The development of rugby in Albania took another step forward earlier this month as a pilot programme was rolled out in a juvenile crime prevention centre in Kavaja.

On 4 April, the Albania Rugby Federation signed an agreement with the centre and the country’s Ministry of Justice to roll out the project over the next 12 months.

It is hoped that ‘Rugby 4 Change’ can help rehabilitate the young men at the centre, who range from 14-21 years old, by exposing them to the benefits of playing a team sport and giving them a sense of purpose and community.

The project started at the beginning of April with an initial eight-week introductory programme, in which 30 participants will be introduced to rugby and its laws through touch.

The aim is to build up the skills of the participants so that they can play full-contact sevens, and there is a possibility that they will play a match against a local club, outside the centre, should the project prove a success.

“We have two aims,” Albania Rugby Federation President Xhino Drangu told World Rugby. “To teach them the basic rules of rugby, to teach them discipline, self-respect through our method of teaching, through rugby and physical training.

“Then we wish for this to be successful, and we wish to give them a new perspective. We will work very hard through rugby, through education, to give them a new perspective that there are other means to life, through working hard, through working in the community.

“They know we're going to be there every Friday teaching you something new, supporting you in every way that we can support, and having fun and meeting new people [while doing it].

“Giving them an opportunity and a different perspective to how they view life. Even if it changes a little bit, it's still a win and it's done through rugby as an education.”

Klaudia Hasanllari, director of the centre in Kavaja, admits she did not know much about rugby before she was contacted by the federation but is hopeful the programme can have a big impact on its participants.

“I hope to see the juveniles find an opportunity and not only to have fun and consume energy, but also to see this programme as an opportunity for their reintegration [into society],” she said.

“Because the mission of the centre that I direct is to rehabilitate and reintegrate the juveniles in conflict with the law.

“That will happen during the sport itself... just playing and being there will help them, but I want them to see an opportunity for the future that they might become sports players, they might become part of this community.

“And maybe it will give them hope for something else in the future, apart from going back to crime.”

Hasanllari is also hopeful the participants in Kavaja will be able to connect with a positive role model while taking part in the project.

One of the coaches that Drangu and the federation are using to roll out the programme spent time at the centre before finding rugby following his release and turning his life around.

“It’s really difficult for these juveniles to accept or to go beyond what they have done because they see themselves as the crime that they have committed,” Hasanllari explained.

“When I heard about this boy that has been in this institution and is now a rugby player, and he has reintegrated into society, he has a job, a family, etc. I thought that this also can help them understand.

“Because we tell them but it's different when they see someone [who was] one of them that has become something that they only dream of becoming.

“So, they can understand that it is real, and you can go beyond what you have done, and you can continue and recreate your life because they are too young to not do that.

“I think it does not only help them to consume energy and everything, but it also gives them this role model.”