Caught Inside but Not Isolated

Natasha Likollari

Internet access isn’t always a given, even in Europe, so partners in Albania are working to make sure that everyone has the correct information but also stays encouraged.

Since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Albania, the government has taken very strict measures to contain the disease and protect people. This situation caught us all unprepared; but for Roma communities, more than anyone, this lockdown is like the end of the world.

Roma communities — sometimes called gypsies — face a lot of difficulties in normal situations, much less in times of crisis like this.

To live in quarantine means to be separated from loved ones. To stay locked up at home, to go out on a limited schedule or not to go out at all, to work from home (for those who can work) is all hard enough for us.

But what about a Roma family whose daily work is collecting cans or begging on the street? Their challenges are huge, especially during these uncertain times. For many of them, their biggest worry is how to provide food for their families, especially children. Staying in quarantine takes a psychological toll on both adults and children. If adults go through quarantine with stress, insecurity, anxiety and worry, these reactions will also be reflected in children.

Emotions are contagious in their own way.

Closed Off From School

Facing this new reality isn’t easy for many Roma children since the lookdown closed schools, which may have been their one refuge from an already unsettled home life and unhappy parents.

To make matters worse, kids are supposed to follow the lessons online, but this often proves to be very difficult for Roma students. Most of the families don’t have access to the internet, much less computers, smartphones or iPads to watch the lessons and get homework.

If the children are able to get their schoolwork remotely, parents usually can’t help them with it. Many Roma adults have never been to school; illiteracy rates are high in the community, so how can a mother or father help their child with the passage of a textbook or worksheet when they can’t read it themselves? This situation has brought so much stress to the kids, parents and the teachers as well because the online communications doesn’t always work.

Another issue with the lack of access to the internet is that a lot of Roma families don’t receive the news or only hear garbled reports of what’s happening with COVID. The government is forcing them to stay indoors and not go out to beg or work, but in some areas, electricity has been cut off for those who can’t paid for their utilities.

This makes the general anxiety worse because many Roma parents don’t know what news they hear is true and what is just rumors or misunderstandings.

Encouraging One Another

Latif and his wife, Fero, together with the volunteers of a local church, have been working together to distribute leaflets and share information on how to prevent infection from the coronavirus with an emphasis on health and safety.

Despite the crisis, Latif refused to be quarantined. He travels to many of the nearest Roma communities weekly along with Fero or other team members. They are visiting the families and informing them about social distancing and the importance of keeping up good hygiene wherever they can. For one particular community, online school lessons are an impossibility because there is no access to the internet at all, and this has caused an extra level of anxiousness since the children can’t keep up with their schoolwork.

Latif is a teacher, and he has been helping children in these communities for many years. Currently, he is helping kids do their homework and stay up with their lessons. He also is in touch with the local schools and reports about the situation of each child to their teachers. They know that he is a community leader for the Roma, and when they have questions or need updates regarding their Roma students, they call him.

Latif and other members of the team are doing everything they can to make home-life as peaceful as possible for these children in addition to making it possible for these young students to pass their classes even in difficult times.

Life hasn’t been easy the last two months, and we don’t know when all this will end, but we are thankful that God has saved our lives and is working in our communities.