“Where This Road Takes To…?”
by Dzafer Buzoli on 24 Dec 2008 18 Comments

Poverty is widely present in post-war Kosovo society, mostly affecting members of the Roma community. Their living conditions are very bad, because of which they struggle hard to survive.

Why are the Roma poor? Should we ask ourselves and find a way to solve it somehow? Do they have jobs and have they “ever” been educated? Do we have some questions for parents? What’s a right question? Is your child attending school, or, is your child collecting aluminum cans? There are children who are not attending school because nobody teaches them that school is one of the very important roads to the future.


According to statistics with the Kosovo Roma Task Force (KRTF), 46 % Roma from Kosovo are not interested in sending their children to school. Most of them say they have no money for it. But did these parents have money for themselves for education? They said no. That is why they should send their children to school, so children would be able to have their “piece of bread”. 


Roma believe females should not be educated because their husbands probably would not let them work, and there is always a lot of work in the house for women.


This gender education issue was discussed at the Kosovo Information Media (KIM) Radio, where Roma listeners were called on Air. According to our Radio assessment, around 75-85% of Kosovo Roma girls have never been to school; else their education was stopped after a few classes; a small percentage of females know how to write and read; others do not know even how to write their names.  


To further investigate the educational issue, we visited the Roma community of Preoce. This village belongs to Kosovo Polje Municipality and counts 45 Roma families. It is located in central Kosovo, 6 km south of Pristina.


Roma could only find jobs in local villages where Serbs are living. Though Pristina is near, they fear to go there to work as they do not know the Albanian language and two Roma were kidnapped in 1999; peacekeepers found them dead and brought them home to their families (in 2001).


According to the inhabitants of this village, Amdija Gidzic is a Representative of the Roma in Preoce; he was selected 6 months ago by the Roma. Mr. Amdija was in his yard with several Roma who were organizing putting rock-road to their graveyards. Amdija took us around to see the living conditions of Roma families.  Such bad conditions cannot be explained in words. Amdija said Roma have many children in this village and there are many cases of Roma children, instead being in the classrooms, going to other villages to collect aluminum cans, paper and iron.


Near Amdija’s house is the Mehmeti family. Four brothers were living in one yard of 2 ars, all married and with many children. It was difficult to count how many children there were, several were playing in the dust and mud.


Amdija says that in his community of 45 families, around 30 families are dependent on UNMIK social assistance, monthly around 50 euro. Most of them work only for a season, working in the fields for Serbs. But now Serbs have bought new technology, machines that can replace men on the field.  Now, they hardly find jobs and even if they find one, they earn only several coins of euros.


Amdija said if children don’t go to school, it is not their fault. It is their parents’ fault for not sending them. Lack of money is the main problem; but some local and international NGO’s are supporting children’s education. Previously, people lacked enough bread for their children, but now they have enough money for, at least, one notebook for school. 


Some parents do not even know where their children are going. Bahtir Mehmeti, a father of eight, stays home all day doing nothing, waiting for the monthly children fund (around 56 Euros). Sometimes there is some private physical job, to unload some packages from a truck, but not often, and it is not well-paid work. 


Bahtir Mehmeti was very proud to have us in his house, saying few people visit him. He lives in a muddy house with his brother. Only two rooms belong to him with his 10 family members. In one yard there are 4 brothers and they barely survive. Their children are not home all day; 3 of his children attend school and others are too small.


Bahtir said: I was born in this village, my father died and my mother had to look after us. I know for myself poverty was always present, not only in our family but in general. We were a big family and I started working in the field for Serbs when I was 12. As the oldest son, I had to bring money to the house and look after my other brothers and sisters. We had not enough bread for everybody and sometimes I did not eat because there was no food left. We usually were eating kolobotnica-corn flour bread. Almost every day we had the same food to eat, food which was not enough for everybody. Today, it is easy to live. We eat this normal bread; there are some NGOs that bring food. 

- Do you think that your children can get a job with no education? 

- There are many jobs that employ people with no education, for example to work at Communal Company, or in some shop as a cleaner. It does not matter what kind of job, even to clean the toilets would be all right, just to have some job

- Why are your two children not attending school and what are they doing?
- My children started going to school, but they were not staying there for long time, only for 5-10 minutes. I tried to make them stay there but it did not help. They are now working. Both sons, Mifailj (19) and Habib (15) are working for themselves. They collect aluminum cans, glass and other things for sale. Mifailj buys cigarettes for himself and Habib buys some food for himself, so they both work for themselves.  

I was barely finding a way to feed my family; I could not offer to buy books. I have attended at the II category, I was a good pupil; I was doing well and my teacher bought me books, I remember I got expression that I should continue because having in mind that I had books, I know that I could learn; I wanted to continue but my father made us work in the fields, that is how I lost my school. And If I had money, I would buy books for the children.

- Do they tell you where they are going?
- No, sometimes I do not even see them in the morning; they just disappear and come in the evening. They go in the villages where they find some cans, iron, glass or paper; sometimes they do not even know that in some area it’s very dangerous to be, people tell me that they see them in the area of Pristina. Even though I tell them they should not do that, they are not listening to me.

Bahtir often repeated - If I had, If I had…

We could not find his 15-year-old son, Habib. Bahtir said probably he had gone to collect some heavy metals. Amdija said that Habib could only be found in the garbage dumps or with the bag full of aluminum cans on his back, walking on the village roads. It is very easy to recognize Habib because he almost always wears the same clothes.

Finally, in the evening Habib came home, bringing a few kilos of cans in his dirty bag. Habib smelled like burnt tire; he seemed like he smelted something. Habib did not like to talk much; whatever we asked he had an answer, moving his head left-right for saying no, and moving his head up-down for yes. No word was said. He was very ashamed. His lips were very dry and he walked straight to his room.

Inside, an old black-white TV was playing cartoons. On the stove was a full pot of beans and old bread. His other brothers and sisters were sitting on the few sponges surrounding the room. Habib sat on half-torn rug. He was a slow talking boy who gave very short answers; barely understandable. He said per kilo of aluminum he gets 0,25 Euro, it takes a whole day to collect 4-6 kilos because many people do this kind of job.

Bahtir’s eldest son Mifailj, 19, has worked for many Serbs; they only give him some winter food. Mifailj was at home watching TV in another room. He never went to school. He said he used to collect aluminum, iron and other metal for sale, but many people were doing this job so he left it. 

Amdija said another problem is that some children by the age 14, 15 get married. Such cases are still happening but less than in other years. Two years ago, in village Preoce, a 14-year-old girl married a 14-year-old boy. Amdija took me to see them. Elmet Celic has not finished school; he lives with his mother, father, sister and wife. Elmet’s father, Bajram, decided to marry him because, “it was time for him to get married”. None of these people have ever been to school. Bajram thinks education is not important. All these Roma families are registered as social issue by UNMIK and all receive around 50 Euros per month.

Elmet and his wife Adeljina possess one room where they sleep, eat and take a shower.  There are only two rooms in this house (made of mud). Around the house only cats, dogs, and ducks could be seen. Some cats eat in the plates after the family finishes the lunch. Elmet’s first words were: “My cow died a few weeks ago, at least we had milk”.

These “children” do not know how to behave as husband and wife. Elmet and Adelina refused to talk; they felt ashamed at my questions. 

During our interviews, we found Nedzmedin Buzol, a 48-years-old Rom from village Laplje Selo, who attended only I category of school.

He said: I was not attending the school. My father died and my mother left me when I was a baby, an old Roma woman adopted me and she had no money for my education. I have been in school only for 1 class; at least I know to write and read. My mother had no money for my books and notebook; I was getting bad marks and thought that school was boring. So I left it even my mother wanted me to be in the school

- When I was 17, I got married and after 2 years I understood that without a job I could not have a good life. It was very difficult for me to get a job, as a child (at 14, 15) I was day labouring for Serbs, digging up the corn field, a part time job. Somehow, I got a regular job in a small company that works on the fields, called MDD Ratar, where I worked for 17 years

- I did not want my children to suffer like me; I gave them the “green light” to education, to a better life. Many Roma today are unemployed and have no education; that is why they are so poor. I think all Roma should send their children to school because that will be the only way to their good life. I understand they have no money for it, but parents have to be interested to send their children to school. I think it is an obligation of the father and/or mother to give good advice to their children and give them a right to education; of course, many people do not think that way.

- Still, there are many people who do not know to sign their name. I think there should be some kind of education for adults or training course. Or, do some kind of seminar for parents whose children are/were not going to school. Just to show them how the circle of uneducated and illiterate people looks like and what are their chances of being employed. We live in a modern time, people should be more educated.

- I was very proud when my children asked me to help them to write their homework. It made me happy because I knew that they showed an interest in education; there is one more problem why I think children are not going to school. Roma children use Roma language as their mother tongue, when they go in 1st category they have to know Serbian, so in the beginning they get bad marks and they just quit school thinking that it would not be possible to pass the class.

- Two years ago there were several NGOs who paid for the school materials, but now nobody shows up. There should be more NGOs working in this sector, to buy the necessary material for Roma children. Many other Roma families in Kosovo do not show an interest to send their children to school and they say that they need money for it. So, to improve education standards, parents have to teach children that they “must” go to school and buy them school materials. That is the way development starts.

We also spoke to Emran Gushani, a Roma student from Leposavic IDP (Internal Displaced people) camp/collective centre; the only student attending Serbian high school in Leposavic.

Gushani – I have to be an example for all children in this camp, show them that school is the biggest factor for employment. In this camp there are around 50% who do not attend school; main reasons are money, no interest, and children who just want to get out and work. Most people in this camp collect aluminum and other metal; that is the way to survive here.

- I am doing very well in the school and for me it is very nice to integrate into Serbian society, make friends among the Serbs and help each other with our exercises. Apart from school, I have managed to find a part-time work in the Internet centre; as far as I know I am the only Rom with a regular job in Leposavic.

According to KRTF statistics, Plemetina Roma camp has low education standards. The camp representative, Verica Krstic, said lack of money stops children from attending school.

Krstic – Only 20-25% Roma children attend the school in Plemetina village, most families do not have money to buy necessary materials for school. We had a chance to see that teachers in school do not let Roma children inside the class because they did not have books. Even I looked for donations for children willing to start school, but nobody replied to my request.

Roma teacher Ramic said: compared to previous years, almost all children start going to school in the first years; then after several classes they leave the school. I think the reason is lack of money; everybody knows Roma do not have that much money to buy all the necessary materials for their children, and also their parents do not show an interest in the children going to school. But I can freely say that most Roma children who regularly attend school are open-minded and learn as much as they can.  I remember that several times, school administration has donated books, notebooks and other necessary materials and there was a large percent of Roma attending school.

A psychologist in Mitrovica, Cedomir Grujic, says there are two parts to education; education in school and education at home. In school it is much easier to learn, but at home also a child needs help in writing homework. Roma parents usually do not do that; that’s why a child loses mooring and stops learning. Most Roma parents do not have money to send their children to school.

Thus, Roma children have the ability to learn and do well in school, like other children. The main barriers are money, learning a new language, and lack of parental involvement. The educational system must address the problem of funding and language requirements. And Roma themselves must address the issue of parental involvement and sacrifice to keep children in school. 

Without that “The Road Will Take Us To The Garbage Container...”  

The author is Editor, Kosovo Information Media (KIM) Radio and the Head of Roma Integration Fund (RIF)

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