Members of the Roma community are still on the margins of society. The problems they face are numerous - access to education, lack of social and health care, lack of support in practicing their rights and, above all, stigmatization and discrimination. Caritas Kosovo is an organization that provides support to this socially vulnerable population.
Their mission, improving the position and integration of Roma in the community, began more than twenty years ago.
Caritas then, while the Roma community was internally displaced from South to North Mitrovica, with the support of UNICEF, launched "catch up" classes, working with children age from 7 to 14, explains the head of the regional office of Caritas Kosovo in Mitrovica, Boban Mirkovic.
Realizing that there is a need for support in other fields as well, Caritas started working with the girls from the Roma community.
They worked on the process of socialization, education, education in terms of raising awareness about premature marriage.
Upon their return to the Roma mahala, in South Mitrovica, support continued, this time in the field of community reintegration.
"The focus was on the integration of children in school, improving their position in society and involving parents in children's education," Mirkovic said.
Over 85 children from the Roma community are involved in the project to support the social inclusion of children. Five psychologists work with them, including Gordana Petrović-Jevtić.
"This project is based on a Portage methodology approach where, through field visits within families, support is provided to the Roma population. The target group is children from three to ten years old. The task of every psychologist is to, with the help of community assistants, form his own sample of children who need support, and with the help of various measuring instruments determine which developmental skill is necessary to work with the child," explains Petrovic-Jevtic. She adds that each psychologist has 17-18 children in her sample.
The role of parents is also important here.
"Parents and strengthening their relationship with their children is a key link for progress in their work," he explains.
In addition to individual work in the community, Caritas also organizes creative and educational workshops in which children from other communities also participate.
"Workshops greatly support the socialization of children through socializing, their learning and progress," adds this psychologist.
What is it like to work with a marginalized community?
"Based on our many years of experience working with them, we have gained trust. Parents are increasingly realizing the importance of educating their children. We also have three assistants who come from the Roma community. With their help, it is easier for us to approach and access our parents, "Mirković answers.
"Difficulties are partly reflected through the language barrier, but with the help of our assistants from the community, we manage to achieve good communication with them. Other difficulties arise from the very way of life of the Roma community, and those are poor hygienic conditions and poverty, so it often happens that children from this community do not have adequate space and material for learning and work," says Petrovic-Jevtic.
About the importance of this kind of support and what does it mean to their users, she adds:
"Given that Roma families are consisted by sometime a large number of family members, some have about twenty members per household, it is very difficult for parents to dedicate themselves to each child individually, so our support in working with children is very useful and important."
This is also confirmed by Merxhana Hajdini whose three out of six children are included in the program implemented by Caritas Kosovo.
"Support means a lot to me and is useful for my children," Hajdini said briefly.
Trust is a key link that has brought together those who can help and those who face challenges.
"Trust is understanding each other. For me, trust is when I go to someone, whether it is a representative of an institution, community, any actor, and I see that he understands me. Trust is when I can rely on someone, go and say what I need or suggest something that I think is good and will be supported, "says Mirkovic.
Caritas Kosovo provides support to the Roma community throughout Kosovo, not only to this community, but to all in need. The main office of this organization is located in Ferizaj/Uroševac.
This project is supported by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and is implemented by the New Social Initiative. Expressed opinions represent the authors’ views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations, UNMIK or New Social Initiative.