By Anna Alboth, Media Programmes Coordinator at Minority Rights Group Europe.
International Roma Day is a day to celebrate Romani culture. But for MRG and Chirikli ‘Roma Women’s Fund’, we celebrate Romani culture and the remarkable work of Romani civil society organisations and mediators all year round, through our EU-funded project ‘A Partnership For All’ which supports Roma-led, grassroots CSOs to build essential partnerships for Roma inclusion in Ukraine
And yes, the daily realities of Europe’s largest minority are often harsh and unjust. But, on this day and through our project, we want to shine a light on the great work of Romani civil society and projects which are shaping the future of their communities, across Ukraine.
We start with the story of a young Roma boy, one of many who live in the Zakarpattia region of Ukraine, who has difficulties gaining access to school, who is smart and creative, but is behind on his reading and writing and does not speak Ukrainian as his first language. But he loves football! He can meet Yuri Mandych, Head of Programme Support for Street Football Development, one of the partners on ‘A Partnership for All’ in Ukraine.
‘We train poor children whose families are not able to pay for expensive clubs,’ says Yuri Mandych. The street football tournament started five years ago in Radwanka. At that time, there were only four teams playing. Now there are 56 teams across Transcarpathia. Seven boys were accepted into formal sports schools in which they may go on to become professional football players someday. ‘The boys also have the chance to meet boys from many different backgrounds, and to gain new skills and confidence to support their inclusion in the education system,’ Mandych says, ‘offering Roma youth the opportunity to travel to new places and learn the Ukrainian language has enhanced their participation in Ukrainian society.’
This boy, could also have the chance to meet Lola Kulchar. Lola is a Roma Mediator, whose NGO Blago is supported through ‘A Partnership For All’, to deliver an innovative ‘pre-school’ programme for Roma children in the village of Holmok in Zakarpatia. This project involves children and parents working together to ensure that children not just aquire the skills to properly integrate into local schools, but that parents understand the benefits and become champions of their children’s education support their regular school attendance.
Another innovative project is run by the NGO Romen, in cooperation with the State authority of Kharkiv, and focuses on providing legal aid, advice and information for Roma in in Kharkiv region. The project worked closely with social services and undertook an innovative social mapping and needs assessment of Roma, leading to a Social Atlas of the Roma in Kharkiv region, to improve public services.
Across Zakarpattia, Lvov and Kiev, ‘A Partnership For All’, also supports Roma-led initiatives to establish new employment centers that address the needs and talents of the Roma community. The NGO ‘Ternipe’ targets Roma settlements where workers have often been forced to migrate for job opportunities. They have piloted an employment program within the locality to reduce the need for migration and build greater prosperity in these communities. In Kiev region, the NGO ‘New Wave’, in partnership with the Kiev Employment Authority, has established a new employment center for Romani women, which provides skills training and a contact point for new partnerships with employers, to promote recruitment and utilize the talents of Romani women
At the moment MRG and Chirikli support 13 pilot projects across Ukraine, creating community-based initiatives that partner Roma CSOs and public authorities, within the program ‘A Partnership for All’.
International Romani Day is an opportunity to celebrate Romani culture but also raise awareness of the issues the community faces. Today and all other days of the year, MRG stands in solidarity with the Roma community against hate and discrimination and will continue working for the full recognition of Roma rights across the world.