Empowering Roma Youth

pic 15 community development in Ruse section Bulagria case studyThe FXB Center is leading the Reclaiming Adolescence: Roma Transitions to Adulthood initiative, a three-year participatory action research project with Roma and non-Roma youths aged 15 to 25 in Serbia, Romania and Italy. The aim is to address the profound marginalization of the Roma community in Europe by developing and empowering the next generation of Roma youth leaders. This will contribute to an improved understanding of the policies, programs and practices needed to support Roma adolescents as they transition to productive adulthood and claim their rights as equal citizens in Europe.

The Roma are Europe’s largest ethnic minority with an estimated 10 to 12 million members, nearly half of whom are children and youths. Many face extreme discrimination, poverty and exclusion in their everyday lives. Roma adolescents are especially vulnerable as hardship forces many to leave school prematurely and forego opportunities for education, training and participation in mainstream economic and social life. This lack of skills and education increases their vulnerability to high risk circumstances such as sexual exploitation, petty crime, forced labor, and human trafficking. Targeted support for adolescent interventions is urgently needed to prevent further violations of their human rights—a reality that is only underscored by the escalating climate of anti-Roma hostility across Europe, including attacks, hate speech and discriminatory state measures.

Together with its European partners, the FXB Center is bringing together a group of Roma and non-Roma youth to conduct research and advocacy on Roma rights issues, including educational exclusion, social stigma, economic destitution, and the radical absence of skill development and employment opportunities. The participatory approach we are developing, with teenagers at the forefront of the research, will generate valuable new insights into policy improvements needed to facilitate the school to work transition of Roma youth. This innovative approach will also build a transnational cohort of youth leaders capable of advancing adolescent rights claims relevant to the Roma community in national, regional and international policy circles.


The project uses a community-based, participatory methodology emphasizing education, partnership, and empowerment. Local partners include Save the Children Norway South East Regional Office (SCN-SEE) and the Center for Interactive Pedagogy in Belgrade, Serbia; Roma Center for Social Intervention and Studies (Romani CRISS) in Bucharest, Romania; and the Associazione di Animazione Interculturale (ASAI) in Torino, Italy. Bucharest, Belgrade, and Turin have been selected as project sites for their strategic relevance to the partners’ existing work, significant Roma populations, diverse EU policies, and vibrant civil society infrastructure.

Each country’s project team will collaborate with a local non-governmental organization, a university, and a Roma community advisory board. The local partners will guide development of activities, provide mentorship, and assist in building relationships and awareness within the Roma community. Additionally, selected teams of Roma and non-Roma adolescent participants will be intimately involved in every aspect of project design, implementation, dissemination, and advocacy. The project’s methodology features four innovative features that will ensure its legitimacy and scalability.

  1. We are designing and implementing interventions with Roma adolescents, not on them. Academics are frequently perceived by the Roma as “earning their living off the backs of the community” while no benefits accrue to the community itself. Incorporating Roma youth as paid participants into the design, execution and project follow-through will empower them as they confront systemic institutional and popular discrimination.
  2. The project will partner and build relationships between Roma and non-Roma adolescents to facilitate skill-building and collaborative problem-solving. This type of intercultural and cross-border engagement will be essential to reducing current segregation and stigma. Their differing perspectives will yield meaningful insights into how Roma adolescents experience economic and social exclusion in their everyday lives.
  3. We plan to operate within a multidimensional framework of social, health and cultural rights. We recognize that access to education, job-readiness training and employment is contingent upon access to hygienic sanitation facilities, housing security, health care, education and familial support systems. We are committed to providing technical assistance and support to all stakeholders in the development of evidence-based systems that can deliver the opportunities and services the Roma adolescent community needs.
  4. We intend to employ a comparative approach working in three distinct EU communities: Italy, Romania and Serbia. The Roma people are a heterogeneous community and thus possess distinct survival and coping mechanisms based on their environmental context. As one of the largest migrant populations in Europe, they are also affected by a range of Roma-specific and non-Roma specific policies within the three countries. Comparing the differences in national program entitlements and incentives for policy development, as well as identifying their real impact on the ground, will generate comparative baseline information for programming and advocacy.

Current Projects

Preliminary research for the project was conducted throughout 2011 and 2012 with fact-finding trips, consultations with a range of experts, and preplanning meetings with local partners. Thanks to the support of OneWorld Boston, Inc.,  project implementation has begun in Serbia as of October 2012 and will proceed in three main waves:

  • Selection and Training. Roma and non-Roma youth will be selected using standardized criteria to promote gender, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity (20 per country). The youth will attend intensive training sessions on research skills, as well as human rights, leadership and problem-solving, and different dimensions of discrimination and exclusion. The young team members will receive stipends and individual mentorship.
  • Data Collection and Analysis. The youth will conduct interviews in Roma/non-Roma pairs: 30 peer interviews and 10 adult stakeholder interviews (400 per country) and analze the data collected regarding school, work, housing, health, poverty, gender equality, migration, legal status and social support.
  • Case Studies, Reports and Advocacy. The youth will help draft case studies documenting best practices and key challenges, country reports and a final comparative paper with policy recommendations. The youth will meet with government officials responsible for Roma affairs, civil society, and the larger Roma community to share findings and identify strategies for implementing recommendations.

The FXB Center is also providing research and technical assistance to a complementary intervention examining the segregation of Roma school children in Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Greece. The Center will work with five expert NGOs to develop an international Roma Civil Society Network designed to exchange best practice on the topic: Romani CRISS in Romania, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) in Hungary, Life Together in the Czech Republic, Integro Association in Bulgaria, and Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) in Greece.

In September 2012, Dr. Margareta Matache, a Romanian Roma rights activist and the former executive director at Romani CRISS, joined the Center as an FXB Post-Doctoral Fellow. With a PhD in early childhood development and 14 years of experience working on Roma rights issues across Europe, she strengthens the FXB Roma team as it identifies best practices to improve Roma youth access to quality education, training, and civic engagement opportunities.

Additional Resources

Ariadna Munté, Olga Serradell and Teresa Sordé, “From Research to Policy: Roma Participation Through Communicative Organization,” Qualitative Inquiry 2011 17: 256, http://qix.sagepub.com/content/17/3/256

Elena Rozzi, “Undocumented migrant and Roma children in Italy: between rights protection and control,” in Jacqueline Bhabha, ed., Children without a state: a global human rights challenge (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011).

Margareta Matache and David Marks, “Opportunities in education and life: the stories of Roma adolescents,” in Jacqueline Bhabha, ed., Realizing Adolescent Rights (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming).

European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, “The situation of Roma in 11 EU Member States,” http://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2012/situation-roma-11-eu-member-states-survey-results-glance

Open Society Foundation, “No Data, No Progress,” http://www.soros.org/reports/no-data-no-progress-country-findings

UNICEF, “The Right of Roma Children to Education: Position Paper,” http://www.unicef.org/ceecis/UNICEF_ROE_Roma_Position_Paper_Web.pdf

Decade of Roma Inclusion, www.romadecade.org

European Commission, http://ec.europa.eu/justice/discrimination/roma/index_en.htm

European Roma Rights Centre, www.errc.org

Romani CRISS, www.romanicriss.org




Photo: Petru Zoltan