Voices from Eurasia

Celebrating Roma and Egyptians in Albania


Almost every morning as I drive to work, I see a little beautiful Roma girl begging in the street, sitting in the same corner.

Sometimes I stop to talk to her. Her name is Violeta and she thinks she is nine years old. She’s never gone to school but “would love to someday.

She seems to envy my son, who is the same age, and nicely dressed as heads to school.

She is the oldest of the kids in her family, her parents are divorced, and her mother cleans the street so she can provide food for her children.

My son said to me one day: “Too bad her parents did not study hard, get a good education and a good job to provide for their children.”  

My son is right in a way, but he is too young to understand the many challenges faced by this Roma girl, her parents, and many in Roma communities.

He doesn’t yet understand the meaning of stigma, or why some people have fewer opportunities to find jobs or get an education.


Including Roma and Egyptians in Albanian society

Roma rights are human rights. Social exclusion of Albania’s estimated 280,000;Roma and Egyptians must end. And new strategies are not required - they are good enough - action is what is needed.

UNDP in Albania has a programme to support Roma, implementing a major European Union (EU) flagship programme in three regions of the country as well as a programme funded by the Japanese Trust Fund in three other regions.

As the country heads to EU candidacy, UNDP promotes social inclusion of Roma and Egyptian communities in six regions.

This includes:

- Encouraging participation in decisions that affect their lives (such as planning for new infrastructure)

- Strengthening capacities of Roma and Egyptian civil society organizations

- Promoting employability and entrepreneurship

- Assisting with implementation and monitoring of the National Decade for Roma Inclusion Action Plan Promoting respect for human rights and cultural diversity

The programmes employ Roma colleagues who are smart, hardworking and committed to make a difference in their communities.


International Roma Day

We turned International Roma Day into a whole week long of activities to promote Roma values:

1. A photo exhibit portrayed Roma culture.

2. Screening of documentaries highlighted Roma spirit and values.

3. Young Roma people and University of Arts students staged Les Miserables.

4. An intercultural artisans fair brought together Roma artists across the country. An extensive collection of crafts and handmade products attracted many visitors.

“This is such an excellent opportunity for me to be here display my works. Thanks to this fair, many people ordered a number of products. This will generate some income for me and my family, who face so many difficulties. And maybe will help me boost production. I was touched by the respect people showed towards my work and I am full of hope.” A Roma craftsman

5. A national seminar introduced a web-based system for monitoring and reporting on the national action plan in support of Roma decade.

The aim is to collect data on Roma population from local units, standardize procedures for data collection, generate reports, and develop policies and strategies based on evidence.

6. A needs assessment study on Roma and Egyptians was also presented, and indicates that both Roma and Egyptian communities are among the poorest communities in Albania.

Data shows that over 38 percent of Roma and 45 percent of Egyptian families live in old decrepit dwellings, and a further 21 percent of Roma families live in shacks.

Many of these families do not have access to clean drinking water, or wastewater services.

The poor housing conditions and inadequate infrastructure further isolates them from the rest of society, and has an adverse effect on their children’s education. Presently 40.3 percent of Roma and 12.7 percent of Egyptians over eight years of age are illiterate.

7. New UNDP Goodwill Ambassadors and Role Models were announced at a festive event - the start of their campaign to promote respect for Roma values, cultural diversity and greater inclusion.

Eight Goodwill Ambassadors are prominent personalities from the world of art, culture, literature, academia and media.

The role models - who are successful members of the community - are helping to inspire us all, and to break harmful stereotypes.

“I’m a Roma, a proud one. I have had to fight stigma against myself and my friends, I have had to work hard, study hard to show everyone that we can be equal members of society if not better.” Xhesika Korra, Roma role model

“This community needs all our support, needs all our attention, and needs all our encouragement. It’s a community that faces many challenges, but bear excellent values which should be promoted. I am honored to have been given the opportunity to contribute to such a great cause. There will be no integration of Albania without the social inclusion of this community.” Maestro Xhani Ciko, Director of the Albanian Opera House, and Roma Goodwill Ambassador

After our week long of events, I hope that more partners will join UNDP to support Roma and Egyptian communities and maybe Violeta, the little beautiful Roma girl can one day go to school, dress nicely and be a role model herself.

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