Muriel Wagner

Chances are, that if you are born in one of the many Roma settlements in Central Eastern Europe, you will not be able to break out of the vicious circle of poverty. With a low level of education or no secondary school qualification, it will be hard to find a job, health issues will often be a huge burden, your impact on a political level will be low, you will face discrimination on a daily basis, with other words: you will not only struggle with the poverty you were born into, but also with preconceptions that are still prevailing in Central Eastern Europe societies.

The topic is complex, vast numbers of conferences are being hold, but states with high Roma minority still have not developed a well-structured strategy. And yet again, there are some remarkable approaches by individuals and organisations, which seem almost incredibly simple in their attempt of tackling the mere root of the problem. They are inspiring examples of how one single person can make a difference.

The incredible transformation of Roma villages in Sibiu, Romania:

It was in 2007, when Jenny Rasche visited Sibiu in Romania as a social worker. When she discovered a slum with about 20 Roma families in an outskirt of the major Transylvanian town Sibiu, she could not help but help. Her idea was as perhaps simple as effective: We need to invest into the children’s education to help them and their families escape starvation and misery. Jenny founded a special class for the Roma children to give them the opportunity to build a foundation for better lives. They had to start with the basics, most of the children didn’t even know how to hold a fork, let alone write. But all the struggle was well worth it: 10 years later, you can sense the difference in the village. It is the youngsters who take initiative, it is them who tell their parents how to renovate their houses or help them with visits to the authorities. Almost all of them complete school successfully, some even get the chance to study at an elite school.

The case shows, that if we remain inactive, we’re missing out on an incredible opportunity: The opportunity of shaping a new generation. There is lots of young Roma, often condemned to live a life at the fringe of society. What if, however, we gave them the tools to help them escape misery themselves?

In the case of the slum in Șura Mare, it was one determined and persistant social worker, who with the help of her family and an ever growing network of supporters could build up a system which would help the young Roma to finally take control over their lives. If only this case study could inspire regional administration in Central Eastern Europe to use it as a model for similar projects – as the idea is simple, and it could have an immense impact on all those countries in which Roma as an ethnic minority constitute a significant part of society. We should not lose the potential hidden in the young Roma generation.

Muriel Wagner

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author, and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of ALDA and the European Union.