|Programme Title||Romano Barardo (Romanies the Gardeners)|
|Implementing Organization||Association Svatobor|
|Language of Instruction||Slovak|
|Funding||State budget, EU funds, national and international foundations|
|Programme Partners||Eighteen village and town municipalities; parishes; eco-centres; community centres; the Implementing Agency of the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of the Slovak Republic; the Slovak Land Fund; the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; state enterprise Forests of the Slovak Republic; the Office of the Slovak Government Commissioner for Roma Communities; private companies (Zvar, Strapex and Semo); foundations (Ekopolis, Hermes Osterreich, Carphatian Foundation, Orange and Open Society Foundation); churches; and NGOs (Sosna, Friends of the Earth International and Pro Tornensis).|
|Annual Programme Costs||€200,000 (cost per learner €500)|
|Date of Inception||2006|
Despite Slovakia's economic growth and integration into the European Union, the country continues to struggle with long-term unemployment and social inequality. The unemployment rate remains high, at over 13%, despite employment growth throughout 2014. One of the main contributing factors is the low employment of certain groups, including Roma people, who constitute around 7% or 400,000 of the total population of Slovakia. Unemployment rates among Roma people are extremely high, especially among Roma women (91% compared with 80% for men). Roma job-seekers face barriers to employment because of a lack of skills and discrimination. The World Bank (2012) estimates that Slovakia’s GDP would be significantly higher if Roma people had the same employment opportunities and wage levels as non-Roma people. In addition to high unemployment, the Roma population in Slovakia suffer from lower rates of literacy, and higher rates of poverty, crime and disease.
The education system in Slovakia guarantees equal access to education for everyone at all types and levels of school. Primary and secondary education are free of charge, with textbooks provided. However, the participation rate, attainment and educational outcomes of Roma children are significantly lower than those of non-Roma children, mostly due to their poor socio-economic status. According to UNICEF (2011), Roma children are eighteen times more likely than non-Roma not to finish eighth grade. The plight of Roma young people is especially alarming with 43% not in education, employment or training, around four times the national average.
Ever since the Roma were recognized as a national minority by the Slovakian government in 1992, ministers have repeatedly included the education and long-term integration of Roma people as key priorities in government policy documents. In 2012, the Slovak government adopted the national Roma Integration Strategy, covering the period up to 2020, in accordance with its obligations as a member of the EU. The strategy focuses on four main areas: education, employment, healthcare and housing of the Roma population. According to the government, the goals of the strategy are to end the segregation of Roma communities; to facilitate a significant improvement in the social inclusion of Roma communities; to foster non-discrimination; and to change the attitude of the majority population toward the Roma minority. The government committed itself to support the work of community centres which contribute to the aims and objectives of the Roma Integration Strategy (European Commission, 2015). Association Svatobor, supported by the government, as well as by a number of local and international government and non-governmental organizations, has conceptualized and implemented the programme Romano Barardo. The association implements the programme through community centres, parishes and eco-centres in eighteen municipalities in Slovakia. The programme links literacy and vocational training with the aim of helping Roma people overcome poverty, social exclusion, poor health and unemployment.
Romano Barardo was initiated in 2006 by Association Svatobor. The main objective of the programme is to combat poverty in rural Roma communities by providing young people and adults with education and training in eco-farming. The programme brings together land owners, primarily the state and the church, with other public and private stakeholders to provide land for farming, and so create opportunities for the Roma community and other marginalized people to learn agriculture and become self-sufficient. The main educational component is physical and practical farming activity, carried out by experienced gardeners. Young people and adults from Roma communities learn how to garden and produce fresh fruit and vegetables. As a compensation for their hard work, they receive a portion of fresh fruit and vegetables, which they have helped produce. Unemployed Roma people are usually supported by the state and receive between €60 and €120 EUR per month, which is not enough to cover their living expenses. The consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables therefore improves the nutrition of Roma gardeners and their families, while also saving them money. The remaining produce is distributed in two ways: part of it is given to teachers and volunteers in compensation for their work and contribution to the programme, and part of it is sold, providing income for the programme. During the course, learners acquire not only practical skills in agriculture, but also knowledge of environment protection, eco-farming and bio-waste, which increases their chances of securing future employment.
Aims and Objectives
The main objective of the programme is to combat poverty by providing socially excluded Roma communities with education and training in eco-farming. Other aims and objectives include:
- Helping Roma communities to overcome social exclusion and enjoy their basic human rights.
- Lowering the crime rate (thefts and vandalism).
- Reducing hunger in poor communities by fostering the food self-sufficiency.
- Improving the health conditions of the Roma people.
- Fostering of inter-ethnic dialogue and cooperation between Roma and non-Roma people.
Romano Barardo is implemented in community centres, gardens and fields across eighteen municipalities in Slovakia. Learners attend lectures and workshops in classrooms within the community centres, and do practical work in gardens and fields. Education and farming activities are conducted throughout the year, but especially during the growing period between March and October. Although most of the participants’ time is spent on farming activities, they, spend approximately 10% of the time (150 hours) in the classroom having lectures, debates and reading literature. The literacy and farming course lasts for three years, and is divided into three levels, explained in more detail below. The average number of learners per group is twenty.
During the first year, learners undertake basic gardening activities, such as soil and land preparation and composting. They perform these activities under the close guidance and supervision of their teachers, who are experienced gardeners. Unfortunately, most of the Roma learners who join the Romano Barardo programme have had a negative experience of learning and school. Therefore, teachers strive to slowly implement reading and to make it a habit. The amount of reading that learners do increases with each level. After each of level, learners are tested on their ability to independently complete eco-farming activities.
During the second year, participants learn to perform more difficult tasks, such as the production of bio-seeds, the seeding and planting of fruit, vegetables and herbs, irrigation, and the harvest and storage of produce.
In the final year, learners are capable of performing all farming activities without the guidance of the teachers. In addition, they help service and repair the appliances and machines used for farming.
By the time the course is over, the learners will have acquired not only practical skills in agriculture, but also a wide knowledge of environment protection, eco-farming, bio-waste and sustainable living. No certificate is awarded on completion of the course. The graduates apply their farming skills in their own private gardens and/or in community gardens. Local municipalities are one of the main partners of Association Svatobor and sometimes employ graduates to work as gardeners and take care of local public parks and gardens. In addition, Association Svatobor, provides graduates with a piece of land where they can continue their farming activities and, in that way, support themselves and their families, and improve their nutrition and quality of life. The association tries to secure land in the vicinity of learners’ houses which they can keep as their own property. If this isn’t possible, the association rents the land from state land holders (Slovak Land Fund, State Forests of the Slovak Republic) and gives it to the graduates of the programme.
The Recruitment of Teachers
Teachers in charge of farming activities are experienced gardeners, working part-time. As compensation for their work, they receive fruit, vegetables, fire-wood, and additional financial bonuses. Teachers work in close cooperation with local social and community workers, and they meet during workshops, conferences and debates to discuss the progress of the programme, and to improve their work with the Roma community. Teachers are recruited from the employment bureau. Apart from the non-Roma gardeners, the programme hires former Roma students as teachers. Association Svatobor organizes courses for the teachers at which they can improve their knowledge and skills. During each course, teachers are evaluated by the learners and by the association. As learners are able to choose between several teachers, the number of students who choose to study and complete the course with a particular teacher is indicative of the teacher’s quality of work. In addition to Roma and non-Roma teachers, there are 120 volunteers who help learners with their daily activities both in the classroom and in the field.
The Enrolment of Learners
The programme targets young people and adults from the Roma community. Association Svatobor involves local leaders and activists in order to promote the programme and encourage Roma people to join. In addition, journalists and photographers help to inform the public about the initiative through various media, including television, the internet and the press. Once learners start attending the courses, they gather in community centres, where social workers assess their learning needs and keep track of their progress. During both classroom and farming activities, teachers keep the attendance list, and in that way can measure a learner’s commitment.
As majority of the learners have difficulties with reading, the programme uses simple textbook materials, which cover topics relevant to the learners’ training. Learners are more motivated to read when the subject matter is seed production or a similar topic, which they have the opportunity of putting into practice. Teaching content is determined by the needs of the particular Roma community, taking into account local climactic and soil conditions.
Topics relate to practical work in garden, including:
- Preparation of the soil and land (ploughing and seeds preparation);
- Bio-waste composting;
- Growing fruit, vegetables and herbs;
- Breeding and reproducing bio-seeds;
- Seeding and planting;
- Irrigating of vegetation;
- Harvest, storage and the sale of farm products;
- Service and repair of appliances and machines;
- The protection of the environment at the eco-farm.
Teaching Material and Methods
Even though teaching consists mainly of physical activities within eco-farming, the programme includes lectures at which learners learn and read about agriculture. Apart from using simple textbook materials to learn about farming and gardening, learners are required to use a variety of gardening tools and appliances. During the farming activities, learners use tools, seeds, young plants, trees and substrates, and operate machines.
It is very important that teachers help learners stay motivated, in order to support their self-confidence and their desire to learn. At the start, learners are given very simple tasks. Once they realise they are able to complete them, they get a sense of accomplishment, which further motivates them.
Monitoring and Evaluation
The programme is continuously monitored and evaluated through analysis of financial reports and indicators of success. Research workers, most of them from universities, are engaged to evaluate the programme’s effects and outcomes. The indicators of success are:
- The number of Roma people educated to undertake farming activities;
- The number of the people who are employed after finishing the programme;
- Understanding and toleration between Roma and other communities in the society;
- The number of volunteers involved;
- Benefits for the environment;
- The amount of fruit, vegetables and herbs produced;
- The amount of compost produced;
- The size of the rehabilitated land, which is used in a sustainable way;
- The number of partners involved (especially local municipalities and community centres);
- Coverage of programme activities in the media and feedback from partners and donors.
Impact and Challenges
Since its inception in 2006, the programme has made a significant impact in improving both the quality of life of Roma communities in Slovakia and making a positive impact on the environment.
- Education and employment: The programme has provided educational services in the field of eco-farming to more than 1,200 young people and adults from Roma communities. In addition, in cooperation with its partners, Association Svatobor has provided job opportunities and income for 238 people from socially excluded communities (including 123 Roma people and 115 non-Roma people).
- Health: Learners have helped produce 300 tons of fruit and vegetables. As compensation for their farming work, learners receive a portion of the produce. Consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables improves the health of the Roma people.
- Inter-ethnic relations: In municipalities where the programme is implemented, Association Svatobor has noted that, through hard work and taking care of their houses and gardens, Roma people have gained respect among other communities. People of other ethnicities approach Roma people and offer them jobs, or seasonal work opportunities.
Through the programme's activities, Association Svatobor, together with its learners and partners, has:
- Obtained the closure of two large illegal waste dumps. After clearing up the land, they have built eco-centres, gardens and recreational spaces, including courts for volleyball, mini-football, tennis, table-tennis and basketball for everyone to enjoy;
- Processed more than 4,200 tons of bio-waste, turning it into 1,400 tons of compost;
- Created three water storage reservoirs with a rain water gathering system. The water stored in reservoirs is used for the irrigation of gardens, and for recreational and sport purposes, such as ice skating and ice hockey during the winter months.
Poverty among the Roma people is the biggest challenge for the programme. Roma people often live in poor conditions, in both rural and urban areas. They do not own the land on which they could, potentially, continue their farming activities. Therefore, Association Svatobor, together with its partners, tries to provide land on which Roma people can grow their own food.
Despite Association Svatobor’s efforts to raise awareness of discrimination, there remain some non-Roma people who discriminate against Roma people, refusing to provide them with the opportunity to gain land for establishing houses and gardens. The association deals with this by promoting the programme via the media, and organizing a variety of events for both Roma and non-Roma people to attend.
Providing education and work opportunities to Roma people is beneficial not only for them, but also for the socio-economic situation in Slovakia, as it increases employment and improves the relationship between Roma and non-Roma people.
In order to further reduce the drop-out rate, which currently stands at 15%, offering certain benefits as incentives to encourage Roma people to enrol and stay in the programme has proven helpful. Learners receive fruit and vegetables on a daily basis, and that encourages them to be part of the programme. In addition, successful graduates are rewarded either with jobs or with land, tools, seeds, and do on,. Learners recognize that attending the programme will be beneficial for them.
Organizing community activities, such as sports or cultural events, and inviting both Roma and non-Roma people to join, helps to bring people together and promote tolerance and understanding among different ethnicities. Association Svatobor regularly organizes such events, which are reported in the media. The events are an efficient way to get people to socialise together and, ultimately, to live with each other.
Giving non-Roma people the opportunity to join and volunteer in the association helps improve the social situation in Slovakia. Volunteers do something good for themselves and for the community, and spending time and working with Roma people is of mutual benefit.
The sustainability of the Romano Barardo programme depends on funding from three different sources: the state, the private sector and NGOs, and the income earned from selling fruit and vegetables.
State funding: The national Roma Integration Strategy was adopted by the Slovak government in January 2012, in accordance with its obligations as a member of the EU. The strategy focuses on four main areas: education, employment, healthcare and housing. According to the government, the goals of the strategy are: to end the segregation of Roma communities; to facilitate a significant improvement in the social inclusion of Roma communities; to foster non-discrimination; and to change the attitude of the majority population toward the Roma minority. The Romano Barardo programme is implemented in t partnership with municipal community centres, parishes and eco-centres. The government entered into a long-term engagement to support community-centre projects, of which the Romano Barardo programme is one.
Funding from the private sector and NGOs: The programme is supported by the following foundations: Ekopolis Foundation, Open Society Foundation, Carphatian Foundation, Orange Foundation and Hermes Osterreich Foundation.
Income from selling fruit and vegetables: As previously mentioned, a portion of the fruit and vegetables produced is sold. This income covers some of Association Svatobor’s expenses, and helps them to reinvest in gardening tools, seeds, and so on.
Over the years, Association Svatobor has established good partnerships with local, national and international organisations. Furthermore, the objectives of the Romano Barardo programme contribute to the National Roma Integration Strategy, supported by the Slovak government, which further ensures the sustainability of the programme. Finally, the association can always rely on the income learners and teachers earn from selling the fruit and vegetables they grow.
- European Commission (2015). Country Report: Slovakia. [PDF 936,27 KB][Accessed July 2015].
- OECD (2014). Education at a Glance 2014. [PDF 11.483,74 KB] [Accessed July 2015].
- The World Bank (2012). Diagnostics and Policy Advice on the Integration of Roma in the Slovak Republic.
Štefan Straka (PhD)
Statutory representative of Association Svatobor
Časť Grodzin č. 60
094 31 Ďurďoš, Slovakia
Last update: 07 September 2015