Pilot project improves living conditions for Roma families in need in Slovakia -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Pilot project improves living conditions for Roma families in need in Slovakia

By Katerina Bezgachina

Initial results are encouraging in Europe and Central Asia, as Habitat for Humanity begins assessing how home repairs have led to improved living conditions and better health in a Roma project in eastern Slovakia.

At the conclusion of a pilot project to assist a Roma settlement on the periphery of town in Svinia, an evaluation group reviewed results and documented improvements to the residents and their environment. The work on homes was carried out by the Roma families with support from Habitat and its local partner, Environmental Training Project (ETP) Slovakia Foundation, a center of sustainable development.

The evaluation commission was comprised of Habitat employees, representatives of ETP Slovakia, members of municipal administration and social workers. The group physically inspected homes of the Roma families after the project had been completed. During the evaluation, 30 people were interviewed. The commission met with Slovak families from Svinia to assess their attitude towards the neighboring Roma settlement and interviewed social workers to see health and educational outcomes.

All stakeholders agreed that there had been an improvement in the quality of life in the Roma settlement. Families who were living almost in a ghetto on the outskirts of Svinia had cleaner and healthier homes after repairs had been carried out. Also, there was a reduction in the incidents of ticks, stomach disorders and respiratory infection, especially among children.

According to the social workers, the number of hepatitis cases was reduced, and vermin and insect infections were totally eliminated. Four out of five interviewed families stated that they were happy with the outcomes and their children had fewer health problems.

“We have to be careful how we evaluate this project”, said John Young of the European Union’s Phare fund in Bratislava, who has visited 50 Roma settlements in Slovakia, including Svinia, several times.

It’s a fantastic chance to help a problematic settlement, but we can’t expect miracles”, Young said. “The project organizers will have to stay here for 25 to 30 years if there is to be any permanent change.”

The program in Svinia helped to improve living conditions for 137 Roma families. Under the supervision of construction managers, residents repaired leaking roofs, installed new flooring, painted walls, and built drainage channels and garbage collection points.

New flooring, solid fuel cookers and heaters, and freshly painted walls and ceilings created a healthier and brighter indoor atmosphere in homes. Also, 37 families received 71 beds. For the first time in many years, family members had real beds, and children could sleep separately.

Prior to the start of the project, many people in the settlement suffered from hepatitis, the most likely cause of which was water consumption from the shared wells that were contaminated by garbage. A 9-cubic water reservoir was installed, one old well was cleaned and the other two capped off. The new reservoir drew water from a nearby spring and piped it to the well, providing fresh and clean drinking water for the community.

Moreover, all 137 families received disinfectants for their homes. As a result, according to the social workers’ data, incidents of hepatitis in the community had been cut in half.

Before the pilot project, the lack of proper walkways in the settlement meant that during rains the residents had to slog through mud and water. Flooding was common because of the low level of the area and the absence of any drainage system. As part of the project, the most frequently used paths were leveled and covered with macadam and gravel. After long negotiations, the municipality permitted the construction of one concrete path to the well.

For the Roma families, the project in Svinia is not the end of poverty, but a beginning of a long-lasting solution. Taking it to the next level and conducting additional home renovations and construction will require will and vision on the part of the local administration.

Katerina Bezgachina is the public relations and media manager for Habitat’s Europe and Central Asia area office.