Advocating for the most marginalized

The Roma population is the poorest in Serbia. Faced with ongoing discrimination, Roma people live in marginalized communities, and many of the children don't attend school. Instead they often work to help support their families.

The Roma population is the poorest in Serbia.  Faced with ongoing discrimination, Roma people live in marginalized communities, and many of the children don’t attend school. Instead they often work to help support their families.

The CWS Roma Children’s Initiative works holistically to help address the needs of Roma children by:

1) Increasing the basic education level of pre-school children and supporting them to enroll in the formal education system.
2) Organizing Roma parents to advocate for their children’s rights.
3) Training teachers to work with Roma children.
4) Helping parents earn a living.

The CWS Income Generation for Roma Families project, an element of its larger Roma Children’s Initiative, was developed to supplement an ongoing preparatory education program for vulnerable Roma children. By creating the economic opportunities for the marginalized Roma families, the project creates incentives for poor Roma to keep their children in school, promotes the value of education, and addresses the child labor issue.

A motorcycle can be an important livelihood tool in Serbia.  Photo: CWS

My story: Adnan Hussein

“My family came from Kosovo in 1999. The Albanian mistreatment of the Roma population in Kosovo made us leave our homes, losing our homes forever in order to save lives.  My family first lived in Nis, southern Serbia, where we rented an apartment.  We then moved to Belgrade--my wife, my two sons, Ferdi and Burhan, and I.  And we soon had another son, Fernando, who is now 5. Ferdi and Burhan are in elementary school, while Fernando will start pre-school. I worked temporary jobs when heavy manual labor was needed and collected paper to earn supplementary income. My family managed to make around $150 a month--not enough to live on. We ate little and were often hungry.  At times, we were forced to rely on neighbors and even beg.  We found clothes in dumpsters or received donations from Branko Pesic School, where the two oldest sons attend.

“The priority was to reduce our vulnerability and provide a means to support my children, especially to attend school. With the assistance of CWS and its partners ALFA, Refugee Return Service and Branko Pesic School, I was selected to participate in a series of workshops.  I developed a business plan and received a grant.  My plan: to efficiently collect recyclables with the help of a motorcycle fitted with a side cart.  With the motorcycle, I have become proficient in my job and earn close to $300 per month.  

“We lost our home in the war and we went through a very difficult time. We moved from one city to the next but the most important thing is that we are together and that our children attend school now. Ever since I got the motorcycle, it has been much easier for me to work and gather paper, which I later sell to the Paper Service. We live better now and I am able to provide better food and clothes for my children. I would like us to join a union and to regulate purchase and sale prices of the paper.  I think that would make it easier for us in the community who are involved in this business. For me, it is important to educate my children, so that they can be independent.”

Alija and Elizabeta Maksutovic, their children and their extended family.  Photo: CWS

The story of the Maksutovic family

Alija and Elizabeta Maksutovic have five children. Alija had supported the family as a painter in Germany; however, in 2002, he and his family were deported from Germany due to their illegal status. His brother gave him part of his own house in the Zemun settlement. In spite of their difficulties, they have tried to send the children to school regularly. Alija had various jobs, such as collecting recyclable materials, painting and decorating. He gained experience working as a painter, but lacked the special equipment to start his own business.

Alija Maksutovic with his car painting equipment. Photo: CWS

In 2008, Alija received $1,983.88 in seed money from CWS to purchase the needed equipment and materials to run his own vehicle painting business. For the first time the family has enough income to meet their basic needs.  Alija's painting business has also provided an opportunity for his brother Emir to earn income for his own family. Alija Maksutovic's family used to live on $150 per month, which was not enough for basic food. Now, he earns up to $400 per month and his family no longer needs humanitarian assistance.  The family is moving from poverty to self-reliance and he has been able to help his brother, who had earlier extended a helping hand to him.  

The Income Generation for Roma Families project is empowering and equipping marginalized Roma families to improve their livelihoods. CWS believes that increased household income is a prerequisite to enabling children to stay in school, rather than staying home to help support the family by working, begging, or tending younger children.  CWS supports Roma parents through motivational, mentorship and business plan training workshops, and provides small grants to purchase needed tools and materials.


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