Empowering Marginalized Communities in Albania

Roma in Albania
Roma Symbol Installation by a Roma Artist in Albania. Photo credit: Roland Tasho

With the right vocational training, Hatixhe Sula has become a tailor. Now, she can help to support her family. Not long ago, as a member of the excluded Roma community in Albania, she may not have come across this opportunity. An outreach campaign made her aware of it. Assistance in registering with the Tirana municipality ensured that Hatixhe was eligible to enroll at the centre and receive several other forms of social assistance.

“This is of great benefit to my family and many other community members,” Hatixhe says.Roma in Albania suffer extreme marginalization, with 80 per cent of them living below the poverty line. More than half of those under age 15 are illiterate. Life expectancy lags behind the national average by 10 years.While Albania as a middle-income country is making strides towards achieving the MDGs, improving the well-being of the Roma is key for increased progress.

Many factors reinforce a cycle of deprivation where Roma are shut off from the labour market, political participation and public services, including health care and education. A  UNDP intervention implemented in cooperation with UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF and UNV is working to tackle these barriers on multiple fronts in four of Albania’s 12 regions, feeding directly into the Government’s National Action Plan for the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2010-2015.

Bardha, a member of the Egyptian Community in Elbasan is one of the programme beneficiaries: She says: “I was shy, hopeless, and doubtful about any change in my life”. Encouraged by other vocational training courses & through the technical, financial support  from the project team, I commenced & completed a tailor course for 5 months. By attending the tailor course I  started connecting and interacting with different people, and learn more about the reality and possibilities out there.Now I run my own business, a simple tailoring shop where I sew and sell cloths.  Although a modest investment, I am able to bring income to my family, something I feel happy and proud of”.

Highlights

  • 80 per cent of Roma in Albania live below the poverty line
  • 20 development projects prioritized by Roma communities were completed
  • 1,600 people completed civil registration formalities
  • 400 children were registered at birth
  • A web-based monitoring system established tracks achievements under the National Action Plan.

One component of the programme brought together local governments in Durres, Elbasan, Fier and Tirana with members of Roma communities to identify and plan local infrastructure projects. Community-based organizations formed so that Roma could gain a sense of political voice and advocate priorities that could improve their lives. A co-financing scheme, with the programme providing 80 per cent of the costs and local governments 20 per cent, gave communities incentives to pursue agreed projects while instilling a sense of their own investment.

By 2012, 20 development projects prioritized by Roma communities were completed in cooperation with local government. New kindergartens, for example, now provide a fresh generation of Roma with a stronger basis for a quality education. Community centers offer sports and social activities, fostering social integration. All facilities have now been handed over to local authorities, with the stipulation that Roma remain employed in operating them.The programme supported new community services, including a special centre in Tirana that protects almost 1,000 Roma children from neglect and violence, and another that each year assists over 600 children living on the streets. In four regions, early childhood development facilities offer pre-school education along with parent counseling and health check-ups.

Better connections between the Roma and a variety of public services have come about through teaching young Roma men and women to liaise between their communities and service providers. Through campaigns and presentations in schools, they have helped to increase understanding of health and education issues and options. Some have learned community policing tactics, including reporting cases of violence against women.

The staff of the centre has also been part of helping many Roma who lack basic identity documents to obtain them. The programme complemented these efforts by providing legal assistance, resulting in nearly 1,600 people completing civil registration formalities as well as over 400 children being registered at birth.

Support for sustaining all of these activities comes from the Ministry of Labor’s recently debuted web-based monitoring system. It tracks achievements under the National Action Plan, drawing on inputs from local governments and Roma focal points in line ministries. For the first time, the Government can see on a national scale where progress may lag, either in particular areas of the country or on specific development issues. Training provided by the UN programme built the capacities of 80 central and local officials to manage the data effectively. A further initiative entailed mapping Roma neighborhoods across Albania. This has resulted in data profiles of 108 Roma communities, including the number of people receiving social assistance, the number of children in and out of school, and the availability of pre-schools.

Programme activities have expanded from four to seven regions, ensuring that a growing number of Roma will be able to seek jobs and services and have a voice in ensuring their inclusion.