BALKANS Discarded by life

 Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia
 Water Sanitation & Hygiene
 6th Oct 2010

CARE supports Roma in the Balkans and paves their way into society.
By Sandra Bulling, Senior Media Officer, CARE Germany

Gray clouds pass by above gray barracks. Chapped paint at the house walls, broken window panes, next to it a huge pile of rubbish where a scrubby dog is searching for food remains. Only the colourful bed varnishes are a sign that someone still lives here. Fadil Husejinovic steps out from one of these dilapidated houses. Those barracks at the outskirts of Kakanj in northern Bosnia have been his home for two years. He lives here with his family – isolated, scorned, disdained. Because Fadil is Roma. That means he is part of an ethnic group in Europe, which is commonly labelled as gypsy folk and insulted by crediting them a sole talent for theft, begging and drug trafficking. Whether in Germany or Serbia, Bosnia or Belgium the Roma are living on the edge of society. A study of the European Commission found out that one quarter of all Europeans don’t want a Roma family living in the neighbourhood.

There was a time when Fadil believed that his life could only get better. In 1997 he and his family fled from the war in former Yugoslavia to Hamburg, Germany. He wasn’t necessarily liked there, but he was accepted. “The Germans at least have not openly discriminated us. It did not matter to them where we came from”, the young man said, wearing his beard shaved into small stripes. In excellent German he speaks of his time in Hamburg. After the war ended, Fadil hoped to rebuild his life in his homeland Bosnia. “We were pledged a job, a house, and school education”, he said. But reality betrayed Fadil. Once he arrived at home, nothing was waiting for him. Except those grey barracks. Now, his life looks like this: “My mother has to beg. I collect scrap metal and sell it,” he says bitterly. “We Roma have no value here.”

Salvatore is no rescue

Ajefi Demilse lives roughly 800 kilometres southeast of Kakanj. She escaped from Kosovo eleven years ago. Ajefi is a Roma; she also lives in the gutter of the world. She also had to run from a war for a new political order, in which she did not find a place anymore. Together with 55 other Roma families she lives in a collective centre called “Salvatore” – a place without running water, grey and dreadful with muddy tracks. A shanty town. Ajefi houses with her husband and two children in one room. The moulded ceiling is bending down, bugs and cockroaches reside under the mattress. “It’s horrible here”, the 49-years old women complains. “Sometimes I can feed my children only tea and bread in the evening.” She wants to move away. “But where shall we go?” she asks. “No one wants us.”

Snezana Miskovic has at least a solid roof over her head. However, it is fully inhabited with vermin. Innumerable dead flies stick to the plastic bottles, which the young woman has converted into flycatchers. They hang from the ceiling like fat black bee hives. When it rains one of the two rooms gets wet and damp. Snezanas lives in the village of Gorni Rit in northern Serbia. There are fifteen houses, all inhabited by Roma. Gorni Rit is just a few hundred meters afar from the village Adorjan – but it looks like a place from another century. In Adorjan the streets are lined by well-kept front gardens and renovated houses while in Snezanas village the houses have large holes, huge heaps of garbage and scrap pile up in the backyards. There’s no road to Gorni Rit, just a path with pot holes. As if the modern Adorjan has discarded the Roma and forgotten them on a storage track. “When it rains, our children are not able to go to school because of the muddy track.” Snezana says.

“A little bit of recognition”

Snezana, Ajefi, Fadil – these are three Roma destinies from the Balkan region. CARE supports Roma communities in Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo so they will find their way from the edge to the centre of society. “Like any other citizens the Roma have the right to a dignified life including work, school education and medical care”, says Dr. Anton Markmiller, National Director of CARE Deutschland-Luxemburg. Markmiller, who visited several Roma settlements in the Balkans, is shocked by the discrimination against people like Ajefi, Snezana and Fadil. “It is the goal of CARE to pave the way into social life for Roma people.” For example, CARE empowers Roma women and supports the education of Roma girls.

Snezana from northern Siberia laughs when she points at the small silver tap, shining in her room. “Now we have running water and don’t have to walk to the fountain”, she says. The pipes were planted by the villagers themselves in cooperation with CARE, with funding from the European Commission. Since they do not have to drink the dirty water, Snezanas children don’t suffer any longer from diarrhoea. They are healthier now and no longer miss out on school. “We don’t need expensive gifts. We need tools, a paved road and a little bit of recognition. Then we can handle life on our own”, the 23-years old says and looks at her newborn son Wladimir. “For him life should be better”, she hopes.

Ajefi, her compatriot from the south, had a medical examination with assistance from CARE. Although she had born five children, she never visited a doctor before. “I am healthy”, she says and smiles. But Ajefi has not only visited a doctor, she has received regular and comprehensive information about female health. The seminars were led by voluntary health trainers, organised by CARE and Nexus, a local partner organisation. For young Roma women the programme is a bit livelier, with theatre plays and movies. Topics range from AIDS prevention to pregnancy and sex-before-marriage. Participants do discuss the roles of men and women in Roma society. “Roma girls generally grow up in a very traditional way. These topics are usually a taboo”, says Felix Wolff, Programme Director of CARE Deutschland-Luxemburg. “But if they join the theatre, the girls thaw very fast. They really want to talk about health issues, about roles of women and discrimination of Roma and this is the only place they can do it openly.” The girls therefore get much more self-confidence and self-respect. So that one day they will acquire a place in society on their own.

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