Updates From the Field

After a Year Marked by COVID-19, Romomatter Shares Updates From Project Sites in Bucharest and Straldzha

By Diliana Dilkova and Raluca Tomsa

2020 was a year of challenges, many of which threatened the viability of the fieldwork of the Romomatter Project.  Despite the challenges, the women and associations working with the project made strides in supporting Roma girls. This post includes the 2020 end-of-year updates from Romomatter project sites.

Updates from Bucharest

The worldwide context of 2020 took us all by surprise. The Romomatter activities in Romania could have not continued if it wasn’t for Roma girls’ resilience and adaptability in the face of daily changes in policies and regulations.

Though life has been a roller coaster between the uncertainty of a next lock down and the dilemma of how schooling will continue, Roma girls have risen to the challenge and contributed actively to the final activities of the Romomatter project in Romania. 

In the summer and early autumn months, all tasks became outdoor activities. The girls enjoyed working together despite the challenges (working in smaller groups, maintaining responsible social distancing measures, etc.) In the late autumn and winter months, coinciding with a return to online schooling, all project activities were transferred to the online environment. Weekly Zoom meetings challenged the group in implementing the project’s activities, and the girls participated in these meetings irrespective of the device they had access to, whether it was a phone, tablet or computer. 

Given the governmental regulations and the rising incidence of COVID-19 in Romania and the Ministry’s decision to return to online schooling in October, it was decided that the photo exhibition would take place in an online format. The girls chose to use the Policy  Center’s website as a template for the exhibition and took on the task of disseminating the exhibition via Facebook and other social media platforms. As per instructions, they chose their color theme for the website, musical theme, selected self-empowering quotes, made an advocacy plan and recommendation list, and most importantly selected the pictures that best reflected the resources needed for their future aspirations.

Updates from Straldzha

Since the beginning of our work with the group of the girls in Straldzha we have a special “custom”. Every girl receives a book for her birthday. Why books? Because one of the main aims in our work with the girls is to encourage their natural curiosity, their thirst for knowledge, their motivation to stay in school and to learn about the world outside and about themselves. However, due to the poor economic situation of many of the parents and their low education level their children don’t have access to books. Sometimes they don’t have even one at home. The birthday gifted books came to the girls with special dedication, personalized for each one of them, in each of the personally selected books. Our wishes for the girls were written inside the book: wishes for courage, happiness, fulfillment of their own dreams and expressions of trust in their inner strength. Since the beginning of our work in January, 2020, more than 18 girls have received their birthday books.

The onset of COVID-19 pandemic affected our plans for work with the group of girls in Straldzha. The regular field visits of our team and the assistance to the facilitators in their work with the girls were no longer possible. For several months the only means to keep our contact was the weekly Zoom call for planning and analyzing the sessions. We had also our concerns about the motivation of some of the girls to stay in the group. The most advanced of them showed some signs of boredom in fulfilling the tasks planned for the sessions. 

However, at the time all we could do was to leave it all in the hands of our facilitators. Our advice for them was to meet with the girls and to ask them what they would like to do, and to organize a few weekly sessions based primarily on the desires of the girls. Sessions were organized with a focus on health eating and preparing sandwiches and smoothies, making hairstyles and manicures, playing games with balloons and eating ice cream.  And it seems that a shift happened. After each of the sessions the facilitators reported high spirits on behalf of the girls. The pictures showed that they were happy and proud about their creations, and important conversations took place as well. One of the discussions led by the girls was about puberty and the changes they experience in this life period. 

More and more girls were willing to join the group, and now there are about 25 girls participating in the meetings. We have seen changes in the facilitators as well. They have become more confident, more active and even more motivated, and they generate their own ideas. This was a true process of empowerment of the facilitators, and we are proud to say they are doing quite well. 

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