Improving access to basic services among the Roma community in Kosovo (UNSCR 1244)

How community initiatives are helping children get an education.

Lisar Morina
Mirlinda (left) and her counsellor Miranda shown just outside the learning centre.
UNICEF Kosovo/2017/Morina
17 December 2017

It’s a chilly morning when 11-year-old Mirlinda wakes up in her family’s tiny apartment in Plemetina, Kosovo (UNSCR 1244). 

Its 9AM as she leaves home, and she’s happy because she is going to ‘The Centre’. 

Smoke rises high above from the funnels of the nearby power stations, she meanders the roads littered with plastic bags and empty bottles and enters the centre where she is greeted by her counsellor Miranda Fondaj. 

 “Just a few months ago, she was quiet and wasn’t eager to participate in our activities, but with patience, care and tutoring, she became a different person”, said Ms. Fondaj. “She is still young, but you can already see that she is becoming a leader among her peers - she shows self-initiative and feels an urge to help those around her.” 

The building for internally displaced people in Plemetina, Kosovo, where Mirlinda's family lives.
The building for internally displaced people in Plemetina, Kosovo, where Mirlinda's family lives.

The Community Center Mirlinda attends is managed by Balkan Sunflowers, a UNICEF supported non-governmental organization assisting children and families from minority communities who are often the most vulnerable and in need of basic social services. 

Mirlinda belongs to the Roma community. She is a lively and intelligent girl, but behind her smile are emotional scars from facing years of discrimination.

Access to basic services is limited among Roma communities in Kosovo (UNSCR 1244), mainly because of high unemployment, poverty and limited understanding of individual rights and entitlements.  

“Prior to the opening of the centre, I had no one to guide me where to go or whom to talk to when I’m sick,” said Mirlinda. 

The young girl explains that she was also hesitant to seek professional healthcare due to fears of facing discrimination, stigma or rejection because she is Roma. 

But Balkan Sunflower helps to address these issues. 

While at the community centre Mirlinda and other young people are educated on their rights and receive guidance on how to access and request community services. Young people also receive training on how to positively express their views and hold others accountable. The staff at the centre work with service providers as well, to help educate them on serving the Roma community.

Ms. Fondaj, explains that thanks to funding received from 7: The David Beckham UNICEF Fund, the centre has trained youth groups to do community advocacy. “The most pressing needs that the youth advocacy group identified was a lack of information on family planning, nutrition, personal hygiene, pregnancy and health, and a limited use of health services. So we set out to raise Roma peoples’ awareness on these topics.” 

Mirlinda is now an A student and her favourite subject is Biology. She said she wants to become a lawyer when she grows up, and believes that the centre will help her achieve this goal. 

Ms. Fondaj explains that through the community initiative, school enrolment rates have gone up among Roma children and youth in Plemetina. 

“This year, all 7 children who have graduated primary school in our community have enrolled in secondary education. This is a great success considering that access to education remains extremely low among most Roma,” she said.