CURRENT ACTIVITIES IN KOSOVO
In December 2003, VOR bought a used car for our Kosovo office. The car is being used for the transportation of Roma that are living in Serbian enclaves and the Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps. Most Roma in Kosovo are still like prisoners in the places they live. Almost five years later, one of the biggest concerns for Roma in Kosovo is still freedom of movement. The car will be used to transport the Roma with assistance from translator/advocates, to get their documents, to access medical facilities, for family reunifications, etc. VOR's Head of Mission in Kosovo is currently seeking funding from the Swiss Cooperation Office in Kosovo (funder of VOR's 2002 ESL projects in Kosovo) to expand our transportation project. (for a more detailed description, click here)
In the summer of 2003 we launched a new VOR economic development project for Romani women: "The Threads that Connect Us". This is a co operative between the women of two cultures, founded in VOR's focus of bring people together to work toward common goals. VOR supplies the materials and design concepts for decorator pillows to be embroidered by Romani women in Kosovo and sewn by women in California.
UPCOMING ACTIVITIES IN KOSOVO
Fact finding mission to kosovo: breaking five years of silance
After years of media amnesia, the bloody events of March 2004 abruptly
reminded the "international community" that violence never ceased
to gangrene Kosovo. Indeed, since 1999, under UN administration and occupying
NATO troops, minority populations continue to be systematically discriminated
and forced to flee from their traditional homes: and Kosovo is slowly
but surely becoming "ethnically pure"... In spite of promises
by western leaders to guarantee the future of Kosovo as a model of multiethnic
tolerance, democracy and respect for human rights reasons given to justify
their 78 days and nights of blanket bombing of Serbia and Montenegro,
as well as being enshrined in a UN resolution authorizing its ad hoc administration
and occupation by NATO troops , today Kosovo is far from being the "promised
land". To the contrary, after five years under UN/NATO authority,
unemployment has skyrocketed to 70%, crime is flourishing (arms, heroin,
people trafficking...) and the Serbian province, whose ³final status²
could be examined next year by the big powers, is being ³cleansed² of
its many ethnic minorities: two thirds of them (Serbs, Roma, Muslim Slavs,
Croats, Turks...) have been forced to flee and thousands have been assassinated
or have gone missing at the hands of extremist elements of the Albanian
community. About 150 Orthodox churches and monasteries of which some
date back several centuries have been destroyed. Those tens of thousands
of non-Albanians who have remained in Kosovo have been forced to withdraw
to NATO "protected" enclaves where their freedom of movement
is severely limited. In order to fully understand and report back on the
plight of these forgotten populations and as an expression of our solidarity,
the Brussels based Comité de surveillance OTAN (CSO, NATO Monitoring Committee),
with the support of concerned organizations from various countries , is
presently setting up a Citizens' Fact Finding Mission to Kosovo scheduled
for August 2004. We plan to visit several enclaves and to meet with local
representatives and international officials. A visit is also planned to
a refugee centre, probably in Serbia. The Mission will travel around the
15th of August and will last about 8-10 days. Where possible, we shall
rely on local accommodation and travel with our own cars. If necessary,
we shall hire local means of transportation. As participants will be coming
from different countries, we shall be meeting for a pre-trip briefing
in a city in the region, probably Belgrade, the day before setting off
together for Kosovo. Interested? Need more information?
Albanian Language Classes:
VOR's Head of Mission in Kosovo is hoping to launch a new project this spring, to teach the Albanian language to Roma. In Kosovo, for Roma and other minorities, it is very hard to integrate without knowledge of the Albanian language, which is the majority language of this region and of the transitional government. Even today, minorities have to be very careful which language they are speaking in public places in Kosovo.
Small Business Projects:
VOR's Head of Mission in Kosovo is developing ongoing projects for individuals/small businesses. These small-scale projects include Romani tailors, plumbers, woodcutters (lumber jacks), a glass cutting shop, a black smith/locksmith shop etc... Micro-economic subsidies will mean that Roma can work in their own, relatively safe environment (IDP camps or Serbian enclaves), without being exposed to the dangers that are prevalent in the larger cities throughout Kosovo.
VOR's Head of Mission in Kosovo has also initiated a pilot project for the sponsorship of individual Romani children in their scholastic endeavors. This is another area where Roma are having a hard time integrating into the predominantly Albanian society or, in some cases, the subculture of Serbian society within the enclaves where they are living. A big disadvantage for Romani students is that they do not attend school in their mother language; rather in Albanian or Serbian. Neither the UN transitional government nor the local governments in Kosovo are providing schools or even classes in the Romani language. The VOR project identifies individual Romani students who are doing well, and tries to match them with a sponsor abroad, either in Europe or the US, to assist them in their academic life and their efforts to integrate into Kosovo society.
Romani Internet Caféeacute; / Learning Center:
Voice of Roma is seeking funding to develop an Internet center serving displaced Roma in enclaves within 25 kilometers of Pristina, Kosovo. This project will provide ICT (Information & Communication Technologies) access and skills to Romani youth, who have no reliable/affordable Internet access and cannot travel safely due to harassment and violence from non-Roma. Funds will be used for equipment, maintenance costs, training and administrative expenses. The center will be staffed by Kosovo Roma, and offer technical training programs and networking with worldwide Romani organizations. VOR plans to develop this project into an ongoing Internet Caféeacute; and ICT learning center for Romani youth.
Sponsorship of Young Students:
July Training in Kosovo:
VOR is proposing two training programs within a ten day period, from July 12 - 24, 2004.
Program A will teach basic leadership, communication, community organizing, facilitation, negotiation and conflict resolution skills to a group of 8 - 12 Romani men and women in the town of Preoce, near Pristina, Kosovo. The goal of this training will be for participants to develop skill-levels that will improve their ability to design, write, submit proposals, implement projects, and administrate programs for Roma in Kosovo.
Program B will train Romani women, ideally spanning age groups from young adults to middle-aged women in a comfortable, safe, culturally appropriate and sensitive program to increase assertiveness, independence, and self-confidence amongst participants.
While Romani women all over Europe are in need of these kinds of training programs, it is particularly true in Kosovo, where the stricter Muslim attitudes of the majority Albanian population in terms of women's role in the family and community has had a profound effect on the Roma there. This, in combination with the traumas of the 1999 bombing and the ethnic cleansing of the Roma that followed, and five years of ongoing uncertainty, lack of freedom of movement, separation between families both within and outside of Kosovo, has lead to a situation wherein Romani women of Kosovo are in greater need than any other group of support services that will improve their self esteem and independence and their ability to function as leaders in their communities.
CURRENT ACTIVITIES IN EUROPE
*Support for refugees fighting deportation:
Thousands of Roma fled to Western Europe in the aftermath of the US/NATO bombing in 1999. With very few exceptions, the governments of countries such as Germany, France, Belgium, Holland and Italy have refused to grant permanent refugee status or political asylum to the Roma from Kosovo. Most of these Roma have been living under threat of deportation for five years, with few if any rights and total uncertainty about their future. In the past two years, the governments of many EU countries have begun threatening and in some cases implementing forced repatriations of Roma to Kosovo. The Roma who are threatened with deportation for the most part have no homes to go back to, no possibilities for employment or for their children to attend schools, and often have no family members living in Kosovo. VOR is now helping some of these Roma to legally defend themselves against expulsions. We have been providing immigration lawyers with evidentiary packets that include VOR's book published in 2002, "The Current Plight of the Kosovo Roma", with statistics and analysis of the situation for Roma in Kosovo in the aftermath of the bombing, videotapes and photographs of destroyed Romani homes and neighborhoods, and reports/articles by the UN Ombudsperson Institution n Kosovo, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the European Roma Rights Center, etc. http://errc.org
*Advocacy/educational work in North America:
VOR president, Sani Rifati, is increasingly recognized as an expert and invited to speak at symposia, conferences and for high school, college, and university classes about the situation of Roma in Kosovo. He has met with and continues to be in contact with representatives of the Balkan desk and refugee concerns for the U.S. State Department and with staff to the Helsinki Committee and the Center for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Sani has also served as an expert witness on several occasions to help Roma from Eastern Europe in their political asylum cases.
The concept for the "Decade of Roma Inclusion", was launched last year at a conference sponsored by the World Bank and the Open Society Institute and hosted by the Hungarian Government.
"The Decade of Roma Inclusion is a direct outcome of the regional conference: Roma in an Expanding Europe: Challenges for the Future which was held in Budapest from June 29-July 1 2003. At the conference, government leaders, led by the Hungarian Prime Minister, committed to launching a Decade of Roma Inclusion to run from 2005 to 2015. During this Decade, within the broader context of inclusive national economic and social policies, countries will design and implement policies promoting Roma inclusion to break the vicious cycle of poverty and exclusion. The objective of the Decade is to accelerate progress in improving the economic status and social inclusion of Roma by creating an action framework comprising three activities:
Six months later, the planning phase for the "Decade of Roma Inclusion" has begun, with government policy makers from each of the eight different Central-Eastern European countries that signed on last year, including Serbia and Macedonia, working on policies and programs that will be implemented over a ten year period, including priority areas of focus during the Decade.
Unfortunately, from the beginning, the Roma of Kosovo have been "out of the loop" on the "Decade of Roma Inclusion", because both UNMIK and the regional Albanian government of Kosovo have not indicated a willingness or interest in cooperating with the Serbian government; (Kosovo is still part of Serbia).
Voice of Roma is working to represent the Roma of Kosovo, both those in Kosovo and those in the Diaspora, and to advocate for their inclusion and to coordinate lobbying efforts to convince the Kosovo government(s) (UNMIK and the local Albanian dominated government) to get involved - before it is too late. The next steering committee meeting for the Decade planning is to take place in Budapest in April. VOR hopes to have Marie Pierre LaHaye, former founding VOR board member, currently launching a Voice of Roma office in Belgium, attend this meeting and begin the work of coordinating efforts on behalf of the Roma of Kosovo.
"The Threads That Connect Us"
We provided embroidery thread and material for the backing to a group of women in the Serbian enclave of Preoce, near Pristina and another group of women in an IDP camp in Plementina. These women used their artistic needle working skills to make the pillow tops. The first 20 will be shipped to California in March.
A group of four CA Bay Area volunteer women with professional sewing experience will create decorator pillows out of these to be sold for the first time at upcoming VOR events (Int'l Roma Day and 8th Annual California Herdeljezi Festival). The money from the sale of the pillows will go back to the women in Kosovo who did the embroidery, along with an additional contribution from VOR for more materials to make more.
Eventually we hope to spread this project to other Romani women from Kosovo living as refugees in other parts of Europe - so that the project develops into a multi international cottage industry women's project that is literally also a project connecting women with one another - especially Romani women of Kosovo who are living in this nightmare of disconnection -Diaspora - as displaced people within Kosovo and as refugees outside of
The project in some ways mirrors the weaving work of Ghandi, who believed that an answer to India's economic woes was cottage industry, especially spinning and the weaving of cloth, connecting people through the handwork and the meditation to one another and thus helping establish a more peaceful and prosperous world.
Language is a most valuable thing of a nation. However, in multiethnic areas, people should not only speak the language of their nation but also that of the majority population which may or may not be the official language of the country. The past five years have proven that without knowledge of Albanian language, minorities of Kosovo cannot find their way toward integration in post-conflict Kosovar society. Before the 1999 Kosovo conflict, the official language in Kosovo was Serbian; it wasn't necessary for ethnic non-Albanians to communicate in Albanian language. Therefore many, if not most, ethnic minorities are ill-equip to progress forward if only because they cannot ask for directions in the dominant language.
Members of the Kosovar Romani community speak at least two languages, Romani and either Serbian or Albanian; many Roma speak all three languages. Multilingualism is not new to the Romani community, Roma tend to know the dominant language of the ethnic majority around them. Therefore Roma who live amongst Albanians know Albanian and, if older, Serbian whereas Roma who settled in Serbian enclaves don't know Albanian at all. This is particularly true of Roma residing in Kosovo Polje (approximately 30%) and the surrounding villages: Brejse, Ugljare and Kuzmin where are approximately settled about 200 Roma.
This linguistic divide is particularly true amongst Romani youth of the above mentioned places because isolated in Serbian enclaves since 1999, which adds to their lack of access: to higher education, employment and general information of, and engagement with, larger society. Roma youth, who should be progressing forward as young adults and starting their own lives, become stagnant in a non-functioning, and non-communicating, parallel society.
The bi-national NGO Voice of Roma (UNMIK Registration No. 5300362-1, (with the office in Laplje Selo)) recognizes the problem of language, or more accurately - lack of language, and has chosen to react with tangible steps: An Albanian Language Training Course to begin, including preparations, on 1 February 2004.
The goal of this Albanian language training is to help pave the way towards social and economic integration of the Roma population in Central Kosovo. Voice of Roma will begin by targeting Roma from: villages Brejse, Ugljare, Kuzmin and the city of Kosovo Polje. If the project proves successful, we expect to expand this training to other communities using graduates from the first "round" as teaching assistants.
This training provides a tangible path towards the larger goals of socio-economic integration. By understanding and speaking Albanian, Roma will understand the radio and television, they will be able to read and respond to Albanian newspapers and, most importantly, they will begin to feel a part of a larger society. This seemingly "soft" goal of "feeling more secure" is extremely important and cannot be overstated since many Roma are still traumatized as a consequence of the conflict, and their, often well grounded, fear has left them isolated. Voice of Roma recognizes this isolation and has designed the language classes to also serve as a cultural bridge. The Albanian Language training will utilize a "Paulo Fiere-style" of teaching: focusing on real and tangible language goals that incorporate the needs of the community i.e.: how to read the employment section of a newspaper, how to draft a letter-to-the-editor, how to apply for a birth certificate. Thus learning this "new" language will be seen as a tool for living, not "giving up" one's "own" language.
Voice of Roma is requesting financial support to employ three Albanian language teachers and a project coordinator. The teachers will be hired on a four (4) month, renewable contract. Their responsibilities will be to teach written and spoken Albanian to one group of Roma students for three months. The first two weeks of their employment will be preparatory: they will collaborate with the program coordinator in creating, a three months course. The last two weeks of their employment will be assessment and review of the students' achievement. There should also be funding for a project coordinator. There will also need to be a project coordinator who will supervise the creation curriculum, with the consolation of the teachers, locate the most qualified teachers and materials and coordinate the recruitment and retention of the students. The project coordinator will also be responsible for drafting a midterm and final report of the project's success. This report will be submitted to Voice of Roma. The project coordinator will be hired on a six month renewable contract.
Classes will be held every business-day for two (2) hours a day in three locales: Bresje and Ugljare as one (they are in close proximity to one another) Kuzmin and Kosovo Polje. Each class will have 12 students, assuring an appropriate teacher-student ration. There is a very real fear of retaliation from the Serbian majority therefore classes will take place in private residences with secrecy and security assured.
The goal of the class is to reach Roma who have no prior knowledge of spoken or written Albanian. It will be an intensive, beginning course. A diagnostic will be given prior to enrollment in the class the same diagnostic will be given one month into the course to track progress. There will be a final exam. The class will mix traditional language techniques (alphabet, pronunciation, grammar) with more innovative techniques such as movies, music and role play. There will be at least three field trips to Albanian communities (including the library in Pristina) to "bring the language to life" for the students.
Based on the success of the first cycle of classes we will assess the possibility of expanding our program to other locations in Central Kosovo. If we decide that is feesable, we will then hire one Rom(a) per location as a "teaching assistant" to help with the expansion of classes thereby training a new generation of Albanian speaking Roma language instructors.
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