Finding peace after years of domestic violence

‘House of Colours’ in Albania protects children and women from abuse

By: Anush Babajanyan and Melanie Sharpe
Jeta, 24, prepares her daughter Fabliona, 4, for the kindergarten, in the apartment she rents in Tirana, Albania, on June 7, 2018.
UNICEF/UN0220687/Babajanyan VII Photo

07 December 2018

The House of Colours is the name of a large welcoming house in Tirana, Albania. The walls are covered in children’s artwork and girls’ and boys’ voices can be heard chatting and laughing. 

The House of Colors, run by UNICEF partner NGO ARSIS, provides support for some of the most vulnerable children in the city and surrounding suburbs. These services are supported through the European Union funded regional project on ‘Protecting Children from Violence and Promoting Social Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in the Western Balkans and Turkey.”

The House of Colours also provides emergency support for women and children at high risk or who are affected by abuse and violence.

One of these families is 24-year-old Jeta* and her four-year-old daughter Fabliona*. After facing years of brutal violence at home, Jeta and Fabliona ended up at the House of Colours.

To mark 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, UNICEF is sharing Jeta and Fabliona’s story of courage and hope.

 

 

Jeta, 24, makes a breakfast sandwich for her daughter Fabliona, 4, in the apartment where the two of them live, in Tirana, Albania, on June 7, 2018.
UNICEF/UN0220686/Babajanyan VII Photo

Twenty-four-year-old Jeta*, pictured above in her small apartment in the outskirts of Tirana, the capital city of Albania. Jeta, was born in rural Albania. Her family is poor, and she is the fourth born in a family of 8 children. She has 6 sisters and one brother. Her parents stopped having children once they had a boy.

Jeta married at the age of 18. It was an arranged marriage. Her mother-in-law saw her in the village and approached Jeta’s parents about her marrying her son. Jeta’s parents agreed. Her husband was 27 years old when they got married.  

“I wasn’t in love with him. It was a pre-arranged marriage. My mom said the marriage was good, I could get out of the village, he had money, he lived in Tirana. I was so young, so I  trusted my parents. I thought they wanted the best for me,” said Jeta.

 

 

Jeta, 24, and Fabliona, 4, together outside their apartment in Tirana, Albania, on June 7, 2018.
UNICEF/UN0220704/Babajanyan VII Photo

Immediately after getting married Jeta* moved to Tirana to live with her husband. She did not know anyone in the city.

At age 20 Jeta found out she was pregnant. She says that she was happy and excited to become a mother, but things at home drastically changed once her husband discovered she was giving birth to a baby girl.

“My husband came to the doctor’s office and the doctor said congratulations on having a baby girl. My husband said are you saying I’m having a daughter? The doctor said yes and my husband stormed out of the door and left the office. Both the doctor and I were shocked,” she says.

Jeta, crying and upset with her husband’s reaction, phoned her father and explained what had happened. Her father picked her up from the doctor’s office and brought her to her husband.

Here, Jeta and her daughter Fabliona* are pictured together at their home in the outskirts of Tirana.

 

 

eta, 24, and Fabliona, 4, embrace while playing together in the apartment Jeta rents in Tirana, Albania, on June 7, 2018.
UNICEF/UN0220701/Babajanyan VII Photo

Jeta’s* husband became physically and mentally abusive towards her. He and  his mother began urging Jeta to have an abortion.

“I told him, no I will have this baby,” she says.

While pregnant, Jeta got a job at a clothing factory, because she knew the baby was coming and was worried her husband would not support them. Jeta’s husband took all of the money she earned and continued to be violent. He tried to prevent Jeta from eating to harm her and the baby.

“The neighbours would help by bringing food. I pleaded for help, he said to me – die with that baby in your stomach. I thought things would get better when I had the baby, but things got much worse,” she said.

Here Jeta and Fabliona* are at their home in the outskirts of Tirana.

 

 

Fabliona, 4, holds her toys getting ready to go to a part with her mother Jeta, 24, in Tirana, Albania, on June 8, 2018.
UNICEF/UN0220714/Babajanyan VII Photo

In 2014, Jeta* gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Fabliona* is pictured here with her favourite toys at their home in the outskirts of Tirana. She is now 4 years old.

Jeta explains that after giving birth, the violence at home only got worse.

She remembers one time that her husband hit her so hard that four of her teeth were knocked out. He was also physically abusive with their  daughter.  He would regularly lock Jeta and Fabliona out of the house, forcing Jeta to fend for herself on the streets with her child and without any money. Jeta didn’t know anyone in Tirana that could help her and her family was poor and incapable of providing support.

In 2016, during one of the times Jeta’s husband had locked her and Fabliona out of the house. The police found the two left in the cold, without any money and trying to survive on the streets. The police officers brought Jeta and Fabliona to the police station and immediately phoned the House of Colours for support.

 

 

Social worker Julinda Vokopola, 44, poses for a portrait at the UNICEF supported ARSIS NGO, in Tirana, Albania, on June 8, 2018.
UNICEF/UN0220725/Babajanyan VII Photo

ARSIS Social Worker Julinda Vokopola came to the police station at 2:00AM that night to provide support to Jeta* and Fabliona*. Below, Julinda is pictured sitting at her office in the House of Colours in Tirana, Albania.

“While at the police station that night, we realized that Jeta had no other options, and we decided that her and her daughter needed to immediately come to the shelter,” says Julinda.

Julinda explains that besides being a day center for children living on the streets, the House of Colours is also an emergency shelter for women and children who are at risk or are affected by abuse and violence. Children and their mothers are kept in the House of Colours for up to 72 hours, until more appropriate temporary or long-term housing is found.  While at the House of Colors, children and their mothers receive food, clothes basic health care and psychosocial support. They also receive legal counselling and support to find a job and get children back to school.

“We had meetings with multidisciplinary teams to figure out food, shelter, long-term housing, a job, for Jeta and kindergarten for her daughter. At the beginning, she was very confused. Imagine her in a family, then marriage at 18, and now alone with a daughter, with nothing.

She’s doing much better than before,” says Julinda.

 

 

Fabliona, 4, reaches for her breakfast sandwich, in the apartment where she lives with her mother Jeta, in Tirana, Albania, on June 7, 2018.
UNICEF/UN0220688/Babajanyan VII Photo

Jeta* and Fabliona* have now been in their own apartment, protected from the horrific violence they both experienced in the past, for nearly two years.

“Julinda has helped me so much, she gave me so much strength, she gave me a psychologist. She gave me food and clothes, when I had nothing,” says Jeta.

Fabliona now attends a local kindergarten.

But life is not easy. Jeta works at a local factory that makes clothes. She works six days a week from 7:00AM to 4:30PM, with a 30-minute break each day. She makes the equivalent of $200 a month.

Jeta says that she needs urgent dental work to fix the damage caused when her husband knocked out her teeth. “The dentist said it would be $500 USD in total to fix my teeth. I laughed as I can barely afford bread.”

But even with so many challenges, Jeta is thankful for the life she has now. “Now I need quiet to find peace form my past. The most important thing is to find peace,” she says.

 

 

Jeta, 24, and Fabliona, 4, play in a park in Tirana, Albania, on June 8, 2018.
UNICEF/UN0220726/Babajanyan VII Photo

Jeta says she dedicates every day to making a better life for her daughter.

“I want to send her to school. Whatever possibilities I have, I will save everything I can, for her education. I want to see her dancing, going to the ballet school, I don’t want her to suffer because her mother suffered,” says Jeta.

According to official statistics 1 in 2 women between the ages of 18 and 55 years old in Albania have experienced domestic violence.

*Names changed to protect identity.