Sustaining Change for Roma Education in Montenegro

The Roma Education Fund was selected by the Delegation of the European Union to Montenegro as a major partner to Help e.V (Hilfe zur Selbsthilfe e.V) in implementing an IPA-funded project “Promotion and Protection of Human Rights of Roma, Egyptians and Other Vulnerable Groups.” The project will run for 18 months in the municipalities of Berana, Niksic and Podgorica. Other partners under this project include the Montenegrin Ministry for Human and Minority rights, the Montenegrin Red Cross (MRC), the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM) and the three respective Montenegrin municipalities.

This IPA intervention introduces educational measures to over 1,200 preschool, primary and secondary school and university students in the targeted regions. It also includes a component addressing Roma health, whereby Roma and Egyptian health mediators in Berane and Niksic will be supported in their efforts to strengthen health awareness among the Roma community. In addition, at least 100 Roma and Egyptians are to receive direct support in a package including job search advice, paid internships, vocational training and income generation grants. In parallel, 60 employers from the region will undergo motivation and anti-discrimination training. Roma and Egyptian employment specialists will assist the state of Montenegro in the provision of these activities.

At the launch on February 15 in Podgorica, Minister for Human and Minority Rights of Montenegro Mehmed Zenka was joined in his remarks by representatives from the Ministry of Labor and Social Care, Ministry of Education, Ministry for Health, as well as national agencies for anti-trafficking, employment and child and social protection. Local government representatives, teaching professionals and NGOs from Berane, Niksic and Podgorica also attended as part of this coalition to bring about sustainable change for disadvantaged children and youth.  

This European funding mechanism incorporates social inclusion at its core and envisages assistance to state and local institutions for the prevention of child begging, anti-discrimination measures, social housing and local action planning in social inclusion. For instance, 10 Roma and Egyptian civil society organizations will be awarded sub-grants to work on raising awareness on political and minority presentation, domestic violence and early marriages, women and youth empowerment and music education for children.

Background

The majority of Roma and Egyptians in Montenegro live in segregated settlements in the cities of Podgorica (47%), Berane (37%) and Niksic (16%). Social vulnerability among Roma and Egyptians in Montenegro is caused by a number of factors such as the lack of elementary education, long-term unemployment, weak labor skills, etc. Deeply rooted prejudices against Roma, compounded by discriminatory attitudes of employers, colleagues and clients, influence the quality of their lives as well as discourage their motivation to search for jobs. Social and cultural factors like poverty, unhygienic living environment, early marriages and little family planning skills situate Roma and Egyptians on the margins of society. Such characteristics dissuade Roma and Egyptian communities from using their civil rights or fulfilling their duties as citizens.

The state of Montenegro has invested considerable effort in facilitating Roma and Egyptian children’s access to education. However, many children of school-age do not attend school regularly or drop out due to insufficient command of Montenegrin language and an insufficient level of enrollment in preschool education. Moreover, segregated classes discourage them from further education, and financial constraints or illiterate parents are unable to support the children. Breaking free of poverty is exceedingly difficult: even those who earn a living from crafts, services or salvage are unregistered and work illegally. The lack of access to primary healthcare contributes to premature death, high-risk birth deliveries and shortens their life expectancy well below the national average. Consequently, many Roma and Egyptians are entitled to social care benefits; however, they are usually unregistered with the state and thus disqualified: for example, only 28.6% Roma and Egyptian households receive allowance from the funds intended for family social security benefits.

In step with its commitment to EU integration and the accession process, the Montenegrin government has made significant efforts for the social inclusion of Roma and Egyptians and other vulnerable groups. For example, the recruitment of Roma and Egyptian associates for social inclusion in the state system marked the introduction of a systematic approach in ensuring equity in employment, education, health and social inclusion. This new project seeks to sustain changes at Konik Camp as well as replicate good practices and favorable result in Niksic and Berane. 

REF in Montenegro

REF has been supporting Roma education projects in Montenegro for over a decade, and it opened a representative office in 2014 in order to scale up its ability to access funding and implement projects in the country. For instance, from September 2014 to July 2016, REF Montenegro joined a coalition to implement “Support to the integration and voluntary return of I/DPs and residents of Konik Camp – Phase II,” together with the Red Cross of Montenegro, Help e.V, Danish Refugee Council, Legal Center and Juventas. The project was implemented with the financial support of Montenegro government and European funds. REF’s role was to coordinate and implement activities related to quality education and desegregation, dropout prevention and return to school program, early childhood education and women and youth empowering literacy program.

Seven primary schools in Podgorica and one kindergarten were included in the scope of this project, and during its implementation REF Montenegro assisted 226 Roma and Egyptian pupils to attend integrated schools in 2015-16. The quality of preschool education of Roma children in targeted communities was also increased. This project culminated in the closing of the segregated branch school in Konik Camp after 17 years of operation in June 2016.

A complex package of REF-supported interventions led to this important milestone for children living within Konik Camp. A series of accredited trainings allowed primary school and kindergarten teachers to improve their professional capacities for working with vulnerable children, while participating partners on the school management boards, mentored by REF experts, launched a system of measures as dropout prevention program tailored to Roma pupil’s specific problems and needs. Roma parents also played a key role in these achievements: they received regular advice and tips on how to better assist their children and take more active roles in their education. Roma families, particularly female caregivers, were empowered to create home learning environments for their children and for themselves. They also were made aware of the importance of health standards for early childhood development, as well as general and reproductive health. A community Toy Library – where children and their caregivers can borrow quality toys – also contributed to enhancing the intellectual abilities and skills of Roma children, offered them alternative ECD program and contributed to the preparation of 110 children for preschool and primary school. Such accomplishments indicate that REF succeeded in improving the access of IDPs and Roma residents of the Konik Camp area to inclusive, equitable and quality education.

Help e.V and the Fund have worked in close cooperation over the years to improve educational opportunities for Roma and Egyptians living in Konik Camp in Podgorica. In the summer of 2016 the segregated school within the camp’s boundaries was closed and all Roma and Egyptian children from the camp began to attend desegregated education services in the city.

For more information, please contact: Natasha Kocic-Rakocevic, REF Country Manager for Serbia and Montenegro