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Meeting with the Helsinki Deaconess Institute from Finland

27 FEB 2018

The Helsinki Deaconess Institute (https://www.hdl.fi/en/) is a charitable foundation boldly working to uphold human dignity since 1867, which makes it one of the oldest existing foundations in Europe.

They provide help to people at risk of social exclusion, including Roma.

Together with their subsidiary Hoiva they produce effective social and health services to improve the situation of people in risk. They run the Community Action Based Learning for Empowerment (CABLE) to empower people and build communities. Civic activity is a strong feature of all their operations. The Helsinki Deaconess Institute promotes scientific research and publishing concerning its field of work by linking up with university research on inclusion and preventing social exclusion. They are also continuously developing new practical ways of working together with beneficiaries, researchers and students.

In January 2018, the Helsinki Deaconess Institute contacted NGO Organization Drom, as they recognized that many Roma migrants in Finland are actually coming from the town of Vidin. We provided information and input about our activities and suggested that the Finish foundation visits Bulgaria to look deeper into the issues that brought Roma to Finland.

The Finish team, Ms. Anca Enache, Development Manager, and Dr. Sc. Kristiina Elenius (Economist) from Helsinki Deaconess Institute (HDI), landed in Sofia on February 20th. After meeting with the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues, the HDI team met with Ms. Savelina Danova, who is the advisor of NGO Organization Drom. Mr. Rumyan Russinov, former Deputy Director of the Roma Education Fund also joined the meeting.

Meeting with Ms. Savelina Danova, Advisor of NGO Organization Drom, and Mr. Rumyan Russinov

with the HDI team from Finland on February 21st in Sofia

Ms. Savelina Danova answered questions and presented specific examples from her over 20-year experience in human rights research and advocacy. She shared views on Bulgaria’s status in the Central and East European context in terms of access to fundamental rights, especially the rights to education, housing and healthcare. She also provided insights from her international reports on the situation of Roma in Europe.

Mr. Rumyan Russinov presented the macro picture on the situation of Roma in Bulgaria. He shared his experience during the campaign in 1997 for the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in Bulgaria and for governmental policies for the social integration of the Roma minority. He discussed also the importance of the process of desegregation of Roma education in Central and Eastern Europe and the contribution of NGO Organization Drom, which piloted the initiative in Vidin.

Mr. Rumyan Russinov and Ms. Anca Enache from HDI on February 21st in Sofia

On the following day, the team from Finland met with the team of NGO Organization Drom. Ms. Donka Panayotova, chair of the organization, presented the history of the organization and key pillars of activities that the organization has been leading in Northwest Bulgaria for two decades. The Roma Education Desegregation project, piloted by NGO Organization Drom in August 2000, started with 100 Roma children who attended 9 schools in Vidin. Ms. Panayotova commented that 18 years later, the project runs without direct involvement of NGO Organization Drom. The Finish colleagues heard that about 4,000 Roma children from Northwest Bulgaria have benefited from the Program, run by NGO Organization Drom so far. About 200 Roma children from the program have successfully graduated or are currently studying in Universities and colleges in Bulgaria and abroad.

Meeting with the team of NGO Organization Drom on February 22nd in Vidin

Ms. Bilyana Kostova, lawyer at NGO Organization Drom, with the HDI team

Ms. Bilyana Kostova, lawyer at NGO Organization Drom, spoke with the two colleagues from Finland about NGO Organization Drom’s new project in cooperation with the Bulgarian Helsinkii Committee, funded by the European Commission, which was initiated in January 2018. Ms. Panayotova shared also data and analysis from the project “Access to Housing for Roma in Vidin”, funded by Open Society Foundations in August 2016, which is still running. She also shared her experience with the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in Vienna, Austria (http://fra.europa.eu/bg) where she presented the case on access to quality education and access to housing in Vidin in end-January 2018.

Ms. Panayotova and the two Finish colleagues, discussing recent participation in a workshop at FRA in Vienna

Ms. Kristiina Elenius and Ms. Anca Enache from Helsinkii Deaconness Institute noted also the many awards NGO Organization Drom has received over the past two decades, namely “Project of the Year for 2010” by Tulip Foundation, “Human of the Year”, awarded by Bulgarian Helsinkii Committee, International award by Open Society Institute – New York and the World Bank in 2003, and many others.

Later during the day, Ms. Donka Panayotova introduced the Finish colleagues to Mr. Ventzi Paskov, Deputy Mayor of the Vidin Municipality. The meeting was held at the deputy mayor’s office and it revealed that NGO Organization Drom and the Vidin Municipality partner on a regular basis for the introduction of measures that support integration of Roma within the Bulgarian society.

Meeting with Mr. Ventzi Paskov, Deputy Mayor of the Vidin Municipality

The day of this intensive visit continued with a meeting with Ms. Teodora Gancheva, school director at “St. Kliment Ohridski” school, who presented the activities of the school and challenges which they face. Ms. Gancheva unveiled also outcomes of the excellent work they are conducting for providing opportunities for integration of Roma pupils in the mainstream schooling system, supported also by NGO Organization Drom.