After the Earthquake: Welding past experience with future possibilities

Xhemal Avdi is an experienced welder, whose skill is the only source of income for his family of seven.
From an early age, life conditioned Xhemal to become a hard-working person, as the only way to survive. Being a member of the Roma community, he felt like he always had to try five times harder than other people he met to earn what he deserved.

Sometimes, he and his son are the only ones who can provide for the big family, as his wife suffers from a severe knee injury that makes it hard for her to walk, let alone work. The rest of his children are still underage and Xhemal is urging them to attend school instead of putting them to work so that they avoid the hardships he still goes through on a daily basis.

The 26 November earthquake that hit his home-town Durres turned his world upside down, taking almost everything Xhemal used to secure his future, away: his house, his workshop, his welding tools and equipment. Within a brief time-span of a minute, which to Xhemal — having everything to lose — felt more like a year, a family of seven was left with no solid source of income for the foreseeable future.

Not one to lose time, Xhemal took on fixing the damages to the workshop himself but was financially unable to substitute the tools that had almost come to feel like a part of his self. In the earthquake’s aftermath, during those first difficult days when the dust from destroyed buildings hadn’t even settled on Albania’s second-biggest city’s roads, it was Xhemal’s network of friends and business partners who stood by his side, lending him some of the tools that got his family through the initial insecurity that had justifiably overtaken them.

The only thing the earthquake left behind in Xhemal’s workshop

Soon enough, Xhemal became one of fifteen beneficiaries of UNDP’s ‘In-Motion’ Programme — a pilot intervention for Albania aiming to put the most affected micro-enterprises back on track and improve their socio-economic conditions only days after the earthquake left 51 people dead and more than 3,000 injured.

Part of the intervention’s strategy is turning its beneficiaries from business owners, or simple workers, to entrepreneurs able to reinvent themselves and their business image after the crisis. The methodology was successfully tested in other countries also negatively affected by natural disasters.15 owners of the most affected micro-enterprises in the Durres Municipality signed letters of commitment and began working on rehabilitating their life’s work right away.

The ‘In-Motion’ team began work with Programme beneficiaries only days after the earthquake

During the first ‘In-Motion’ consultations, Xhemal was not much of a talker, but was very attentive and always kept notes. He showed commitment to take all the actions needed to recover his business, increase his entrepreneurial skills, re-create his commercial image and make the best possible use of the newly purchased equipment. He was assisted by the ‘In-Motion’ team every step of the way.

“As I was growing up, I was taught the hard way that actions get you further than words, and so I prefer to listen and act, instead of talk. The meetings were the right place for me to do that, as there was a lot to learn and apply it in the profession where I have invested my life. Now, I am seeing good results come out of this earthquake that terrified us and this is proving that something good can come out of every bad situation if we never give up hope and try hard. This has been the best lesson so far,” says Xhemal.

Within seven months of hard work, one-on-one training and business coaching, Xhemal now has a fully equipped workshop. He has adopted the “In Motion” methodology — particularly the 5S philosophy (sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain), which transformed his workshop from what looked like improvised storage of tools and household furniture into a clean, safe and productive working environment. Today, his shop is a place where he can proudly invite clients to talk about what his business offers, while his new logo design is a head-turner even for those not looking for a welder.

“It was the creation and adaption of a full package of a brand-new commercial image that inspired Xhemal and his son to take additional action. Currently, their shop is being promoted through a Facebook group, which has already yielded many requests for new and potential business activities,” says a UNDP business consultant most familiar with Xhemal’s work.

After the technical assistance provided by ‘In-Motion’, which funded a total amount of $1,500 to all beneficiaries following the results of their diagnostic process, Xhemal was encouraged and felt motivated to evaluate his business model. He looked at his operations and explored ways to expand his business model to ramp up sales and go forward.

Feeling even more confident in facing life’s twists and turns, he did not become demotivated when the COVID19 pandemic — another major crisis which unexpectedly affected micro-enterprises — arrived in Albania, but instead applied his newly acquired skills of adaption into surviving another challenge. Understanding his welder’s mask would not be enough to sustain his clients, who were just increasing in number at the time the country entered a strict lock-down, he opened a Facebook group for his business and continued taking orders and providing services online, uninterrupted by physical constraints and continuing working with his son in his workshop.

Xhemal’s Facebook page can be found through the handle @XhemaliSaldime

And so, evaluating the business and technical advice offered by ‘In-Motion’ consultants, taking actions and making necessary changes according to what he knew but also what he learned on the way, was what led not only to a recovered but a fully improved business.

Having understood what it takes to sustain a successful business model, Xhemal soon started assessing his vendors. He searched for providers he could rely on and reached out for support. Promoting his work was now not only limited in Durres but expanded in different cities, also due to the decision to go online. The creatively-adapted commercial image, logo and business ideas that came with the tools replaced by ‘In-Motion’ were instrumental in increasing the number of new clients.

Xhemal’s business acquired a new logo to represent its activity

“We have fallen and risen many times. This is another fall to rise from,” is something Xhemal frequently says to his regular clients, as a positive outlook and way of handling life.

Xhemal is the example that natural disasters may be out of our control, but if we don’t give up, we can respond and recover from them better and quicker than we think. Today he is standing stronger on his feet.

This article also appeared on Medium.

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