Seeing Jesus at work
The Roma people are Europe’s largest and most disadvantaged ethnic groups. Thousands of Roma young people are trapped within their squatter camps because they see no hope of escaping. All they see ahead of them is a life of sifting through garbage, cleaning streets, begging, or stealing. Only 20% of the Roma children attend school because their parents see no hope of them escaping. Education is simply not necessary for those tasks.
We recently partnered with an organization called Roma Integration to pilot a Roma youth mentoring course. We spent ten weeks with ten Roma youth and introduced them to professional Roma doctors, businessmen, politicians, and pastors who had escaped the poverty of the camps. This instilled in them a hope that they could escape the vicious cycle of the camps. Hearing the stories of those who left the camps encouraged them to pursue a better education.
No longer invisible
The Roma people face a myriad of problems in our city of Uzhgorod. As we gathered with some of our local partners, we realized that ‘lack of hope’ and ‘lack of dignity’ were at the root of many of their problems.
We began to discuss ways to offer dignity to the Roma people so that they have hope. The answer was to find ways to help them serve others. We had initially gathered to choose a project to “give” something to their Roma community like food, water, or jobs. Instead we found ourselves dreaming of ways they could gain hope and dignity by serving others.
We spent another ten weeks teaching the Roma youth how to capture their dreams on paper and create a business plan. Three of these girls, Esmeralda, Brenda and Angelina, wanted to open a beauty salon cutting hair and applying cosmetics. Their first step was to raise $500 so they could each attend classes to earn their certifications.
We could have just sponsored them and given them the needed money. But we thought that would steal their dignity so we taught them how to start and run a social fundraising project. Within two weeks they had raised enough of the funds on their own, and they are all now in school. When they return they will begin raising the funds for the supplies they will need and then we’ll help them earn a microfinance loan to launch their salon. As these young people break free from the poverty of the camp, others will begin to see hope. We already have more than ten in the program next year.