Life-Changing Grants for Kosovo Roma
September 13, 2013
A Roma neighborhood in the town of Gracanica in central Kosovo can now use an improved road, get clean and constant water when they turn on the tap, and can see better at night. And a new sewer system recently built cuts down on water-borne disease and dirt. All these new investments in the neighborhood allow the 750 people who live there to have a safer, more comfortable life.
One of the inhabitants, Ismet Selimovic, says he is very happy that his neighborhood got rid of water pipe breaks, waste water floods, and a dark and garbage-filled road this year.
“We are very satisfied. Our old water supply network was replaced. It was very bad. Pipes used to break every winter. They now put in new pipes, going to every home,” says Selimovic. “The sewage was also bad. We used to get waste water when it rained. Now it functions very well, there is no more waste water going around.”
He is also pleased the road going through the neighborhood is now paved, since before there was lot of dirt and no place for children to walk around. In addition, he appreciates the street lights, which have made it possible for “kids now to go to school normally”. He explains children used to be scared before, as they would come back from school in the evening and there were stray dogs and they risked harassment from other kids.
We used to walk on mud. Now there is light, there are sidewalks, and there is a pedestrian crossing where children can cross the road.
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.
I plan to expand my business and secure for myself a future with this work and these tools, because employment is difficult for the Roma community.
“When I heard that these World Bank Tools Grants were being disbursed, I applied. I was accepted and my dream came true,” says Burhan Hoti.
“Before I used to do almost nothing, but when I got the tools, I told friends about it, and through word-of-mouth people started coming and bringing stuff to get fixed,” he explains. He says he does not earn a lot with his welding business, but what he earns during the day he spends in the evening with his family for food and clothes. He is optimistic about the future.
“I think this will create more work, more money, so I can support my family better,” he says.
Another young Roma from the same neighborhood applied for and received car repair tools as a grant from the same project.
“I plan to expand my business and secure for myself a future with this work and these tools, because employment is difficult for the Roma community,” says Resul Makreshi, while repairing a car in front of his house.
In a country where close to 30 percent of the adult population lives in poverty, and where the unemployment rate is 35 percent, it may take more than these basic infrastructure and equipment grants for the situation to improve, but for the most vulnerable these grants are life changers.