“We are experiencing a miracle right now”
The members of staff at the Pedagogic Centre for Roma in Athens have made great progress in their effort to help the community to better integrate into society. Luciana Oliveira, head of the facility describes the helpers’ approach.
Question: Lately you have begun to work also with adults at your Pedagogic Centre. What exactly is going on?
Luciana Oliveira: We are just experiencing a miracle. When we established the initial contacts with the children living in the quarter, their parents were very reserved. They are now increasingly opening up.
How did you react?
Luciana Oliveira: We now also provide literacy courses for adults. In doing so, we are using material, which we have adapted for their requirements. It follows successfully tested literacy learning material. It was developed by Christians and uses Bible stories and reports to teach people to read and write. This enables us to talk about our faith and to impart educational content at the same time.
How is the offer being received?
Luciana Oliveira: We currently have ten women, who attend our course regularly, learning in two groups of five. The men are not yet very interested as they are more focussed on their work. Five to seven have shown some interest in lessons. However, their attendance is not as regular as that of the women.
Do people comment because you are working with Bible contents?
Luciana Oliveira: Some say that originally they could not believe that they would learn to write. Now they are saying that maybe God helps them learning so that they would lead another life with different goals.But I do not want to read too much into such statements. They are not used to speak about such issues in an abstract manner. Mind you: some are now coming to our religious services. Something of the contents obviously speaks to them.
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According to the Greek government, in 2019 about 110,000 Roma lived in 371 communities in Greece. Some years ago, a review of the Agency of the European Union for Fundamental Rights established that the Roma in Greeceare suffering significantly more discrimination than in other countries and hence find it more difficult to assert their rights.
More recent reviews of the Agency have established some slightly improved living conditions in some areas. However, at the same time they confirm the fundamental statement that “anti-Gypsyism”* is regarded as a barrier toRoma inclusion”, which is the title of a review published in 2018. The forward says: “The scourge of anti-Gypsyism has proven to be a formidable barrier to efforts to improve the life chances and living standards for Roma, with many facing discrimination, harassment and hate crime because of their ethnic origin. As a result, significant parts of the Roma population continue to struggle with challenges we like to believe no longer exist in the EU. Homes without running water or electricity, lack of health insurance, and even hunger continue to be realities for unacceptable shares of the Roma community in one of the richest regions in the world.”
Are other groups also interested in the educational material you have developed?
Luciana Oliveira: Yes, meanwhile we are sharing it with people in Greece, who also work with illiterate Roma. However, we only share it with those we have trained in workshops to work with this programme.
Are there similar programmes for Roma in Greece?
Luciana Oliveira: I don’t know of any such programme. What we are doing is pioneering work. In the medium-term we would like to expand the network of people who provide the same service for the Roma as we do.
Do comparable initiatives exist in other countries?
Luciana Oliveira: Yes, obviously. I have been invited to become part of the European Roma network and I am now representing Greece at European level. This invitation is a unique opportunity to see and to understand what other countries do for the Roma. And this exchange gives me the chance to take many ideas and suggestions for our work away with me.
You can help!
If you would like to support our work, please make a donation, using the reference “Roma Centre”.
* Antiziganism refers to the labeling of people as "gypsies" and the consequent degradation, exclusion and persecution.