Interview with Erion Jakupi of Roma Active of Albania

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Interview with Roma Active of Albania

Roma Active – Albania (RAA) is a nongovernmental organization that works in nine Albanian Roma communities to organize small-scale activities with a low budget.  The goal is to teach the Roma and their allies how to lobby on their own issues.  RAA endeavors to encourage self- organization of the Roma community; improve living conditions in the community; educate the Roma community about their capacities and potential; and improve relations between the Roma community and local authorities.

The World Movement thanks Erion Jakupi of Roma Active – Albania for taking the time to answer our questions.

How did the “Strengthening Roma Voice” program come about?  What are the challenges or needs facing the Roma Community that necessitate such a project?

The current situation of the Roma minority in Albania is deplorable.  The level of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and trafficking is appalling. Even though the Roma settled in Albania more than 600 years ago, they have not been integrated into Albanian society. This is due to the national government’s indifference to their situation and the discrimination they endure.  This discrimination is not direct, but it has led to the self-isolation of the Roma people.  Moreover, the Roma are for the most part unaware of the political process and how to build beneficial relationships with the government. 

“Strengthening Roma Voice” came about to develop and strengthen Roma civil society so the Roma can influence government policy and lobby for their own needs.  The program unites organizations and individual activists to speak with a common voice.

The “Strengthening Roma Voice” program revolves around enhancing the capacity of the Roma community and its leaders.  How does this help increase the political participation of those in the community and strengthen democracy in the country?

The RAA philosophy is based on the idea that the Roma and their allies should lobby for their own issues.  RAA enables local leaders to lobby and advocate through networks.  RAA meets with Roma NGOs, regional and national authorities, and institutions to provide a forum for lobbying and advocacy activities by the networks.

Instead of creating nationwide networks, RAA decided to concentrate on establishing a base of strong Roma leaders on the regional level.  This strategy puts emphasis on developing relationships with regional authorities and affecting local policies.  This is very effective, since many policies are decided upon and implemented at that level.

Our work has also taken aim at the visibility of the Roma at the local and national levels, with the hope that our work will lead to the improvement of living conditions, observance of human rights among the Roma, and positive change within the community, but also in the larger society.  The effort is to achieve change that is sustainable, and implement solutions that are not provisional.

Much emphasis in your program is placed on empowering representative leaders of the Roma Community and improving their capacity to interact with local authorities.  Given the Roma’s underrepresentation at the local and national government levels, how will the role of stronger community leaders help enhance political participation of the Roma?

RAA is fighting for the development of Roma communities to further strengthen and integrate them so they can be active members of the society while preserving their own identity and being free to manifest it.  Local leaders take action to solve different problems, negotiate with local authorities, and assume relevant responsibilities for the implementation of activities. These leaders – men, women, and young people – are prepared to perform tasks, mobilize groups within the community, and represent their community at the local and national levels.  Strengthening community leaders in turn encourages the community to get involved and participate.

What is the long-term vision of the program?  What specific goals does your organization hope to achieve in enhancing Roma participation in the political process?

RAA has proved to be strong in strategy development and testing new methods aimed at grassroots development.  RAA aims to enlarge its team, so more communities and groups can be included in its work.