A long-term friendship
The activities organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio with the Roma and Sinti started in 1982, in Rome, through the encounter of several hundred Roma Khorakené people from the former Yugoslavia, who camped in the eastern outskirts of the city. The first interventions, all done voluntarily without pay, were focused on the children: afterschool literacy courses and academic integration in the public schools. At the same time, the adults were becoming more trusting and knowledgeable about these activities. Also during that period, the first cases of ‘mediation’ with the gajé (non-Roma) residents took place, since their neighborhood had become very degraded and the presence of the camp had created rising tensions. From that point, the acquaintance and friendship with the Roma and Sinti has grown.
In Italy and in Europe
Because the Community of Sant’Egidio is present in many different cities in Italy and Europe, their activities with the Roma and Sinti are not only limited to Rome. Through the years, a wide range of interventions were created and developed also in Milan, Novara, Genoa, Florence, Naples, as well as in Barcelona, Madrid, Wurzburg, and Antwerp.
A daily friendship: learning to live together
• The ‘Schools of Peace.’ Two or three times a week, different groups of Roma and/or Sinti children (between 30 and 40) from each camp where Sant’Egidio is present, participate in the ‘Schools of Peace’ together with non-Roma children. These are centers in neighborhoods near the settlements where the volunteers organize lessons on intercultural relations, friendship, peace, respect for the disabled or the elderly, as well as respect for the environment. Each afternoon there is a time dedicated to snacks, games, study, and to examination of some themes that are directly connected to the children. The results of these activities are shown in two major city events, which take place twice a year.
•The volunteers from Sant’Egidio go several times a week to the camps and/or settlements where the Roma and Sinti live for specific reasons or necessities such as medical visits, problems with the authorities, etc.
The Center ‘People for Peace’
Every Friday, the ‘People for Peace Center’ is open in Rome on Via Anicia, 7, directed exclusively at the Roma and Sinti. This is a reception center, where the Roma and Sinti can receive various services for free:
1. Medical visits
5. Legal Advicehospita
6. Administrative Guidance
7. An address for the requesting of residence or political asylum
Because of its nature (it is a reception center, but it has other services directed to whomever is already integrated into the social context), the center receives more than 150 Roma each week, all with very diverse lives in Italy and origins. In the recent years, more than 7.000 Roma visited the center, thus the center has also become a privileged observatory in terms of the new arrivals (since opening, we registered more than 5.000 Roma coming from Romania).
The presence of Roma and Sinti mediators, who have been friends of the Community for many years, has proved to be key, and they participate in the activities free of charge.
‘A right to school, a right to the future’
The Community of Sant’Egidio came up with this program as a way to promote the quality education of Roma and Sinti children. The program ensures the insertion of Roma children into school through the support of their families. It was also founded on the realization that there was no point in complaining about the non-enrollment, non-attendance, unsuccessful academic performances, dropout rate or the use of Roma children for begging, without creating the necessary conditions for a real and positive integration into schools.
Therefore, a number of scholarships were designed and created to support the families who intend to take school seriously. The program includes help from both educators and Roma cultural mediators, who are actively involved in the project and contribute to the implementation of these goals with the families. The scholarship contract is signed by the Community of Sant’Egidio and the family of the child, which consists of a monthly 100 euro stipend in exchange for some obligations on both the child and the family.
-To not exceed three un-excused absences a month
-To strictly perform all academic requirements and extra-curricular activities, also during the summer
-To have at least one interview per month with the teachers
-To educate the child towards the respect of everyone’s rights and the peaceful co-existence in civil society
Once a week, a group of Roma and/or Sinti adolescents, belonging to one of the ‘Schools of Peace,’ volunteer at a nursing home to visit the elderly and help organize parties and teas.
Friendship is also participation
• Participation in the camps and in the Roma and/or Sinti houses at parties and celebrations and in the moments of joy or pain which are not easily identified (weddings, births, funerals, and sickness).
-Assemblies with the adult Roma and Sinti to explain any new legislation, administrative procedures, and social policies.
-Public assemblies in the Roma and/or Sinti neighborhoods with the gajé population.
-Public parties in the neighborhoods to allow for intercultural exchange and interaction.
-Two large demonstrations that involve both Roma and/or Sinti children and teenagers who participate in the ‘Schools of Peace’: The first is the ‘Rigiocattolo’ and the second is ‘The Spring Party.’
1. The Rigiocattolo is the name of the initiative that sells used toys, by Rainbow Country, which organizes this initiative in the cities in which they are present, to support solidarity projects in Africa and other parts of the world. The motto is simple: not all that one does not use anymore should be thrown away, a simple retouching is enough and an old toy or the end of a candle can be recycled. The profits are used to finance activities of solidarity for the children of the poorest places.
2. The Spring Party is a public demonstration that takes place near the end of the school year and gathers all the work done by the ‘Schools of Peace’. Each year a particular theme is assigned, which connects directly to the children. Taking part at the demonstration are the schools that the Roma and Sinti children attended frequently throughout the year. Some themes from previous years are: ‘Peace lives!’, ‘Europe and Africa’, ‘School is beautiful’, ‘The colors of friendship’, ‘I have a dream...to go to school’, and ‘Children speak out.’
The Protection of Rights
In their dealings and year-long friendships with the Roma and Sinti, the volunteers at Sant’Egidio found themselves supporting – in different ways – the rights of individuals or of groups of Roma and/or Sinti before many different local, national, and international institutions.