Vocational training changes lives of disadvantaged Roma women

Vocational training changes lives of disadvantaged Roma women

Two years after its launch, a social inclusion project for disadvantaged Romani women made them budding entrepreneurs. Ten women from the community in western Turkey now run their own business after completing vocational training.

The Technical Assistance for Promoting Social Inclusion in Densely Roma Populated Areas (SİROMA) was inaugurated by the Ministry of Family and Social Policies in 12 provinces. In Manisa, 200 Romani citizens attended classes on vocational training from hairdressing to cooking, sewing as well as literacy. Ten among them, who previously worked in odd jobs, succeeded in launching businesses thanks to free consulting services and loans by the government. Once selling flowers and trinkets on stalls and having no social security, they are now businesswomen running tailor's shops, restaurants and cafes. İpek Kanbaş, who now runs a restaurant, says she "left home" and made her foray into the business world thanks to the project. "My husband and friends encouraged me to take the business classes. I am glad now that I did it. After entrepreneurship training, I received loans and set up my own business," Kanbaş, formerly a housewife, told Anadolu Agency (AA). "This is a great opportunity for people who cannot afford to set up their own shops," she says. Gonca Uğurçay says she did not have a proper job before and now she runs a tailor's shop. "People running [SİROMA] classes here suggested me to take up sewing. Once I completed it, I was able to make and repair dresses on my own," she says.

Aslan Uğurçay, who works as SİROMA's Manisa representative, says the training program "produced good results" for his Romani community. "This is the first comprehensive project serving to the community. We do not have stereotypes associated with our people any more. They are not people playing music on the streets or selling flowers. They are now running their own shops and make a better living," he says.

Also funded by the EU, SİROMA, with a budget of more than 10 million euros, reached out to the Roma community whose inherent poverty and discrimination they encounter are among their major challenges.

Some 2,000 people from the community were enrolled in vocational training courses and 1,014 Roma citizens attended literacy classes as part of the project.

SİROMA so far has trained 501 people in entrepreneurship.

Limited access to employment and education is a main obstacle for the Roma. Many are forced to work in low-paying jobs and choose to skip education to make a living for their impoverished families. The government, under the tenure of then-prime minister and incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had launched a Romani initiative to help the underprivileged community. Erdoğan, with his folksy attitude and childhood in a neighborhood in Istanbul with a large Roma population often mentioned in his speeches, is a beloved figure among the community.

The government has also set up social consultation centers, known as SODAM, in six provinces to help disadvantaged Roma families, particularly women, and has built more than 4,600 apartments in 15 cities as part of social housing plans for the community.

The government is also gradually rolling out incentives for the Roma under an action plan, including interest-free loans for entrepreneurs from the community. It also pledged technical support for community members planning to establish co-ops. The government will also deploy job consultants to help them in employment.

Those in traditional occupations that members of the Roma community have made a living from, such as tinsmithing and basket weaving, will be helped through access to larger markets and receive incentives to sustain their jobs, which are slowly becoming extinct due to lower demand. The government will also launch a campaign to educate the Roma community.

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