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Filed under: Human rights Peace and security Poverty Roma Social inclusion

Kids from mixed school (Roma and non Roma) dancing together, Serbia

Dancing together

The UN Country Team in Serbia just started a new human security project in Novi Pazar, Serbia. We launched the project during a very busy United Nations week with a round-table discussion on human security, an open dialogue with beneficiaries from the local communities, a visit to the Roma settlement near the town, and a theatre play for kids of a mixed community school.

The two year project will bring more than $2.8 million to local communities, especially marginalized groups in six municipalities in south-west Serbia, through:

  1. Construction of a formal recycling centre and cooperative,
  2. Improved access to public and health services, and
  3. Increased participation of children and young people in interethnic and intercultural dialogue.

We also kicked off a campaign that asks people: what does security mean to you? We’re asking this question to bring issues of human security in everyday life into the spotlight. (See: Mayor of Novi Pazar, spearheading new brand of human security)

“Human security has a range of definitions, from financial security (having or keeping a job), to social security (participating in municipal, cultural life), to  physical security (having a house, being healthy and safe). The main goal of human security is to ensure the survival, livelihood and dignity of people in response to current and emerging threats.”

UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS, Cihan Sultanoglu

Members of the UN team, including me, talked to people who will hopefully benefit from the new project. We asked them about their security concerns, and perspectives.

Cihan, our regional director, talking with a Roma family near Blazevo village, close to Novi Pazar

Cihan, our regional director, talking with a Roma family near Blazevo village

They told us they lack everything, even the basics: water and electricity. They said since they have no jobs, no proper homes, no proper access to services, documents, and the possibility to integrate and participate in society – they lack dignity. (See: Roma resettlement: Miroslav’s story)

One mother said she’s ashamed to send her kids to school, because they can’t take a bath, their clothes are dirty, and she has no money to give to them for snacks.

The kids from a Roma settlement, near Blazevo village, close to Novi Pazar, go to a nearby school, in Postenje, together with kids from the Serbian and Bosniak communities.

Even though they attend the same classes, and listen to the same lessons, share some of the same problems of kids growing up without many things modern-day children take for granted, the Roma kids are separated by an invisible but quite clear boundary, between different cultures and backgrounds.

People who work with the school and the communities say there is a problem – the kids don’t play together.

That’s why it was amazing to see a transformation taking place – right in front of my eyes, during an interactive play about courage, security and joint effort.

Local artists weaved topics of recycling waste, security and teamwork, into a classical fairy-tale type story, and involved all the kids, to laugh, sing and participate hand-in-hand. This was my favourite part of the whole day.

Kids from a mixed school (Roma and non Roma) play together

Playing together

Roma kids watching a play

In the play, the kids help a sea captain face his fears and confront everything that makes him feel insecure

In the play, a good fairy makes a mistake and takes away all the courage and sense of security from a sea captain, who collects trash and waste for a living. The children have to help the captain regain his courage and sense of security by facing up to his fears, and confronting everything that makes him feel insecure.

Much like the hero everyone is talking about these days, Felix Baumgartner, the fairy tells the captain to ‎”Learn to love what you’ve been taught to fear.”

The kids were fantastic in helping the captain get back his courage and sense of security. It was wonderful to see how naturally and freely they responded to the interactive nature of the play, and to its messages.

Kids watching a fairy, as part of an interactive play that helped inspire courage and togetherness

The kids started to play together immediately, thanks to a fun, interactive play that helped inspire courage and togetherness

The example of the play shows the goals of the human security project in Novi Pazar, which aims to improve security, dignity, a sense of belonging and togetherness, for the often divided, marginalized and insecure communities.

Just as the captain in the play faced his fears, so the kids in school faced their fears of playing and laughing with kids considered “Others,” and worked together to create a wonderful play, sparking lots of hope that the future for them will be brighter and more secure.

Fear is the raw material from which courage is manufactured. Without it, we wouldn’t even know what it means to be brave.

Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star

The march of confidence and joy: kids run and smile

The march of confidence and joy

Kids on the steps all waving

Until next time: Stay tuned for updates from the communities!