During the past two years, the European Union has donated over €5.4 million in support of social inclusion measures in Serbia aimed at increasing both scope and quality of community-based social services for the vulnerable and other groups in need, including the Roma. In total, 28 projects have been successfully implemented by municipalities, centres for social work and NGOs in 76 towns and municipalities, bringing direct benefits to more than 10,000 people across the country.
In consequence, end users of the project are the citizens of Serbia – beneficiaries of the social protection system, members of the Roma national minority and other vulnerable groups.
INNOVATIVE SUPPORT CENTRES HELP THE WHOLE OF LOCAL COMMUNITY
What started off as a big, colourless construction site at the beginning of the project, turned into a holistic-rehabilitation centre called OSLONAC (Eng. Support) in Stara Pazova, a small town near Belgrade, welcoming everyone in need of assistance in the area of health, education, skills development and the strengthening of social inclusion. Seen as the community-based provider of social services, the Centre has been established, constructed and equipped thanks to joint “forces” of the local Municipality and the EU, as part of the project worth more than 200 thousand Euro.
Thanks to the project, the local community has obtained an innovative social protection service for young people and children with disabilities which caters to the needs and rights of beneficiaries and reduces the need for custodial care. At the beginning of the project, 98 of them had been identified as potential users, and 30 have already benefitted from various forms of therapy.
Andrej visits the so called ‘salt room’ in the Centre because of his breathing problem. “When I first saw it, it was just as I expected, even more beautiful. There I read, listen to music, play with salts as if with sand: with a bucket and a shovel. I watched cartoons and learned songs by heart, I did my homework. You can do all sorts of things there because breathing the salt in makes your breathing better and better.”
The salt room is an auxiliary treatment method which reduces the need for medication, and allows children to improve their health through fun and play.
Once the project is completed, Stara Pazova will continue to fund services aimed at the most vulnerable children and young people with disabilities living in the municipality, and expand them to citizens who wish to promote their physical and mental health in general.As a result, the project will ensure not only the well-being of young people with disabilities, but also of the community as a whole.
ROMA CHILDREN LEARNING THEIR OWN LANGUAGE IN SCHOOLS
The project of introducing the Roma language as an optional subject in elementary schools in Serbia stands out among the rest in the area of active social inclusion of the Roma. It has yielded remarkable results: the Roma language is now being taught as an optional subject in 75 schools – some 3,000 pupils in 43 municipalities across Serbia say they are interested in learning the language. 47 teachers and pedagogical assistants have undergone training, andbeen awarded certificates of the Roma language and culture which allow them to teach in schools.
One of them is a 27-year-old Roma language teacher Sandra Zivkovic from Biskuplje, a small town near Pozarevac: “I want to become proficient in Roma culture and tradition and to prove that not only should we not be marginalised, but we should also fight for our place in the academic community. By fighting for equality, for the rights of those who are often time left behind, I am trying to make my own contribution to raising the quality of life of the Roma,” Sandra says, adding that she will remain committed to supporting her community by giving lessons in language and culture of the Roma because “the Roma should and can live better lives, provided that they are offered continuing education.”
Also, a Roma language textbook and a special publication about the history of the Roma language with guidelines for teachers are being produced. All activities are implemented with a view to advancing education and social inclusion of young Roma.