Dreaming of a better and safer future
Roma children in Osterode camp enjoy improved education and nutrition conditions
Cerkin and Aferdita are two of the 100 children engaged in the extra-curricular activities provided by the Roma Educational and Cultural Centre in Roma Camp Osterode in the Municipality of Mitrovica. It is summer break and the schools are closed, but in Osterode the programme does not stop: children continue coming to the centre on a daily basis and being actively and enthusiastically engaged in a variety of out of school activities such as singing, sports, folklore dancing, games, arts, preschool activities and homework support. As we arrive in the Centre we are immediately welcomed by the sound of children’s singing joyfully echoing around the camp. The older kids, those who are in school age, are dancing in a circle and singing about love, tolerance and respect; Aferdita and Cerkin are in the middle and full of joy they sing in unison with their fellow classmates.
Aferdita is ten years old and loves going to school. She says, “I enjoy going to school. Studying is not boring at all and I learn lots of things that will be useful for me when I’ll be an adult. In particular I enjoy the civic education class as it helps me to learn what my rights are and how to behave properly with the people around me. I also like coming to the Centre here in the camp; the teacher helps me with the homework when I have some difficulties and this year I got very good grades!” “I enjoy going to school and studying, I learn lots of things that will be useful for me when I’ll be an adult. I also like coming to the Educational and Cultural Centre here in the camp; the teacher helps me with the homework when I have some difficulties and this year I got very good grades!”
Belonging to one of the most vulnerable and stigmatised communities of Kosovo, the needs of Roma and those of their children are generally neglected on a systematic basis. In 1999, following the Kosovo conflict, the families of Cerkin and Aferdita, as many other Roma families, were forced from their homes located in the South-Mitrovica neighbourhood known as the Roma Mahala. As an emergency response they were initially sheltered in makeshift camps in the Northern part of Mitrovica and, in 2006, moved to the former French army camp of Osterode, as a temporary solution whilst attending to return to their place of origin, Roma Mahala. Located in the surrounding area of the Trepca smelter, Osterode is a highly lead-contaminated area and its inhabitants, and children in particular, face on a daily basis serious health hazards caused by simple virtue of where they live.
Through its implementing partner Association for Peace Kosovo, UNICEF works to ensure children from Osterode camp access to better education and to adequate nutrition. Mr. Sokol Kursumlija, Manager of the Centre, explains “The project is implemented in close collaboration with the Roma community and the local Educational Institutions and activities are designed for promoting and enhance better children integration in the primary school system. The activities are based on support that can improve the level of skills, tools and knowledge that children need for their equal and sustainable future integration into the social structures. The project is also succeeding in raising the awareness of children and parents, on the importance of education”. “The activities of the Roma Educational and Cultural Centre are designed for promoting better children integration in the primary school system. The project is also succeeding in raising the awareness of children and parents, on the importance of education” Implemented activities include: preschool activities; preparatory and homework activities; Serbian language classes; promotion of educative movies; creative workshops; parents-teachers meetings; professional visits aiming at introducing the children with the wide scope of professions they can choose as their future job; special events; and improving children nutrition and health status. Following UNICEF and WHO’s guidance and recommendations, the children nutrition component has been introduced in early 2010 with the aim to additionally motivate children to attend the activities of the Centre, as well as to provide food especially designed with the purpose of strengthening the immune system of the children in their fight against lead pollution.
“When I grow up I would like to be a football player. I enjoy physical exercise; it will help me to be a good football player one day. I love to watch football matches and one day I would like to play as well as the guys that I see on TV playing in the World Cup” says Cerkin, a nine years old child who, as many other boys of his age, dreams of being healthy and becoming a footballer.
Obviously these are only temporary measures aiming at alleviating the difficult living conditions of the camp and at addressing the immediate health and learning needs of Osterode’s children. However UNICEF remains strongly committed to support the relocation of the Roma community to a safer and healthier living environment and, at the same time, to continue helping children such as Cerkin and Aferdita to gain those skills that will help them to break the cycle of poverty and to build a better future for themselves, their families and their community at large.