already retired and her brother has only managed to find seasonal work. The small compensation paid for the interns doesn't make up for the lack of income in the family, but the owner of the factory has promised to employ the interns permanently if they are successful in their job. That gives motivation to Vjollca. Vjollca, who has only finished the primary school, wish to continue at the factory and to stay in Peja, where she belongs to.
As for Muhamet, he was unemployed under a year before the internship. Before the registration as unemployed he worked occasionally as an assembler of shelves. Muhamet lives with his parents and at the moment he is the only working adult in the family. Muhamet tells that the work in the factory is very different from what he has done before and thus requires more training. By now he has been drawing some sketches, gluing and matching the parts and observing the work of other employees. Muhamet was born in Slovenia, but he wants to stay in Kosovo and go on with his work at the factory after the internship.
Active Labour Market Programme is an employment programme funded and implemented by the Finnish foreign ministry, UNDP and the Kosovo government. The goal of the project is to enhance the capacity of local employment centres and the skills of employment officers. It aims to the employment of the most vulnerable groups, like the long-term unemployed, youth, women and minorities by supporting internships and on-the-job trainings.
The chief of the Peja employment centre, Mr. Bajram Demaj, considers the programme as an important way to tackle the unemployment. Unlike unpaid internships, the programme offers incentives for the jobseekers. The biggest challenge for the job markets in Kosovo is the low level of development. On the other hand it is good to keep in mind that many of the unemployed still do some part-time work and therefore the statistics don't give the whole picture.
The shoe factory in Peja is a great example of Kosovan initiative, such as will be supported also in the future.