A life-changing loan for courageous Albanian woman
Lindita & her son pictured in the family's variety store.
ALBANIA - Joyful, energetic, hostess, and wonderful mother are just a few words that describe 35-year-old Lindita Sulillari, who had the courage to break away from the harsh Albanian village mentality that discourages women from being independent and showing initiative, let alone owning their own business.
Today, Lindita runs a variety-store which has changed not just her economic situation, but her life as a woman.
“Before I had this store I was a very shy and withdrawn person, and I didn’t know how to communicate with people”, says Lindita.
Lindita lives with her husband Spartak, 37, and two sons David, 8, and Lorenco, 5. The Sulillari family lives in a small house with two tiny rooms, but they enjoy their life together and thrive on the mutual love and respect that so evidently exists in their home.
“The meaning of my life is the harmony and joy of my family and seeing my sons growing up very happy and healthy”, says Lindita with shining eyes.
Lindita’s family lives in Kloce village in Korça region, located about four hours southeast of the Albanian capital city, Tirana.
I grew up in a family that taught me that women must be nothing more than a good housekeeper
Spartak was one of thousands of men who emigrated to work in Greece in 1991 until 2000. When the couple married they decided to stay and build their life in Albania.
“Three years ago my husband was working as a taxi driver and our income was very low, because at that time we had just finished building our house”, says Lindita thoughtfully.
“The alternative was for my husband to emigrate to Greece again; that would break my heart. For me it doesn’t make sense if the family doesn’t live together and share a life with one another”, she says.
Even gaining access to credit can be difficult for women, not for legal reasons but because banks prefer lending to men
Lindita did a rare thing by taking the lead and suggesting to her husband to take a loan and try to build a small store in their village. ”Spartak fully agreed and he really supported me in this new initiative”, says Lindita.
Lindita’s first loan enabled them to build the variety-store and furnish it with different products.
This former shy and uncommunicative woman also found the courage to actually run the business herself.
“The first time I sold at the store I was very afraid because I don’t have any education to run a business, but with time I realised that I can do it”, says Lindita.
“I grew up in a family that taught me that women must be nothing more than a good housekeeper”, she explains.
Many families in rural Albania do not send their daughters to school because they don’t see that education is relevant for girls who are destined to stay at home. And, when money is scarce, families would rather spend the money on boys’ education
Lindita’s father didn’t permit her to continue with high school because of this patriarchal mentality and their limited income which had to cover the expenses of six boys and two girls.
“After I finished elementary school my father decided to not let my sister and I go to high school”, says Lindita.
“I was a very good student and I liked school so much. School is the biggest regret I have from my past”, she adds.
Many Albanian women face inequalities not just in education but in other areas as well. Women face discrimination in owning property and in starting a business. Even gaining access to credit can be difficult for women, not for legal reasons but because banks prefer lending to men.
According to data from the Albanian Institute of Statistics in 2006, the employment level for women was around 38 percent, while the figure for men was almost 60 percent.
Employment figures reflect Albanian traditions and the conservative mentality regarding the role of women, a limited perspective on employment and careers for women.
But what Lindita has lacked in education, she has made up in her entrepreneurial outlook. About a year ago Lindita and Spartak decided to take a second loan to buy a van to supply their store and deliver to others outside their village.
“Our economic conditions are much better than before. When my sons ask for something we can offer it; when they need books or other school supplies we don’t think twice, we can buy them immediately”, says Lindita with shining eyes.
“I think they are growing up in a very different way than my husband and I grew up”, she adds.
Lindita’s biggest dream is an education for her children, because she recognises that "without an education life is very hard”.
And her young sons, David and Lorenco, have their dreams just like other children around the world.
Lindita is a very careful mother, her children are the best example in the school
“I want to be a vendor and to have a big store”, says David, while his younger brother Lorenco wants “to be a driver” like his father.
“My sons are very good students and like books and painting so much”, says Lindita proudly.
“Lindita is a very careful mother, her children are the best example in the school”, says Vera, Lorenco’s teacher.
“When I go to my parents’ home, they always tell me – ‘you have changed so much we don’t know our daughter anymore’”. “I think they are very proud of me”, she says.
All of Spartak’s brothers and sisters have left the village because they were unable to secure employment.
But this content husband and father says, “We don’t need to build our life anywhere else because we have a very good and quiet life here”.