When Roma Lead the Way to Prosperity

In recent years, many policymakers and NGO leaders have attempted to compile “success stories” demonstrating the results of their work to improve the lives of Roma. Oftentimes, they focus on their own short-term projects. But when you ask Roma communities, they do not see these projects as successes.

For the racist majority, this difference of opinion fuels claims that Roma do not want to integrate. For allies of the Roma movement and for many Roma advocates, meanwhile, it casts doubt and cynicism on whether change can be achieved at all for Roma.

If we want to see success stories, we need to look beyond short-term social assistance projects driven by the agenda of donors, intergovernmental agencies, and practically everyone but the Roma themselves. We need to look at communities where Roma have been relying on their own self-organization to amend local authorities and create equality and prosperity for Roma in the long-term.

Lom, a small town in northwest Bulgaria, is one of these communities. In Lom, the legacy of racism placed an artificial limit upon what Roma could achieve. Roma were marginalized and separated from the rest of the population by a sign which read: “No Gypsies beyond this line.” Roma children were not allowed to go to school; their parents could not find work.

But local Roma leaders pushed back and crossed the segregation line. They advocated relentlessly for authorities to work for Roma as they do for all citizens. Hardworking Roma families built up the rest: children went to school, they found employment or started their own businesses, they built friendships with their non-Roma neighbors.

Today, Roma are thriving in Lom: they are doctors, school principals, entrepreneurs, committed citizens. And their experience shows the remarkable success that can be achieved by ordinary people.

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I am so happy to see this kind of thinking at last. RomaRising has from the beginning played the long game. While there may have been a short-term project in Poland, for the rest, the work was at personal expense, in order to show the much larger, extra-national successes of strivers, who are now many of them citizens of Europe, as well as of their own countries. Some 17 years later, the project has 400+ portraits, the majority of which are people unknown, determined to live a “normal” life of achievement and fulfillment. The seeds that flourished in Lom are indeed everywhere, awaiting only the nourishment of public acceptance. Their overwhelming common denominators are education and family. RomaRising has seen optimism, and despair. The long game is this: we shall overcome.

This is a wonderful story which speaks to the courage and determination of the Roma people who relied not so much on others but rather on one another to build a meaningful life .....we can all be inspired by their example , never losing hope that change is always possible

This is an extremely one sided politically correct view on the situtation. As a person who grew up in this area I can assure you for the last 10-15 years the situation has been getting worse in Northwest Bulgaria in general. Although I do agree that there seems to be progress on integrating the Roma minority in bigger cities, smaller villages, like the one I grew up in and where mostly old people live are being constantly under attack by young (mostly Roma) people. My grandparents' house has been broken into multiple times, which is the case for many old folks in the region. I've met multiple people living on a small pension, barely surviving, that have to deal with this sort of problem on a daily basis. Communities of people in those villages are more separated now than ever, and it's really a two sided conflict.. I understand the good intentions behind the video, but being one who has actually lived among this community, I can say for sure we need more order and law enforcement.

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