It has been two years, almost to the day, since I arrived here in Montenegro. While many things have changed, the daily life of those around me remains the same for much of the local population and the transition I continue to observe can be slow for many. I know that for much of the population, getting by is still a lot of hard work.
This week a local friend reminded of the challenges that have confronted this region in the not-so-distant past, and how the benefits of our work at Porto Montenegro and the that of the government are slow to trickle through to everyone.
This week he came to me for some advice about going back to school. He is fearful of it as it is not common here to go back to school once you have chosen a specific skill or path. Even if you are still young, there is really no support structure for adult education, retraining or career advancement. With a wife and child to feed, he wonders if education is a way to secure a better future or if it is just a waste of his time.
It made me think of how fortunate we are in places like Canada where education and mobility are deemed almost a right. A multitude of programs, scholarships and possibilities are often a click or a phone call away. He told me of the challenges of growing up during a war and how, since high school, the only possibility for him was to work as hard as possible, no matter what the job. It made me feel extremely grateful, humbled and gave me the desire to somehow help.
Today he is at a crossroads. Witness to a new world order in this former Yugoslav naval base. Having never really traveled beyond the borders of these Balkan states, he is unsure of what all these changes might bring.
He is the sole bread winner for his young family and takes home 400 Euros a month. That is less than 600 Canadian dollars a month. Yes, he is not far below the current national average income, but the cost of living here on the coast is higher than inland, so I can only imagine how difficult life must be.
I encouraged him to look into going back to school. There is a new university program in Tivat designed around nautical tourism – surely an industry that will flourish here in the years to come. One simply has to look at Mediterranean marinas which have been developed in the last 30 years to see how several hundred yachts in a harbour can change the local economy forever.
I pledged to help however I could, even if it was just to have another coffee this week and tell him not to be fearful any longer. He seemed to go away determined.
These are the types of personal life experiences that contribute to making my life here truly amazing. Connecting with humans whose lives have been so different than mine is perhaps the best schooling one can have in life. So, I guess my friend is not the only one going back to school!