Inspirational HEROes from Slovakia and their Stories of Success

If you are on a journey through the picturesque landscapes of Slovakia, the self-help constructions in Varhaňovce and home renovations in Zborov will definitely catch your eye. It is the participants of the Housing and Empowerment of Roma (HERO) project, who are transforming their own homes and futures

Spring is a particularly inspiring season for our participants, marked by insightful training sessions in Vechec, Varhanovce, Jastrabie, and Veľká Lomnica, sharing invaluable knowledge on home selection, pre-construction planning, and construction financing. The construction works are already underway in Varhaňovce, and significant progress can also be noticed in Zborov

The collective efforts of our HEROes are bearing fruit, creating spaces filled with pride and hope. Their stories are not just about constructing buildings — they are about laying the foundations for a brighter, more inclusive future.

Pavlina Žigová: “My house is my fortress.”

Pavlina Žigová is a resilient woman from Varhaňovce whose transformative HERO journey embodies the spirit of empowerment. Pavlina’s story is one of courage amidst adversity, a testament to the difference independent housing can make: “I’ve had a lot of troubles in life. My house was falling apart, my neighbours have been insulting and threatening me,” Pavlína begins, sharing the harsh realities that once clouded her days. 

Following the passing of her husband, with whom she had taken out a loan for their house, Pavlina found herself navigating the journey alone. The fear that she wouldn’t be granted the loan loomed large, yet hope found a way with the HERO project launching in Slovakia

I’ve been through a lot down in the settlement. I didn’t know what to do. But I am firmly determined in my head that, as long as I live, I must improve my life — I will build my own little house.

Her determination was met with the invaluable support of Jaro, Julo, and Rado, the HERO construction teachers and coaches who shared their skills and knowledge to help Pavlína’s dream take shape. Without the assistance of Project DOM.ov and social banking by Slovenská sporiteľňa, her aspirations would remain just that — aspirations.

Pavlina’s journey towards independent housing stands as an example of what can be achieved when we come together to support each other.

Pavlina Žigová: I will live in the new house until old age in good health and happiness.

Nikolas Žiga: “I feel obligated to take care of my family.”

The story of Nikolas Žiga captures the essence of responsibility and the pursuit of self-reliance that motivates our HEROes. Coming from Varhaňovce, Nikolas, a man driven by a deep sense of duty inherited from his father, embarked on a HERO journey to provide a stable foundation for his family. 

“I planned to build a house as soon as I started a family. I saved money because I didn’t want to depend on my parents,” Nikolas shares. Navigating the complexities of building a home, however, presented its own set of challenges, particularly when it came to handling the necessary paperwork and obtaining building permits:

Projekt DOM.ov (HERO co-implementing partner in Slovakia) helped me the most with handling documents, papers, building permits, and other paperwork. I might have been able to handle the paperwork myself, but it definitely would not have been as quick as with the help of the Projekt DOM.ov.

The HERO project’s support extended beyond paperwork. Our partners facilitated crucial communications and negotiations, such as liaising with the former mayor to secure land. They helped me with the land, especially in communicating with the former mayor, and they handled it very quickly,” Nikolas recounts, appreciative of the swift and efficient resolution.

The impact of the HERO project is seen not only in terms of physical infrastructure but also in empowering individuals like Nikolas to uphold their commitments to their loved ones.

Thanks to my participation in the HERO project, I obtained land, a building permit, and a loan to build my house, for which I am very grateful

The call for continued support, understanding, and inclusion

The HERO project, through its support for housing and empowerment, not only addresses the immediate needs of Roma people, but also challenges the societal structures that have long perpetuated exclusion and marginalisation. Every HERO’s journey highlights the complexities entangled in the pursuit of stability and the dream of providing a brighter future for future generations.

We want to live with our family better than before, in a legal house… and the children are looking forward to their own rooms.

Marián Vidlička, HERO participant from Zborov

The practical support provided by the HERO partners in Slovakia facilitates the bridge between saving money and realising the dream of independence and homeownership.

We don’t want to live with our parents, we want to be independent.

Martin Kováč, HERO participant from Zborov

As we celebrate the successes of our HEROes, we are reminded of the work that still lies ahead. Their stories are not just tales of personal triumph but calls to action for continued support, understanding and inclusion

Follow HERO on social media and read the next blogs to further explore what can be achieved when compassion, innovation, and collaboration come together to address the systemic challenges faced by the Roma communities in Europe.