by Denis Long, REYN member working at Mediation Northern Ireland in Belfast
Around 1200-1400 Romanian Roma live today in Northern Ireland. Before 2007, they arrived as asylum seekers, fleeing persecution in Romania. When Romania joined the European Union, Roma people came over in greater numbers which increased their visibility and highlighted their vulnerability.
When we started the “Roma Community Development Project”, in December 2013, many were the challenges they faced in their daily life: at that time no Roma children were involved in Early Years services but that has changed slightly as a result of our work. Yet, Roma people continue not to be involved in decision making processes and there are systemic barriers both in the Roma community and in the existing mainstream provision. Furthermore, there is very little understanding of the Roma culture and the circumstances of the Roma people in Belfast and Northern Ireland in general. This leads to the dissemination of fake myths about Roma people.
As part of Mediation Northern Ireland and South Belfast Roundtable approach, we aim at promoting inclusion, equity and quality in working with Roma families in Belfast.
What we do
- Roma community level:
- Work with Roma mothers and children under 5 years to enable their access to Early Years services: mainstream (family support in collaboration with Sure Start) and community-based (Mother and Toddler group set up in the Romanian Roma Community Association)
- Involving the Roma mothers in intensive programmes designed around Professional Development (skills, formal qualifications), Personal Development (confidence building), English language acquisition and Positive Parenting
- Involving Roma staff and volunteers in the service delivery and providing them with mentoring and training: currently 1 part-time Community Development Assistant and 2 part-time Childcare Support Workers
- Collaboration with the Romanian Roma Community Association (RRCANI) for capacity building
- Service providers/ local community level:
- Providing Roma awareness workshops/ Diversity training to service providers (health, education, community safety, housing…) and local communities
- Compiling awareness leaflets specific to the Romanian Roma community in Belfast
- Supporting the production of video materials for the Roma community and about the Roma community
- Facilitating consultations, focus groups, `public conversation circles` with members of the Romanian Roma community to inform actions
- Promoting a positive image of the Roma community through contribution to cultural events: i.e. Roma International Day, Romania National Day, Multicultural Festivals…
- Actively supporting the first Roma Conference in Belfast, organised to highlight the needs of the local Roma communities and advocate for a Regional Roma Inclusion Strategy
- Setting up a Roma Working Group bringing together professionals who are involved in direct work with the local Roma communities (Romanian, Hungarian, Slovak) at grass-root or strategic level
- Facilitating consultations with members of the Roma communities re their experiences in accessing employment, health, housing, education services and their experiences of discrimination
- Identifying systemic barriers and working in partnership with both the community and the service providers to address those barriers
- Advocating for a Regional Roma Inclusion Strategy to challenge the systemic barriers and address inequalities
- Strong relationship with the Roma community supported by previous work and initiatives – consistency
- The involvement of workers from the local Roma community has proved invaluable
- Holistic approach to our work: we develop and run programmes that the community need and are interested in: i.e. ongoing advice in the areas of health, welfare, housing, translation of letters, filling-in forms…, we recently organised a culturally sensitive Fitness Programme at a request of a few Roma women, regular home-visits in the community facilitate our relationship with people who are not necessarily our target
- Partnership working: we have developed close collaborations with various stakeholders: Police Service for Northern Ireland, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Education and Library Board and other community organisations supporting the Roma communities
- Aiming for the mainstream: we work towards integrating the Roma children and their families in the existing services as much as possible. We support mainstream services to develop culturally sensitive practices and to increase their capacity to work with the Roma communities.
- Projects that provide a progressive pathway to accessing services: advice, adult education, employability and employment