Helping a family is help for the future
Complicated administrative procedures and discrimination often stand in the way of Itaj-Redzepaj family
Novi Sad, Serbia – Twelve-year-old Selma and ten-year-old Enver Itaj could hardly wait for the start of the school year.
They still do not have all their notebooks and school supplies, but their textbooks and friends are waiting for them in school.
Their sister, two-year-old Selina, is about to start kindergarten, because another baby will soon join the family.
"School, textbooks, and kindergarten would all be just a pipe dream for us if we hadn't received the financial assistance," says their mom Djina Redzepaj.
The Itaj - Redzepaj family was displaced from Kosovo*. They live in a rented house in the Novi Sad settlement of Mali Beograd.
Djina is unemployed, while her husband Faruk makes enough money to cover the rent, bills and some food. And there are three, and soon four, children to feed. They need clothes, shoes, and an education.
Nobody wanted to help us, to show us. We didn't know where to look or who to ask. We would have been left without anything if we hadn’t met Radmila.
That is why every additional dinar means so much to them. Djina recalls all the obstacles and red tape they faced in their attempt to get the necessary documents.
"Nobody wanted to help us, to show us. We did not know what we needed to do to get the one-off financial assistance, social assistance or child allowance. We didn't know where to look or who to ask. We would have been left without anything if we hadn’t met Radmila. Without her, I wouldn’t have my ID card today," says Djina.
For the past 15 years Radmila Zecirovic, from the Roma Women Association Amarilis, has been helping Roma people in Novi Sad fulfil their rights.
She knows from experience that a large number of poor families do not receive financial assistance from the state, have no health insurance, and cannot access free transportation.
Most of them are not even informed about the possibilities available to them and that is the biggest problem, believes Radmila.
"They feel rejected. They don’t have support. Institutions are not interested," Radmila claims.
She also explains that lack of education and lack of knowledge about bureaucratic procedures also make it difficult for them to access financial benefits.
Complicated administrative procedures and discrimination also often stand in their way, Radmila says.
Radmila has helped many people, just like she’s helped Djina and Faruk, to obtain necessary documents – birth certificates, citizenship certificates, and place of residence certificates.
She has taught them how to fill out forms and applications, for themselves and their children, and how to write requests. Thanks to her persistence, they receive financial assistance every month.
"If we weren't getting this money, I doubt whether Selma and Enver would be enrolled in school. It's not much, when you have three children and a fourth on the way, but it does help. I'm satisfied and happy. The children listen to me and they are doing well in school. I want them to be healthy, and smarter than me and their dad – and not to get married too young. For now, they are on the right track", Djina says.
UNICEF supports BIBIJA, a Roma organisation, and through it a network of another 10 Roma organisations, to assist the most vulnerable Roma families with children in exercising their right to obtain financial benefits – social assistance, one-off financial assistance, child allowance and parental allowance.
Through workshops and education, Roma communities are informed about their rights and administrative procedures.
Depending on individual needs, members of Roma associations help them to obtain documents, fill in applications, and write complaints, contact government services, and document violations of rights and cases of discrimination.