With only one third of Roma children enrolled in primary schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the journey of three Roma brothers to get an education and strive for a better life is as challenging as it gets.
Brothers Samanto (11), Haris (9) and Bruno (7) are like many school children in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Early in the morning they pack their school bags and cross the asphalt street that separates their house from the village, not forgetting to look left, and then right to check for cars. Then, they cross the wooden bridge and hurry down the dusty village road towards their school in Prača.
They arrive to school on time, but when the bell rings, instead of going their separate ways to different classrooms, these boys remain together – in the first grade.
Samanto, Haris and Bruno are Roma children who until now have never been enrolled in school. They can barely recognise letters, let alone write sentences. But after just a couple of weeks in school, they have already made up their mind.
For one question, they all have the same answer. “What is your favourite thing in Prača?”
“School!” they chime quickly.
“I love school”, says Haris, the most talkative of the brothers. “I love school because I can play with other kids there and learn”, he further explains with excitement in his eyes making his freckled face shine. In school, the brothers explain, they learn letters, numbers and Samanto proudly says he can even count to 100.
Haris likes to play football with other children in the local field. Samanto and Bruno would rather use the school playground equipment. On the outside all of this is just play, but in a society where prejudices and stereotypes towards Roma children are deeply rooted and where these children are often victims of violence and social isolation, being able to play freely is a massive achievement in itself.
Life for the brothers is not easy. Their ‘shack’ has no electricity or running water. They wash themselves in the nearby creek, not wanting to think about what awaits them when the cold and snowy winter comes. “That is where we bathe”, Haris points his finger to the side of the cold mountain creek. Samanto and Bruno nod their heads, too shy to speak if not asked directly.
The brothers do their school homework on the grass lawn in front of their house. “Our notebooks get dirty from the grass”, Haris notes, not forgetting to mention that he never misses his homework.
Looking for a better life, less than a year ago, the brothers, their parents and six other siblings, moved to the small village of Prača located in World Vision’s Jahorina Area Development Programme. Before, the family lived in a suburb of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo and the children did not go to school. “We just played”, says Bruno. “And now we study“.
Upon arrival to Prača, their father visited the local school and expressed the desire to enroll his children. However, due to various reasons it was not possible to enroll them immediately and they had to wait until the beginning of the next school year.
Knowing the difficulties that Roma children face in trying to integrate into local communities, such as Prača that had never had Roma residents before, and in order to make this transition easier, World Vision and its local partner Association “Friends of Children” launched the project ‘Integration of the Roma Population into Local Community’.
And recognising that primary education is the key precondition for Roma children to become equal citizens aware of their rights, school is absolutely integral to the project.
“We started with this project with an aim to bring Roma and non-Roma children closer, to free them from prejudices and make school more appealing for them. We separated them into small, mixed groups and worked with them in such a manner”, explains Dževada Aganović, principal of the primary school where the brothers attend. With this in mind, summer school was organised prior to the beginning of the school year where the Roma brothers got to meet other children from the village, play and learn with them. The children spent one week getting acquainted with each other, so that the transition into school life would be easier.
Haris and his brothers were the first ones to arrive on the first day of the summer school. “They came one hour before the start of the lessons, because they didn’t want to be late”, remembers principal Aganović. And they continued to come every day, not missing any of the lessons. Unfortunately, due to their lack of education, the brothers had to be placed in the same class. Hopefully, as time passes, they will be able to advance.
But the three brothers were not the only Roma children to arrive on that first day of summer school. Their older brother Sanjo (13) also came, but never returned. Available data for Bosnia and Herzegovina show that only one third of Roma children are enrolled in primary schools, while they are nearly completely absent from secondary schools.
“Difficult financial situation of many Roma families represents the number one reason why children are not attending schools. Most parents, whose children are not included in the education system, are preoccupied with finding basic means for life. Most of them would include their children in the education system and they are aware that it is their obligation to do so, but having no conditions for keeping personal hygiene, no adequate clothes, no possibilities to give their children at least one sandwich per day, is keeping them away“, says Helena Delic, World Vision project officer.
“A systematic approach that demands the inclusion of all relevant institutions and organisations on all levels of government in order to support Roma families in their education needs, is needed“, she adds, in line with World Vision’s goal to ensure all children are educated for life.
Since moving to Prača, Samanto, Haris and Bruno have become well known in the village.
“How are your lessons going?” people ask them as they are pass on their way to school. They wave back and reply.
When Haris is asked about his favorite subject in school, he shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know yet. The school has just started”, he answers. Thanks to many efforts of World Vision and the local community, Haris and his brothers have an opportunity to attend the school and figure it out.
The story was first published on WVI.org.