Roma children who are living in poverty, sleeping in camps and sorting through dumps in search of sustenance around Belgrade, Serbia, have new hope and a future because of funding from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Roma, also known as Romani or Romany, are a traditionally nomadic ethnic group with populations living around Europe.
Last fall, 180 Roma children enrolled in school in hopes of avoiding life on the street, reported the Church’s U.K. Newsroom. The children were assisted by 30 student volunteers from the University of Belgrade, the Center for Youth Integration and the Church.
“[The Church] was able to partner with CYI to help them provide a place for Roma children,” explained Raelene Bills, a full-time Church volunteer. Bills said the Church finances school and hygiene supplies, office supplies, transportation and outdoor activities for the effort.
The Center for Youth Integration created two drop-in gathering places in Belgrade for Roma schoolchildren to participate with permission from their parents. The children come from 27 informal settlements around the city and receive meals, showers, new clothes and help with homework.
The center’s project coordinator Lazar Milosevic said the parents work through the day, mainly collecting garbage, “So, they lack time, their children do not have shoes, clothes, or they have bad hygiene.”
The workshops also help children who tend to fall behind in the classroom, said Dijana Injac, a center volunteer and University of Belgrade master’s degree student.
“Many of them struggle with major difficulties in childhood, so they are forced to grow up quickly,” said Injac, but with a safe path to regular education, they are less likely to drop out of school.
Milosevic added, “We are very happy and proud of our work,” describing how the children gain confidence and self-esteem.
“These children find love, care and friendships with us.”