Women in the neighborhood recognize the improvement also. “We used to walk on mud. Children were all covered in mud when they used to come back from school,” says Sanela Berisha, a mother of five children, recalling her twelve years in this neighborhood.
“Now there is light, there are sidewalks, and there is a pedestrian crossing where children can cross the road,” she adds.
The improvement in this Roma neighborhood was made possible through a community infrastructure project financed by the World Bank, based on a funding request submitted by the Roma community through local authorities. The grant for this community was around US$70,000. Three more such basic infrastructure improvements in different Roma neighborhoods across Kosovo are planned to be implemented by the end of 2013.
It is estimated that around 35,000 to 40,000 Roma people live in Kosovo. They are among the more vulnerable in the society, as most of them live in informal segregated settlements lacking adequate infrastructure, including roads, electricity, sewage disposal, clean water, garbage removal, and access to public transport.
The Community Development Fund, the non-governmental organization that is implementing the World Bank grant-financed Social Inclusion and Local Economic Development Project, sees these grants as helping these people live normal lives.
“These projects may look small, but they are very important for these communities. This and other similar projects we do make possible for these people to have a better life and feel more dignified,” says Nermin Mahmuti, CEO of the Community Development Fund.
She highlights that “before, the water supply was not enough for their household needs, and the possibility of getting infections was removed because the sewage was open.” She believes that improvements will have an important impact so these people are not forced to leave, and they can continue to live in this town.
The Government of Kosovo acknowledges that the unemployment rate among the Roma communities exceeds the rates among other communities. They are underrepresented in the workforce, be it the private or the public sector. Per capita income of these communities is much lower, and a large number of them live in extreme poverty.
Another part of the project provides grants to small- and medium-sized businesses. The grants allow business people to buy much-need equipment. The plan is to offer at least ten equipment grants to Roma entrepreneurs.
Burhan Hoti, 20 years old, is a welder, and also a Roma, from the town of Fushe-Kosove, on the road from the capital Pristina to the national airport. Based upon his application, he was granted around US$3,000 for tools – tools he needs to ply his trade – by another World Bank-financed project that focuses on support for young entrepreneurs.