Europe’s Roma communities face daunting challenges that come from decades of marginalization. A lack of proper legal documentation means limited access to housing, education and job markets. As a result, these populations can be particularly vulnerable to different forms of exploitation.
In Belgrade, Serbia, CWS and our partners assist Roma communities, particularly women and children, through literacy and vocational training and education.
I visited Belgrade a few years ago and witnessed these programs in action. When I visited again last month, I was encouraged by the progress that I have seen even in a few years.
Together with Rev. Vy Nguyen, Executive Director for Week of Compassion, a CWS partner, I visited a drop-in center run by a CWS local partner. The Center for Youth Integration in Belgrade has an array of after school programs for Roma children and youth who would otherwise have nowhere else to go after school while their parents were working. The center normally hosts 25-30 children between the ages of five and 15, but in the winter or during bad weather it fills up closer to its capacity of 70. Not only were more children in school than during my previous visit, but they were thriving at the center as well. The children were full of joy, hope and energy.
In fact, Program Coordinator Mina Lukic told us that the center no longer has children coming to it who were are living on the street. Additionally, they used to have children attending center activities who were living in small communities in the city center or train station, and that is no longer the case either.
I also saw an improvement in social entrepreneurship among Roma women. In partnership with local organization NGO Alfa, CWS offers training to Roma women in handicraft skills so that they can produce and sell goods. By implementing their own source of income, these women help raise the standards of living of their families and increase their status in the process.
The challenges facing Roma communities are still steep. There is still work to do. But we are making good progress, and I have hope for their future.
Maurice Bloem is the Executive Vice President at CWS. Follow him on Twitter at @mauricebloem. Special thanks to Laura Curkendall, CROP Communications Manager, for her role in producing this post.