Association ESE


   Association for Emancipation, Solidarity and Equality of Women.




Roma communities build resilience to emergencies in North Macedonia

“At the onset of the crisis, the community did not believe in the coronavirus,” said Nezhlan Ismailovska, a 28-year-old member of a Roma community in Prilep, North Macedonia.

Nezhlan’s community has seen a drastic decline in employment opportunities and been disproportionately affected by a lack of accessible primary health-care services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to local civil society organizations, poor access to information, unsatisfactory housing conditions and poverty have prevented the most marginalized Roma people from adopting personal protective measures such as frequent handwashing, wearing face masks or practising physical distancing in their households.

Through a community engagement initiative, WHO has been working with Roma communities from 4 municipalities in North Macedonia since March 2021. The aim is to empower Roma people to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, while simultaneously building their capacity to respond to any future emergencies. Led by the Association for Emancipation, Solidarity and Equality of Women (ESE), it is 1 of 8 engagement projects initiated across the WHO European Region.

A meeting of the Roma community board in Gjorce Petrov

Community boards

Working with Roma-led civil society organizations, the project has established 3 community boards. These are leadership groups made up of informal leaders and influencers from within Roma communities, as well as representatives from municipal authorities, including health, education, police and social services.

Each board has 10 to 15 members who are trained in community resilience techniques such as resource mapping and emergency preparedness, readiness and response. The boards foster inclusive governance, making sure the views and needs of the communities they serve are taken into account by the national authorities in North Macedonia.

“The creation of this board was of crucial importance for our community. It allowed a more organized approach for taking action at different stages of a crisis. Also, it improved access to information that, in turn, helped resolve problems faster,” noted Nezhlan. “The board’s efforts have equipped the community with more knowledge and more capacity to respond to current and future emergencies.”

Integration in the national response

“By identifying community resources such as schools, municipalities, kindergartens and ambulances that can be used in emergencies, these boards’ resilience plans aim at benefiting an estimated 2500 Roma households to start with,” said Jihane Tawilah, WHO Representative to North Macedonia.

Project Coordinator Dzengis Berisha of Roma-led CSO STATION PET pointed out, “The community has resources, [especially] human resources, but needed somebody to bring them together and guide them in how they can help their own community.”

“We learned how to mobilize, organize and deploy our resources where needed,” explained Ruzha Kostovska, an ambulance doctor and member of the Roma community board in Gjoche Petrov. “Health workers cannot deal with the pandemic on their own. They need to cooperate with the communities and get support from other resources available in the municipality.”

A dynamic community engagement initiative

Community representatives and Roma civil society organizations presented a policy agenda for building resilience to future emergencies within Roma communities at a 1-day national conference held in September 2021. The event brought together 55 decision-makers and bilateral donors.

Participants were supported to photograph their lived experiences using a method called Photovoice. This inclusive approach, alongside the creation of community asset maps and a community survey, has helped them develop and document resilience plans which reflect and prioritize the needs of the community

Source: СЗО – 17.11.2021



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