June 6 – Roma Women for a Better Future

We are now in Tuzla and  have spent the morning meeting with Roma Women for a Better Future. The director of Roma Women For A Better Future, Indira Bajramovic,

Indira Bajramovic, Roma Leader

is currently campaigning  in Sarajevo as the first Roma woman ever to run for parliament in Bosnia Herzogovina.   Larisa Kovacevic, her administrative assistant, acted as moderator and translator for our meeting.  Roma Women for a Better Future  is in a stronger position as an NGO than the Roma NGO’s we met with in Belgrade for several reasons.  First of all the Roma population it is dealing with have lived for centuries within Bosnian borders, and while they are often marginalized, their treatment is more one of indifference and neglect rather than the hatred and ridicule that the Roma population as recent refugees fleeing from Kosovo, suffers in Serbia.   The Roma in Tuzla live in homes and although poor, do not suffer the same isolation and depth of degradation of the Roma in Serbia.

Indira, who is well known by other NGO’s in the area for her devotion and work for the Roma and who has written and spoke extensively about her work and the areas of injustice she has encountered,  has recently been encouraged to run for parliament by her colleagues, and is currently campaigning on a well-developed  strategy for the improvement of the lives of the Roma, based on the work she has been doing in the past ten years.

At our meeting were three Roma mothers, who participate as members of their programs, who spoke very positively of the help their children was getting through this organiyation.  Also present was  the principal of a nearby elementary school along with one of the teachers in the Roma inclusion program in her school, who acted as a translator.  This is a very successful Roma organization in the sense that they have been able to effect significant changes in the lives of the Roma women and children who use their services.  Although the schools in Bosnia and Serbia are now required to have supportive staff, i.e. school psychologists and “pedagogical assistants” along with inclusion programs for Roma children, many schools, in spite of their newly introduced services, suffer from resistance of Roma mothers to the school program and poor attendance and performance by the Roma children.  This principal in contrast has created a model program with excellent Roma attendance as well as academic motivation and performance.  In describing her involvement in the program it became apparent that the excellence of the school program could be in large part attributed to her devotion to the parents, children, and teachers of her school along with her warm and supportive presence throughout all aspects of the school’s program.

Roma child being educated in Model School in Tuzla

Larisa was open in stating that she is not  interested in money for her organization as much as learning of opportunities for business training, i.e. grant writing programs, financial planning, communication skills for leaders in her organiyation as well as job training  in hairdressing, cooking, etc. for the Roma mothers she is working with. Although Larisa was not familiar with the NGO’s we met in Belgrade, she has worked with NGO’s in Belgrade and was interested to learn about and reach out to the Roma organizations we met with.   Larisa  will be staying in touch with us by e-mail and skype to continue our relationship and network building and will be sharing information gathered with Indira on an ongoing basis.

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