Improved living conditions for Roma in Slovakia

Project completed
Two girls holding hands.
Switzerland is committed to ensuring better access to education, with priority given to integrating Roma children socially into national school systems. © DEZA DEZA

Integrating the Roma people into society presents a major challenge both to Slovakia and for the whole region. Currently, the Roma in Slovakia, who make up around 8.5% of the population in the eastern provinces of Kosice and Presov, are disadvantaged in comparison with the majority of the population. Typically, they live in badly constructed, dilapidated housing and rarely have access to education or healthcare services. The poor living conditions lead to long-term unemployment and high levels of poverty. An SDC project being conducted within the framework of the enlargement contribution is designed to improve their living standard.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Slovakia
Improving social security
Social services for specific target groups
01.05.2012 - 30.06.2017
CHF 1'410'000

Note: the texts under all the headings, with the exception of 'Results achieved', describe the situation before the start of the project.

The focal points of the SDC project Community on the way to prosperity are community centres which offer various services including courses for children, youth, and adults. Experts advise and coach them on everyday problems, from financial matters to their rights to healthcare.
Existing centres in seven municipalities are being rehabilitated and three new community centres are in the process of being set up.
 

The Community on the way to prosperity project pursues three specific goals:

  • Social and educational services
    Children of pre-school age can attend the kindergarten in the community centre in the morning, and in the afternoon teachers are available for assisting with homework and extra teaching. For Roma adults advisory services on financial matters and budget management are provided. Their rights are explained to them and they receive assistance in submitting requests for social services.
    In addition, a range of leisure activities are also available where young people have the opportunity to learn skills and develop ambitions by participating in courses on subjects such as theatre or music, as well as in art, literature and handicrafts.
    The experts work with young people to help them reflect on their attitudes to life.
    The experts also encourage and coach young individuals who wish to pursue an ambitious goal such as to study.
  • Enhancing their work skills and coaching in job seeking
    Basic reading and writing courses for illiterates, as well as courses to develop computer skills and vocational training in IT are intended to enhance opportunities for Roma people in the job market.
    At the same time, they receive coaching in seeking work.
    Microloans enable families to establish their own small company. Roma families are also encouraged to put aside savings for the future. As an incentive, their savings principle will be doubled after the first two years.
  • Raising awareness and improving cooperation with local authorities
    Methods to prevent the social exclusion of Roma are being tested with the municipalities with a high Roma population which are participating in the project, as well as with the districts of Košice and Prešov, and are also being approved for application across the country. In this context, the community centre directors and professional mentors and tutors are acting as contact persons and mediators between the Roma and non-Roma communities. They play a key role in implementing the project: specifically, they coach staff members with little experience (coaching, training of trainers) in the community centres, act as contact persons for the local authorities, and develop new social services.

Challenges

Language is a particular challenge. For Roma children, language is one of the greatest hurdles in public schools. They do not understand the Slovak language and the Slovakian children do not understand the language of the Roma. Collaboration with teaching staff is therefore essential.

Another challenge is the development of social services that meet the real needs of the Roma community. Considerable delays can occur before needs are identified and all stakeholders have agreed on a common objective and approach. Distrust has first to be overcome and trust gradually built up. It also takes time and persuasion to convince families of the gains to be made in planning their household budget and in setting aside savings. Before other families begin to save, it often takes a tangible example to be demonstrated where savings are indeed doubled after the first two years.

Expected outcomes of the project

Around 11,700 people in ten communities with Roma groups draw on the services provided by the specially trained social services advisers.

  • Partner alliances are forged between local authorities, public schools, the non-governmental organisations engaged and community centres.
  • Three new community centres are created, fitted out with facilities and used; the existing seven centres are expanded.
  • Around 2,000 families participate in the savings programme and draw on microloans to secure a regular income over the long-term.

The local community authorities involved have contractually agreed to provide certain services for the project, such as free waste removal and the provision of drinking and waste water infrastructure.