School of Public Policy (SPP) students have a track record of fostering deep engagement with local communities. Four students have shown strong interest and commitment in working with Roma communities: Marek Balaz (MPA ’16), Katalin Nemeth (MPA ’16), Ciprian-Valentin Nodis (MPA ’15), and Erjon Qirollari (MPA ’15). Each of these students took the time to share his or her story with SPP.
Marek Balaz has a wealth of experience working to achieve the social inclusion of Roma in Slovakia. Motivated by a desire to achieve change on a local level, he began his professional career as a pediatrician’s assistant in a pilot health program in marginalized Roma communities. He then worked on the EU-funded “A Good Start,” a program that aimed at improving early childhood education and care in Roma communities. He also has experience as a human rights monitor for Slovakia at the European Roma Rights Centre, a project manager at Decade Focal Point in Slovakia, and an intern in a Slovakian government office tasked with handling Roma minority issues.
“Those of us [Roma] who have benefited from various educational and professional programs need to return and create change at a local level,” Balaz commented. “We Roma must consider ourselves as people who can achieve great things.”
Balaz is currently the executive director of InspiromaX, a recently founded NGO focused on Roma youth. In the near future, the NGO plans to start disseminating professional and educational opportunities through social media channels and fundraising for capacity building programs for Roma youth.
Katalin Nemeth has worked closely with Roma families to support children with their academic studies. In her final year of undergraduate studies, she volunteered as a mentor with the Motiváció Hallgatói Mentorprogram in Szeged, Hungary. This program provides educational support and encourages social integration in a community that had its school shut down.
As a mentor, Nemeth regularly met students during extracurricular activities and aided in their academic and personal development. Over the following three years, her role evolved into interacting with both students and parents. “I strongly believe that engaging parents is a crucial cornerstone to the academic success of children,” emphasized Nemeth. Through her efforts to involve parents in their children’s learning, she developed strong interpersonal relationships with many families.
Nemeth has a strong interest in education policy. “My ultimate goal would be to implement primary education policies that encapsulate the value of this type of cooperation,” said Nemeth.
Ciprian-Valentin Nodis’ interest in Roma communities began close to home: he grew up surrounded by Roma relatives in a Romanian village with a large Roma population. During his university years in Cluj-Napoca, he participated in a Roma student-run NGO and was involved in promoting Roma culture and organizing protests against racism towards Roma people. “I was lucky to be a Roma student who comes from a family that supported me in pursuing higher education studies,” Nodis said. “I feel like I need to give back to the community.”
In 2010, he co-founded the Inter-ethnic Association of Dumitrita in his hometown. The NGO organized activities to help integrate the Roma and non-Roma communities including establishing youth organizations, holding traditional festivals, and creating a cow donation program for poor Roma families. Nodis also worked on EU-funded projects with this NGO.
When Nodis moved to Budapest, he pursued related activities including internships with the European Roma Rights Center and the Roma Health Project at Open Society Foundations. He also graduated from the Roma Access Program at CEU before joining SPP.
While at SPP, Nodis continues to stay involved with his NGO. He and his co-founder, who is continuing to work in Romania, are creating a business plan for the NGO that involves selling products made from local forest fruits.
Erjon Qirollari has worked extensively in representing Roma and Egyptian minority rights in Albania. Growing up in a community with a sizeable Roma and Egyptian minority, he went on to become a municipal representative for Korce. In this capacity, he was able to bridge the local and regional governments and advocate for minority rights and community needs.
Qirollari also worked as a writer for a television program serving the Roma minority in Albania. This program later received support from UNICEF and is still airing today.
His latest project is building a social movement to gain political representation for the Roma and Egyptian minority in the Albanian government. Qirollari is currently coordinating this project with colleagues in Albania. “Integration of these communities should also include their political representation,” highlighted Qirollari.