Hope and fear in Fakulteta – Part 2

By May 21, 2020 May 27th, 2020 Appeal

Cutting through rumour and misinformation, our team continues to care for those most in need.

Lockdowns are being lifted, but the Coronavirus crisis continues to affect Roma throughout Southeast Europe. In Fakulteta, Sofia’s largest Roma community, life changed radically when it was locked down by the city authorities on March 13th. Now the roads in and out of the community are open again, but life is far from getting back to normal.

Ani leads FSCI’s community centre team in Fakulteta, “Currently in the neighbourhood lots of people are on unpaid leave or laid off from work. Taxi drivers don’t work and the musicians either. We participated in a survey where people shared that they currently owe money for food and essential items in the stores. Some rely on relatives who send them money from abroad and some have resorted to quick loans”. Loan sharks have always been a serious problem. There are local criminals who will happily exploit their own for personal gain.

Together with other NGOs, Ani and her team have been working with the authorities to help identify people most in need, carry out testing for the virus and form a much-needed line of communication between officials and the community. They help people to access services, deliver food and connect those who are ill with GPs. This collaborative approach has been positive, with hundreds of families receiving assistance, but suspicion of the authorities remains a problem in the community.

Six people have officially died from the virus, but some people refuse to believe the problem is real. “There are rumours in the neighbourhood that these people did not die of Coronavirus and everything is a lie. This is not true, there are positive tests from people in contact with those who passed away, just families want to hide the truth. Some people do not wear masks and believe that there is no danger. There are those who urge people not to test themselves voluntarily, believing that such a virus does not exist.”

Rumours and contradiction spread quickly in Roma communities, where outsiders and events on the outside are often viewed sceptically. But there are many people living under quarantine, and Ani and her team know many families who have loved ones in hospital. The second Coronavirus death recorded in the community was somebody that Ani knew – the father of some young people that have been participating in the teens group that she has been running at the community centre. “My first field visit was to go and help test this family that we know well after the death of the father. It was very hard. And I was afraid”.

 Ani is determined to make sure that people in her community get the help they need, and her team is right with her. “There are many people here that are getting sick, people that we have known and lived alongside for years. To work with them is emotionally draining. We know that there is risk, there is fear in all my colleagues, but it is really our duty to work for the community”.

FSCI remains dedicated to working in Fakulteta. Our normal activities there are suspended, but we continue to pay the salaries of Ani and her team, and we are diverting some money from our currently closed kindergarten to help families in need. But we need your help too. If you would like to support Ani and her team financially, you can make a donation here.