International Romani Day 2024: Celebrating Our HEROes

In Europe and worldwide, the 8th of April marks an important occasion – International Romani Day. While the official commemorations serve as a platform to celebrate the rich heritage and cultural traditions of Roma communities, they also raise awareness of the inclusion and equality challenges that the Roma face in their daily lives.

For activists, policy makers, European institutions, and other organisations working to advance Roma inclusion, this day is also a symbol of their commitment to promoting equality, justice, and dignity for all, recognising the underestimated contributions of the largest European minority to the identity and society of every country on the continent.

The life of Roma in Europe

Despite their sizable presence in European countries, many Roma individuals find themselves living in informal settlements without access to essential utilities such as running water and electricity. For example, the National Roma Strategic Framework for Romania reports that one in three Roma individuals resides in such marginalised settlements, thus highlighting the urgent need for intervention and support.

Discrimination and structural inequalities further hinder Roma families’ access to basic services, including healthcare, education, financial services and products, and housing. But these facts are no reason for defeatism. Instead, they should serve as a call to action for all, not only for the benefit of Roma communities, but also for the well-being of societies more broadly.

The HERO mission is to empower for change

Aligning with the commitments of the EU Anti-racism Action Plan, the Housing and Empowerment for Roma (HERO) project, launched in 2022, aims to tackle the root causes of exclusion and provide access to financial resources and housing opportunities, empowering Roma communities to lead change from within.

By piloting innovative social inclusion projects in countries with the largest Roma populations, HERO offers a collaborative approach to Roma empowerment and sustainable change.

Our HEROes in Slovakia and Romania

To date, one-third of all pilot participants in Slovakia have undergone financial literacy training, equipping themselves with the tools to navigate the financial landscape with confidence. Beyond education, many secure homes in Varhaňovce and Zborov are taking shape, built with pride by the families that they will shelter.

Breaking the cycle of dependency, starting with house ownership, opens new opportunities for future generations. “We don’t have running water here, only a well. And we want things to be better for us… especially for the children”, says a HERO participant from Vechec, Slovakia.

Similarly, in Romania, our HEROes are making tangible progress. Through micro-loans, financial literacy programmes, and employment coaching, 120  individuals from vulnerable communities are charting their paths to success. At this stage, financial education sessions are enabling more than 70 participants to plan for the future and transform their prospects, in addition to potentially accessing micro-loans.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m leaving with more knowledge. I understood how much money I could lose every month, and now I think that I can set aside some money, even if we have significant expenses with the children. I’ll start saving every month!

– HERO participant from Roman, Neamț county, Romania

Each of these steps toward financial independence and independent housing marks a significant milestone on the journey toward the stability and security of Roma communities across Europe.

Toward more HEROes in the EU

Looking ahead, the continued provision of support from social workers will enable our participants to navigate challenges and ensure that their housing ambitions are realised. Through their resilience, our participants not only transform their own lives, but also contribute to the broader mission of extending HERO’s approach across the European Union.

We will not stop in Bulgaria, and I hope that HERO will become EU-wide. HERO is the best example of smart cooperation between policymakers, private stakeholders, and communities, earmarking funds where they are needed most. We need more HEROes in the EU.

– Tomáš Zdechovský, Member of the European Parliament

Today, as we celebrate our Roma participants and look forward to the successes emerging from Slovakia and Romania, we are reminded that the journey towards more HEROes in the EU is still only beginning.

Explore more HERO stories from our partners, participants, and community leaders in the news section on our website, and follow the HERO updates on social media.