Manjola Koço

Family Strengthening Project Coordinator SOS Children's Villages in Albania
photo: © 2018 Stefan Lechner Photography

We can learn by trying. Establishing a father’s club in Albania

I am Manjola from Albania. Mother Teresa was from Albania too. I think she is an inspiration for everyone who works with children. Mother Teresa is a good example and inspiration in my country. Inspired by her I studied social science and I became a social worker.

The Beginning: Thoughts of a Fathers’ Club
I have been working for SOS Children’s Villages since 2011 as Coordinator of the family strengthening project [1] (FSP). In this year, two years after the implementation of the FSP in Don Bosko in 2010, social workers noticed that male caregivers were not involved at all or had low involvement in family dynamics and as result they tend to attribute their child’s upbringing and development issues to their wives. We were conscious that when fathers become more involved in parenting – and in working with mothers as co-parents and partners –you get healthier families and healthier children. Engaged fathers experience better overall health, greater work satisfaction, and higher self-esteem. We knew how important the father’s role in the family is, as a father and a husband. Furthermore we didn’t want to be recognised as a “female program” but as a “child and family program” where services were offered for the whole family. At that time we were also working on having stronger identification inside and outside the organisation.

We were thinking about how to increase the father’s role within the family and enhance their caregiver abilities to be closer to the children’s developmental needs. We wanted to change the situation and worked hard to involve fathers in a project, but we didn’t know how to do it. We didn’t have experience in this unexplored field, and user manuals and the internet offered limited information in those times. Nevertheless, we decided to start the “Fathers’ club” and to learn by trying. So we called fathers, explained our ideas and invited them in for the first meeting, but in the first meeting no one came. They found different excuses, but the real reason w the mentality. In Albania during the communist regime until the nineties, women were targeted as the main person offering care, protection and support to the children. It was closely linked with some initiatives of strengthening a female role in society.

Flexibility and Adaptation: Setting the Groundwork for the Fathers’ Club
For the fathers, caregiving was a new experience and they felt confused. To them, looking for daily work was more important than being part of this club. 

We were disappointed but we didn’t give up. We tried to find a different way to establish this club, so we decided to visit each father in his own house, as a way to be closer to them and have an open communication with them in regard to what the Fathers’ Club would represent, what kind of engagement was expected from them, and how they might benefit from this. Of course we also took their inputs into consideration. We invested a lot of time and effort in building up a trusting relationship. We were flexible in order to respond to their time schedule and working hours by adapting our agenda.  In the beginning, the group was led by male social workers in order to reduce barriers, and the first meetings were informal, just to get to know each other. They were organised outside FS premises. Sport activities were a good motivation for them to socialise, to strengthen the group and to learn group rules. Home visits were helpful to persuade them to be part of this Club.

In the ongoing meetings external experts were included, like a paediatrician, physiologist and education assistants who taught them child education, emotional wellbeing, conflict solving, communication among family members, positive parenting models and so on.

Learning by Trying
Today, on average 28 to30 fathers participate in the Fathers’ Club regularly. The Fathers’ Club is a platform to raise awareness in terms of child rights, domestic violence and its consequence, caregivers’ obligations and parental responsibilities. Group sessions are offered on topics such as self-esteem and self-confidence and trainings are conducted related to child education, emotional wellbeing, conflict solving, communication among family members, positive parenting models, building and strengthening their ties with other family members, the importance of playing with children and so on. Sport, cultural and recreational activities outside the SOS premises are being organized. A lot has changed in the past years. Today, the Fathers’ Club functions as a social network where the fathers are supporting each other, especially with employment issues and child education issues. They are investing in becoming better fathers, husbands and citizens. 

Trying was our way of being successful and achieving our goal. Now we are proud of all we have done with this Club.

Gezim, a father of three sons, said: “If my father had had the opportunity to participate and be supported like I am; I would never have been in this situation. I would have had better chances to succeed in life.”

the demands of all the stakeholders and helped in winning over all the different stakeholders.


[1]“The main goals of Family Strengthening Programmes (FSPs) are to enable children at risk of losing parental care to grow up in a caring family environment and to support reintegration after the separation of children from their families of origin. In Central and Eastern European, CIS and Baltic countries SOS Children's Villages is working with different target group groups within the FSPs, always aiming at improving the life of children for the better.

Working with children and families in the frame of FSPs is seen as an individual support process, where a case management approach is followed in order to assess the family, plan, coordinate and deliver, monitor and review services to meet the needs of children and their families. All FSPs run in strong partnership with other stakeholders (government, service providers, volunteers etc.) to address the complex and multi-dimensional problems faced by children at risk of losing parental care as well as to have a greater impact on the lives of their families.” (SOS Children’s Villages Global Intranet)

Manjola Koço,

Family Strengthening Project Coordinator, "Family Strengthening Project Don Bosko ", at SOS Children’s Villages in Albania.

Manjola has worked in this position for seven years. She sees the family as the basic unit of the society and she sees working towards strengthening this unit as investing in this society’s future. What she likes most about her job is the good communication she experiences in her team and with her supervisors. This positive spirit of communication makes it easier to overcome challenges and difficulties in everyday work.

Manjola was born in a happy family and has three siblings. In her family, faith in God and love for your neighbours were of utmost importance. Integrity and dedication are two values she took from her parents. In her free time Manjola likes to read and enjoys cultural events.

She is grateful for the things she has in life and tries to enjoy everything life offers her.

Her home country Albania is located in South-West of Europe with an area of 28,748 square meters, and a population of 2,893,005 people. After the fall of communism in the 1990s to the present day the country is in economic, social and political transition.

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