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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Minute for Mission: International Roma Day


April 8, 2024

In Belgrade, Serbia, many Roma families live in settlements scattered about the city. In one that we visited, the streets were flooded, water mixed with sewage, and there were mounds of garbage between and behind their homes. Trucks drive through the settlement daily, and one day recently, one truck ran over a Roma child. The public response was to blame the victim — Roma chooses to live this way. But who chooses to live in a slum?

The Roma are still one of the most marginalized people in Europe (and elsewhere in the world). Maintaining their cultural traditions and language, people too often perceive a threat, where none is intended. The stereotypes against Roma are ugly. 

Many Roma adults are functionally illiterate, because they were not welcome in schools or faced discrimination that did not motivate them to stay. Access to well-paying jobs is rare, if not nonexistent. If a job is advertised, Roma are not welcome to apply. The kind of work they might find pays so little that they cannot support their family, and any job takes away the small stipend they receive from the state.

The Center for Youth Integration (CYI), an NGO in Belgrade, is trying to change the future for Roma children in Serbia today. Roma children do have access to school, but if they are not clean or do not have shoes and good clothing, they face discrimination from other children. They often end up in the back of the class. The slum-like conditions of the settlements make good hygiene very difficult. Recognizing the very real barriers to education, CYI works with the parents and the children to change the future. They have established day centers across the city that provide showers and laundry machines, clothing closets, warm meals, tutoring and encouragement. The centers are open seven days a week. The children are always welcome. When we visited on a Sunday morning, the center was full of kids working on homework, having a warm lunch and playing games.

The word “integration” is perhaps a misnomer. No one is trying to erase Roma culture, which is distinct and beautiful. CYI is working to erase the barriers to inclusion in Serbian society and to change the narrative.

Ellen Smith, Regional Liaison for Central and Eastern Europe

Today’s Focus: International Roma Day

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Barry Ensign-George, Manager, Theology & Worship, Presbyterian Mission Agency  
Kurt Esslinger and Hyeyoung Lee Mission co-workers serving in Korea, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency  

Let us pray

Dear Lord, open our hearts and minds to those suffering from discrimination, that we may sit together at one table, discovering our commonality in the midst of our differences. We give thanks to Jesus for teaching us to love our neighbor as we do ourselves. Amen.