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Visit to the Illegal Urban Settlements

Roma ghetto

Located directly in the city, not far from private houses and well-tended gardens, one reaches the place where impromptu living conditions prevail. Plywood and remnants of various building materials are assembled to provide shelter shared by families, cats, dogs and horses. Since such settlements grow without permission, no water and sewage pipes are installed; electricity is supplied via cables that are towed without authorization and waste is disposed of at random locations.

Generations share the same place – from grandparents, young parents, single mothers, cousins and many children of all ages. Many of them have immigrated from different countries and keep moving through Europe due to the nomadic Roma tradition or the hope for a better life. This creates a dynamic sub-populations with different cultural backgrounds, languages and religions.

What is similar to all is lack of education, suboptimal use of the official language or absence of official documents. This means that even the most industrious adults have little chance of getting regular jobs. To survive in such an environment requires creativity that often goes beyond the law and rules, so that even these, who have the potential, can hardly escape the niche in which they were born. Such a desperate situation requires not only external support and solutions, but also personal initiative and willingness to change and move out from such settlements. Nevertheless, it is not easy to break the circle and revoke the trust and hope in such places what often causes setbacks, as for people who live there, so for people who try to support them. Children are often pulled back into street-work or petty crime due to inertia of the environment in which they live or under pressure to support their families.

It was heartbreaking to witness poverty, but it was also very touching to experience mutual respect that has developed over the decade. Professional and friendly, with no judgment and with properly measured advices, with an ear for the everyone’s story and the awareness of any new child’s face, which may need their support, CIM staff plays an important role in building a supportive network for children who are growing up in illegal urban settlements.

Every visit is greeted by hordes of children of all ages. Unwashed, with runny noses and messy hair, they still show incredible curiosity, creativity, openheartedness and wit. With a respectful and compassionate approach, CIM employees have made it possible for children, even when their families move to suburbia, to take the initiative when visiting CIM shelters.

"...Unwashed, with runny noses and messy hair, they still show incredible curiosity, creativity, openheartedness and wit..."

There they can shower, get clean clothes and warm food, get medical check-ups and support, or they can also get their first official papers and school registrations. But these essentials are just a start. Children are given the opportunity to attend cultural and sporting events or to participate in various creative and educational workshops. They support and motivate each other for better school results. They can play, learn and “just be kids again” as one of the CIM staff would say.

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