Milka and Vane Kostadinov are amongst the few remaining inhabitants of the once vibrant village of Blatec in the Municipality of Vinica. The elderly couple both have health issues that prevent them from moving without great difficulty. Surviving on a single pension, they depend on others to provide them with essentials like food and medicine.
“Life is really hard when there’s no one ever coming to your door. Most of our neighbours have died or left the village and our children are abroad,” explains Milka. “Ever since my husband suffered a stroke he spends most of the day in bed, and I can hardly move myself. We can’t even go out to buy bread and milk, let alone collect the medicine we need.”
Isolated, immobile and poor, Milka and Vane’s plight is sadly far from uncommon among elderly people in rural areas of North Macedonia. Addressing the needs of such vulnerable citizens is a key priority of the Community Work Programme which offers training and work experience opportunities for unemployed people to provide social care services.
When the Municipality of Vinica applied to participate in the Community Work Programme in 2018, the Kostadinov family was immediately put on the list of people in need of social services.
The Municipality recruited and trained five unemployed caregivers to carry out regular visits to several rural settlements in the Vinica region. Among the five new recruits was Sande Novoselski, a 62-year-old unemployed man from the village of Blatec.
“I’ve done a lot of different jobs in my life and there’s no way I’m just going to sit at home when I could be doing something for myself and for others,” says Sande. “I’ve lived alone since my wife died and my children moved away and that can be very difficult if you don’t have a job. That’s why I jumped at the chance to do some good.”
Sande was recruited for six months as part of the Programme and paid visits to eight families in the village of Blatec, collecting prescriptions and shopping for pensioners like the Kostadinovs who are unable to fend for themselves. Transport for these visits was arranged by the municipality as part of the Community Work Programme, enabling many people in remote settlements to receive regular personal assistance for the first time.
Describing his experience of caregiving work, Sande’s eyes light up and his pride and enthusiasm are palpable.
“I would do it all again in a flash!” he says, “In fact I’m going to apply again if it’s possible. There’s no better feeling than knowing you’re making a difference to people’s lives, even if it’s just running what might seem small errands like fetching medicine for them or making coffee and talking with them for a while at home.”
An interesting aspect of Sande’s experience was how people initially reacted to a man doing work that has traditionally been seen as performed by women. “Even some of the people I visited found it quite strange at first that a man was helping them. But I felt no shame at all doing care work. There’s no such thing as ‘women’s jobs’ or ‘men’s jobs’. That’s all just prejudice. Work is work, and if it does others good then it’s something you should be proud of.”
Sande is one of 64 unemployed people who undertook specialised training in care for the elderly as part of the Community Work Programme in 2018, gaining theoretical knowledge and practical skills that will help to qualify them to work with senior citizens.
In 2019, it is expected that nearly 500 people from 48 municipalities will gain valuable working experience while providing a wide array of social services to nearly 5,000 children, women and men.
This programme has been designed and implemented by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Employment Agency, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and UNDP as a means of helping both the unemployed and of reaching out to some of the most vulnerable people in society. Since the programme began, over 30% of participants have managed to find secure employments.