Education the key to integration
by Aleksandar Dimishkovski
Aldijana Dedić, a vibrant young woman from Bosnia and Herzegovina, learned many new things while taking part in a traineeship programme launched by the OSCE/ODIHR Best Practices for Roma Integration project.
She improved her English-language and general communication skills, including her public presentation techniques. But most of all, Aldijana says learned how important a quality education is to being competitive in today’s labour market, and she says that this understanding is often lacking within the Roma community to which she belongs.
“Young Roma must have a university-level education if they are to succeed in finding a job”, she says. “I always knew that not having a University diploma would be a big setback for my career. Even during this traineeship, I sometimes found myself lacking confidence because I don’t have a degree.”
Deciding to act to fixt the situation, In October 2013 she enrolled in the Faculty of Political Science, at the University of Sarajevo, with a special focus on social work.
The Young Roma Professionals (YRP) traineeship programme helped Aldina Fafulović, also from Bosnia and Herzegovina, to realize the importance of education for the future development of her career, as well. She and 24 other Roma young professionals from across the Western Balkans spent up to five months working as trainees in OSCE field operations throughout the region, and then another five months working in a governmental institution or non-governmental organization.
It was during these ten months that Aldina decided to go back to school.
“I’ve seen that it is impossible to succeed without a proper education. That is why I decided to continue with my studies,” she said. “I am currently seeking a part time job that will help me finance the studies, because only one of my parents is employed and there are three of us, children in school.”
Getting more employment opportunities
For Aldina, improved education is the only way to better the quality of life and to promote the Roma integration.
“Even Roma with good educations find fewer opportunities in the labour market, so without such an education there is little opportunity,” she added.
Aldijana Dedić agrees that employers, whether in the private, public or non-governmental sectors, have to be more open to hiring qualified Roma.
“We live in a time when, due to the economic crisis, unemployment rates, particularly for young people, are very high. Discrimination means that the situation for qualified Roma youth is even worse, says Talita Jašarevski, a YRP from Croatia. “Greater efforts have to be made to ensure that the young, educated Roma receive the chance they deserve”,.
For Besart Elshani, YRP from Kosovo* it is exactly traineeship programmes like the one from BPRI that open the doors to further career development.
“I am well aware that further political, economic and social integration of the Roma community won’t happen overnight, Elshani says. “But it won’t happen at all without greater Roma participation in decision-making and policy formulation – particularly in the form of increased representation in central and local institutions.”
Sharing the lessons learned
Aiming to increase the benefits from the programme, the young Roma professionals have established a regional network in order to continue with joint activities, projects and other forms of exchange of experience.
Besides education and employment, the YRP will also focus their attention on healthcare and healthy lifestyles, cultural identity, gender issues and implementation of the Roma Decade – a set of political commitments made by European governments to eliminate discrimination against Roma and close gaps between Roma between the situation for Roma and the rest of society in the years 2005 to 2015. The official name of the organization is Regional Association “Roma RESTART”.
The organization is currently in the process of registration. It will be based in Belgrade, while branch offices are to open in other locations in the Western Balkans as well.
Regional networking was a major focus of the project.
Two regional training events were held, on EU integration in May 2013 in Podgorica, and on civic engagement in September 2013 in Prishtinë/Prishtina. BPRI also enabled young Roma to travel to regional conferences organized by the Roma Decade Secretariat and Council of Europe.
“This programme has been a real eye-opener, not only for the young Roma participants, but for the organizations, the institutions and for the local authorities that have been involved as well”, says Judith Kiers, the BPRI Project Manager. “It is an example of how successful these young Roma can be if given a chance – one that many others will certainly follow.”
BPRI is a regional project funded by the European Union, supported by OSCE participating States and implemented by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). The project supports innovative programmes to promote greater Roma participation in political and public life and decision-making, help to combat discrimination and contribute to better living conditions.
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/99 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.