The Second Chance Project in Montenegro is a concerted effort on the part of government and civil society to assimilate Roma people into mainstream society.
Primarily known in the Western world as a holiday resort with its azure sea, tall mountains and picturesque minarets, Montenegro has long aspired to make a place for itself in Europe. Even while it was still part of the confederation with Serbia, Montenegro regarded the euro as its official currency. After separating from Serbia in May 2006, the country went its separate way, but its path has been a rocky one. Montenegro, the smallest country in Southeastern Europe with a population of 650,000, is also one of the poorest countries of Europe. One area where serious deficits need to be addressed is the education sector.
Resmija Beriša is 20 years old. She lives with her family on the outskirts of Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. Because she has never enjoyed the oppor tunity of a formal education, let alone vocational training, Resmija has practically no chance of finding employment. This is a problem she shares with most of the other members of her ethnic group – the Roma community.
Nearly 70 percent of the Roma population in Montenegro is virtually without literacy skills. Many have had one or two years of schooling, but the effect is rarely a lasting one. For some Roma, life is hardly any different than it is for the aver age citizen, but on the whole, everywhere in Southeastern Europe they are more severely affected by poverty and unemployment than the rest of the population.
In February 2007, DVV International and its Montenegrin partners, “Roma Scholarship Foundation – Institute for Social Inclusion”, initiated an ambitious project in Montenegro. Known as “Second Chance – Integration by Adult Literacy and Vocational Training”, the project was launched as an effort to set tangible milestones in Montenegro in the battle against functional illiteracy and unemployment. It is subsidized by the European Commission and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
The project offers young adults in the functionally illiterate category the chance to overcome their reading and writing deficits and bring their skills up to a level that al lows them equal participation in society. In an intensive training course, young Roma adults from the cities of Podgorica, Berane, and Nikši´c receive opportunities not only to improve their literacy levels, but also to acquire the skills they need to succeed in the modern world. The curriculum covers a large range of subjects including the use of modern tools and technologies, the basics of daily hygiene, and the principles of appropriate horse care. Within a period of approximately four months, participants can earn a nationally recognized forth-grade equivalency certificate.
Immediately following the four-month intensive basic education course, the participants receive a period of vocational training in which they learn a simple trade that is largely of their own choice. The measure is intended to facilitate their access to the labour market as well as to empower them to improve their living standards and provide their children with an environment that is more conducive to regular school attendance.
That it takes more than two months to make a master goes without saying. How ever, as pointed out by the coordinator of the project and Regional Representative of DVV International in Southeastern Europe, Johann Theessen:
“The participants receive vocational training that provides them with a Level 2 qualification under the Montenegrin system. Although this base-level qualification only entitles them to work as a carpenter’s or gardener’s assistant, example given, as a nationally recognized qualification, it does open up real chances for them on the job market.”
Moreover, the project works together with local chambers of commerce and trade, as well as with national health centres, to support the participants in their search for employment on completion of the training programme.
An important partner in this connection is the employment agency, which is closely involved in all project activities. The social workers who assist the instructors in the basic education courses, example given, are all on the payroll of the employ ment agency. Similar DVV International projects in Southeastern Europe, particularly in Bulgaria and Serbia, have shown how important teaching assistants are to the success of courses for Roma. One of several key functions they have is working with the families and communities of the participants to help dispel distrust, especially when the courses are held for women and girls. According to Johann Theessen:
“As women and girls are often at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to education, the project tries to ensure that women and girls account for about fifty percent of course enrolment. According to our experience, there is a particularly high impact on the family when mothers have had a good education or training.”
This is clearly reflected in the words of 22 year-old Šaja Delija, one of the first candidates for the Second Chance courses in Podgorica:
“I never went to school at all before. If I learn how to read and write, I will be taking a giant step in my life. I want to use what I learn to help other Roma in our region.”
What Šaja sees as a step forward in her life would mean a step forward in the direction of a European standard of living for Montenegro.
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