The Prešov Region (PR) is located in the east of Slovakia and is the most populous region in the country. Roma communities have a high representation in the structure of the population. According to statistical data, Roma people make up approximately 15% of the total population of PR. The 2019 Atlas of Roma Communities states that there are approximately 127,000 Roma residents in the PR territory. So it is no surprise that the region pays special attention to supporting the Roma population and reducing the social exclusion of these marginalized communities.
Roma communities are dealt with at the local level by various non-profit and other organizations whose agenda ranges from youth support and education to crime prevention and assistance for the unemployed. The merit of their work is indisputable. What the organizations lack, however, is systematic cooperation with the leadership of the self-governing region and among themselves.
“About us without us” as a common practice
The problem with the intervention of the regions, or the state, in the field of development of socially excluded communities is that they don’t really listen to the needs of the people. Then communities are left with the feeling that their situation is being solved from above and without their direct participation. This is of course contrary to the principles of civil society, which should always strive to involve individuals in the development and resolution of issues that directly affect them. The Prešov Region now provides an opportunity for participation and building of a long-term relationship between the regional government and its key actors in the field of supporting marginalized Roma communities.
By joint efforts towards a common goal
The first step was to start a dialogue between the organizations and the region. They needed to define the current problems, needs, and trends in integrating Roma and resolving injustice and stereotypes against them by the majority society. Involving key actors in the creation of action plans for the work with socially excluded communities was the central purpose of the first participatory meeting “Quo vadis Romale”, which took place in June in the city of Prešov.
As professional guarantors, we had an opportunity to participate in this event, supported by the Slovak national project Support of partnership and dialogue in the area of participatory public policy making II. under the leadership of the Office of the Government Plenipotentiary for the Development of Civil Society. Together with the participation coordinators from PR, we designed a process through which almost 30 representatives of organizations working with the Roma community had an opportunity to share their perspective on the agenda and to express their needs. The regional government will use the data obtained during the meeting to set up future cooperation between organizations and ensure the reduction of barriers for further development of the agenda.
One swallow does not make a summer
There was a great deal of agreement among the participants on how the issue of Roma integration should move forward. The biggest priority is the adoption of systemic measures ensuring long-term financial support from the state, which logically follows from existing activities of organizations and their projects. At this moment, organizations are mainly dealing with insufficient continuity of projects and scarcity of financial subsidies linked to them. Yet, it’s a key condition for success. The regional government will thus focus mainly on an appropriate implementation of an integrated territorial strategy. This way they will ensure long-term financial support within the framework of key projects.
We think we can say that most of the participants took away not only an expanded contact list, but also a good feeling that the region they belong to is moving forward proactively and is injecting fresh blood into the veins of all those who dedicate their lives to helping others. No slacking off now! 🙂
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