Another Public debate in the project "Roma Women Can Do It - II" funded by STGTF took place on 26th May 2006 in Blagoevgrad.
The local project coordinator Ms. Meglena Mihaylova - lawyer, selected the following theme for discussion: "The role of women for raising the level of education in the Roma community". The Debate was held in partnership with the Regional administration and the participation of the Chair person of the Regional Council on Ethnic and Demographic Issues Mr. Ventsislav Dimitrov. The event was attended by a principal in charge of a school with a large number of Roma students; representatives of the Municipality and Council of the town of Simitli, "Open Society" Club; the chair person of the political party "Drom"; the municipal administration of the village of Stumyani, a junior expert on ethnic and demographic issues from the town of Yakorouda; representatives from the village of Mikrevo; local NGOs.
Ms. Silvia Filipova from the European Roma Fund PAKIV, who previously participated in the first phase of the project in Pazardzhik, also attended the event. The upgrading of skills of Roma women like herself makes them even more confident and visible not only in their own community, but also in larger society.
Radio "Blagoevgrad" interviewed the participants and the project coordinator. A lively discussion took place about the role of the Roma family and particularly that of Roma women for realizing the need for education as a major way to overcome isolation and discrimination. The participants suggested many ways to motivate parents and to improve the connection between the school and the family. For example, mothers could be involved to work as assistant teachers which would bring them closer to school activities and motivate their children. It was mentioned that this initiative is likely to solve the problem of attracting and keeping Roma children in schools.
Ms. Daniela Dobreva from Yakorouda shared a good practice: the well functioning Municipal Program for integration of the Roma population in Yakorouda which has a budget of 6000 BGN, and the target population is 600 people. However small the budget is, the Program demonstrates the positive attitude of the municipal administration towards the specific needs of a marginalized group.
The role of Roma women as mothers was also pointed out. They could raise the level of education in their community by motivating their children to study and attend school. It was mentioned that Roma children can hardly speak any Bulgarian when they start school, and if they happen to be in mixed classes with Bulgarian students, this hinders the study progress of the whole class. The role of the Regional and Municipal administrations was underscored by all participants - 42 documents on Roma community issues have been approved at the national level, but when they reach the local administrations and receive funding, no real work is ever done.
Bulgaria has been selected as President for the Decade of Roma Inclusion for 2006. A number of international meetings will take place in our country and they should be attended by municipal representatives, so that the programs concerning the Roma population are further developed at the local level.
Kalinka Slivkova - Project coordinator