Empowering Romania's Roma in Their Villages

September 18, 2012

World Bank Group

Daniel Kozak, Communications Officer in the World Bank's Romania office, offers this story.

Simona Persida Negru is washing clothes by hand at her Romanian village's water fountain. After she wrings them out, she will push the wet clothes home in her wheelbarrow. It's hard, but not as hard as carrying water in buckets from a stream up a muddy hill to her house.

"It used to take me three hours. I now get them all washed in thirty minutes and then I can go home and be with the kids," says 22 year-old Negru, a Roma mother of three. The water fountain was built after people in Valea Corbului banded together and asked their local municipality for support to install the pipe that directs clean water from a spring into a rough trough at the village crossroads.

The fountain is the heart of the community. One after the other, people of all ages and genders come on foot, by horse, bike or cart toting buckets, barrels, or plastic bottles to fill up or take a sip. Asking the authorities for a water pipe in a village where not a single house has running water or sewage might seem like a basic right. But it wasn't to the Roma who make up three quarters of this community and have spent decades living on the edges of mainstream society. "The problem is we are marginalized," says the Roma community's leader, Mircea Haica.

" The problem is we are marginalized "
Mircea Haica

Mircea Haica

Roma community's leader

The funds allowed Impreuna to fuel community initiative groups in about 100 of the poorest Roma communities throughout Romania. They were chosen based largely on findings from a World Bank report and poverty map of Romania. Ionela Mocanu is a teacher who was trained as a facilitator and works part time with Roma communities. Her job was to persuade residents of Valea Corbului to formulate their needs, and to get Roma leaders together with their local officials. After discussions with Mocanu and amongst themselves, villagers in Valea Corbului decided their first priority was having a water source other than the stream running through their village.

Still, it took prodding from Mocanu to get the water pipe installed—a project that cost around EUR 100. "She was all over the mayor's office to make them move. We had asked before, but we only got promises," said Haica, adding that Mocanu understands his community. Haica is hoping Mocanu will help him lobby authorities to extend the water pipe another hundred yards or so up the hill to the elementary school.

With Impreuna's support, Roma communities have lobbied and collaborated with their local authorities to build playgrounds, pave roads, renovate a medical clinic, even set up a goat farm. With limited resources, it is crucial for projects to be sustainable over the long term; that is why community interest and buy-in are important.

"We have succeeded somewhat," says Mocanu, aware there are still many things to be solved in Valea Corbului and other marginalized Roma communities in Eastern Europe

" We have succeeded somewhat. "
Ionela Mocanu

Ionela Mocanu


This community—like others—has many challenges. It has no clinic—the closest is two and a half hours away by horse cart. The young are moving out, migrating to cities, where they can find a job and make a living. Only seven of the 2,000 inhabitants in Valea Corbului have a regular job, working in construction for a private company. The rest survive on occasional day jobs, or by logging surrounding forests and selling the timber.

Mocanu has helped some community members get job training. A few now have diplomas as locksmiths, but none have yet been hired. And when Ms. Mocanu stops by the fountain, young men crowd around asking if she's heard of any work. As she talks with Haica, they brainstorm about whether she could collate a list of job openings and inform the community of them on her visits.

That's just the sort of the community initiative Impreuna set out to create.


Thirsty school children have to leave class to get a drink.

World Bank