'With kindness and honesty': Local community mediators promote Roma inclusion in Moldova
29 July 2022
In Moldova, the majority of Roma families live in poverty and lack access to basic services. In recent years the situation has deteriorated further, exacerbated in large part by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The urgent need to support these vulnerable families and find solutions to their challenges has sparked a new kind of humanitarian action in Moldova: community mediation, a powerful tool that helps resolve differences and conflicts between people, groups, and organizations.
The Roma Community Mediators Institution is one of the most effective organizations in Moldova for promoting Roma inclusion and supporting their integration into society. In 2004 the institution helped train the first network of facilitators and mediators based along the right bank of the Nistru river. Together this network helped many Roma families obtain their identity papers and ensured children could access school and pre-school education.
In 2021, inspired by their previous achievements, the UN Human Rights Office in Moldova (OHCHR) with the support of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) decided to establish a new Roma Community Mediators Institution. This time on the left bank of the Nistru.
Our UN Country Team in Moldova spoke with Serghei and Inga who are both working as mediators in their local communities. They explained some of the joys and challenges of trying to build community cohesion.
“Putting it simply: I assist our Roma families to exercise their human rights”
“I learned about the Roma Mediators’ Institution a few years ago, during human rights training organized by the UN Human Rights Office in Moldova. I really wanted to assist my community from Novaya Andriyashevka, so I participated in numerous workshops, went to trainings, and learned new things. And when a competition for the position of mediator opened, I decided to take part and was selected. Now I try to solve the many issues our Roma community is facing and help Roma families exercise their human rights.”
Every day Serghei helps vulnerable Roma families get by: providing firewood for those who don't have it and assisting children to enroll in school. Being a mediator also often means being a “bridge” between the disadvantaged communities and the local authorities, Serghei explained.
“When it was necessary to solve the issue of street lighting or school repair, I went straight to the local administration. I kept telling the officials how the current situation was negatively affecting the children, their ability to go to school.”
Eventually, local authorities answered his pleas: the school is now being repaired, and the streetlights in several villages are being fixed.
According to Serghei, the community has already seen positive changes from the community mediation, as more Roma children are now in school and kindergarten, vulnerable families receive necessary social assistance, and there are less people without identity and housing registration papers.
“I consider it a very important achievement,” Serghei admitted.
“Everyone feels comfortable communicating with a mediator involved”
A significant number of Roma communities also live in Nakhalovka, a district in the town of Tiraspol, in the southeast of Moldova. Inga, who works in a local market, was already active in her community for four years before she enrolled in OHCHR’s Training Program in 2020-2021. She began working as a Roma community mediator in September 2021, just like Serghei.
"I mainly focus on education of Roma children and assist in resolving conflicts between Roma and non-Roma children in schools. For instance, at the beginning of this school year, I visited all schools where Roma children from my district were enrolled and asked teachers to contact me if there were any conflict situations related to Roma. Everyone immediately feels comfortable communicating this way, with a mediator involved," says Inga.
According to Inga, in the past, most Roma children never used to go to kindergarten, which left them very unprepared for school.
After attending the training programme for Roma mediators, Inga now realizes the importance of increasing Roma's access to education. She feels invested in their future and often checks on the progress Roma children living in her district are making at school and kindergarten.
Besides helping children gain access to education, Inga assists the Roma community with other challenges.
"People come to me asking for help with various documentation issues - they do not know how to fill in an application, which institution to address, they ask me to accompany them to different authorities. Of course, if I can't solve the problem and need special knowledge, I ask for professional legal expert support," explains Inga.
When the UN Moldova team asked Inga at the end of their conversation, what qualities make a good mediator, she immediately replied - “kindness and honesty.”
“If a person does not have these qualities, he or she will never understand people or be able to help others.”
The story was adapted from an article previously published by the UN in Moldova. Editorial support was provided by DCO.
The efforts to support the Roma community are part of the 'One UN Joint Action to Strengthen Human Rights in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova' project, which is implemented by six UN entities: IOM, OHCHR, UNAIDS, UNICEF, UNDP, and UNODC.
To learn more about UN's work in Moldova, please visit: Moldova.UN.org
UN entities involved in this initiative
International Organization for Migration
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights