BUCHAREST, Romania– Children in the Roma community face great disadvantage. They have poor access to education and are depended on by their families to be breadwinners. The lack of education and economic opportunities perpetuates the poverty cycle for the Roma.
Roma children in Bucharest can be seen begging on the streets with their mothers. They must help earn money because their mothers struggle to find work. In a situation like that, it appears more beneficial to the family for the child to be earning money than to be in school.
Roma are an ostracized minority in Romania and Europe as a whole. Romanian society has little interaction with the ethnic group. The social stigma against the Roma is so strong that educated Roma are reluctant to admit their ethnicity.
Impoverished Roma women in Bucharest have expressed their desire to work. However, their skills are minimal and no one wants to hire them. A Roma woman has even been rejected for a job sweeping streets. Few alternatives are available to making children find work.
Leslie Hawke, actor Ethan Hawke’s mother, founded a nonprofit organization in Romania called OvidiuRo. OvidiuRo works to help the poorest children have a successful education.
OvidiuRo is focused in rural Romanian communities, which have the largest population of impoverished Roma. The organization has made modest progress with 1,300 children from 20 high-risk communities supported. It is now working towards increasing the number to 1,700 children.
The target grade level for school enrollment is preschool. Hawke views preschool children as a crucial demographic to educate. She reasons that the greatest impact can be made for the lowest investment.
Older students tended to slip up on their education in the program due to their inability to keep up and be in a disciplined environment. Most of their lives were spent living outside the system, making it challenging for them to cope.
OvidiuRo motivates parents to send their children to preschool by offering them $17 worth of food coupons per month. Parents are encouraged to take an active role, too. Educational aids, vaccinations and teacher training are also provided by the organization.
Over 80 percent of the children enrolled in the program have a daily attendance while 73 percent have continued their education in primary school.
Children in the program have few options to continue their educational experience because Romania is one of the poorest European countries.
Roma in Hungary are not much better off than their counterparts in Romania. The most impoverished people in Hungary are in large part Roma. Hungarian Roma have an unemployment rate of 50 percent, half the population.
Those of non-Roma ethnicity only have a 24 percent unemployment rate. The majority of the Roma population live in relative poverty at 71 percent. Relative poverty is a measurement of those who live at 60 percent below the median income. Only 33 percent of non-Roma live in relative poverty.
Hungarian Roma experience inequality in education, healthcare, access and transportation, not just income or wealth.
Nationalism and anti-Roma sentiments are on the rise in Hungary and liberalism has not been progressive. Negative attitudes towards Roma add to their struggle to survive on such little means.
Hungarian Roma have received assistance, but it has had no effect on how society functions. The poor still face systemic oppression in Hungary, and Roma are disproportionately impacted as the largest impoverished group.
Efforts put towards addressing inequality as the root of poverty could allow for countries like Romania and Hungary to have better social outcomes and give the Roma a chance to succeed.
– Brittany Mannings