In southern Kosovo, the town of Prizren is running an information campaign to raise awareness among Roma of their rights. As part of this initiative, a new municipal working group is willing to test uncharted waters.
Osman Osmani is annoyed. Parents have just told him that a teacher chided their son for asking too many questions during class. ‘Teachers need patience,’ he says angrily. ‘Children learn by being curious. Yet here, teachers want classes to be quiet. What has that got to do with education?’
In spite of this, Osman Osmani actually has quite a lot to be happy about: it’s partly thanks to him that so many children in this town go to school. Osmani presides over the Roma organisation Nevo Koncepti, which aims to improve the living conditions of Roma families in Prizren, a town in the south of Kosovo. Education is the main focus of Osmani and his team’s work and they do everything in their power to ensure that as many children from Roma families as possible can go to school. He is therefore particularly annoyed when he hears about teachers that apparently lack commitment to their jobs.
Many people from the Roma community are unaware of their rights
Osman Osmani’s biggest problem, however, is not unmotivated teachers, but parents who decide not to send their children to school. Returnee families in particular, of which there are many in Prizren, often do not register their children at school.
In many cases, missing documents are the problem. People lose their school reports from the time they spent in Germany or cannot afford to have the documents translated. There is, however, a law that entitles children to a place at the nearest school. Parents can hand in missing documents for registration later, or schools may assign children to a class based on statements by their parents and without proper documentation. Yet, only very few in Prizren know about this law.
A new working group helps spread the word
‘People from the Roma community, in particular, are totally unaware of their social rights,’ says Blerina Bytyqi, a social worker with Nevo Koncepti. ‘The state offers the assistance and support that people do not know they are entitled to.’ A simplified registration procedure at school is just one example.
Nevo Koncepti wants to change this. Prizren’s municipal council, in co-operation with the GIZ regional project Social Rights for Vulnerable Groups, set up an awareness raising working group. In workshops, Prizren social workers now teach members of the Roma community about their social rights. At the same time, they work to improve the re-integration of returnees into society – for example by organising joint excursions of Roma and non-Roma children from Prizren.
Radio as a tool for education
Transmissions by Radio Romano Avazo, the local Roma radio station, are particularly popular. On air, Blerina Bytyqi and the other members of the working group talk about the rights people have, for example entitlements to benefits, healthcare or education, and tell people how they can access these services. The radio shows are broadcast in Albanian and Romani and are also available online as podcasts.
‘It’s exactly the kind of radio programme we need’
Nexhip Menekshe, the station’s director and a passionate activist, is very happy about the working group’s being involved. For many years, he has believed in culture as a tool to talk about the discrimination Roma people face, and has organised theatre evenings and short film festivals to deal with the issue. ‘Creating a radio programme that encourages people from the local community to stand up for their rights is exactly what we want to do.’
Osman Osmani is also a fan of these radio programmes, not least because education is a frequent topic of discussion. ‘The programme allows us to reach a large number of parents. We can persuade them to take their children’s school education seriously and dispel their fears of approaching the authorities.’ Providing this information, he believes, is worth much more than any financial support he could offer. ‘The most important things we can offer people are knowledge and education. They really are key to effecting change.’
Text: FLMH | Photos: ©WOLFGANG MÜLLER