Romaversitas response to the Covid-19 pandemic

Romaversitas response to the Covid-19 pandemic

On March 13, 2020, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced through Facebook that as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, just a few short weeks before the term-end exams and high school graduation tests, schools and dormitories were to be closed nationwide and education was to be completely transferred to the online space. The measures forced a fair share of our students to move back to their childhood homes, where they were cut off from the infrastructures of their educational institutions and they had to prepare for the approaching exams in overcrowded houses, without personal space, quality IT equipment or broadband internet.

The pandemic made an already bad situation worse for the Roma in Hungary. According to data released by the Roma Education Fund, a significant share of Romani high school students and their families who reside in rural areas or settlements had no access to internet or to IT equipment which data is especially appalling from the perspective that the transfer of education to the online space and dormitory closures were carried out instantly and without any plans to ensure the participation of students belonging to marginalized communities in educational activities.

In this context, we contacted all of our students and we saw that in many cases, if we can’t provide them with additional scholarships, they wouldn’t be able to finish their school years or university terms. We set the goal of not allowing the effects of the crisis to take a toll on our students’ ability to finish the academic year. As providing additional scholarships exceeded the financial possibilities of our organization, we launched a crowdfunding campaign titled “Finish Line – Crisis Fund for Romani Students” to collect the necessary funds for providing additional scholarships to students in need.

The short-term impact of the activity was that we could provide cca. 150 EUR monthly scholarships for 12 students in April, 12 students in May, 14 students in June and 6 students in July. In personal interviews following the campaign, we saw that many of the recipients spent this amount directly related to the mitigation of the impact of the crisis on their ability to finish the academic year, like purchasing a good internet connection to the place where they were forced to move because of the closure of the dormitories.

As dormitories closed in mid-March, many of our students had to move back to overcrowded family homes. “When I need some space to attend online classes, I sit outside of our home in my family’s car,” wrote one of our students when sending this photo. We love this picture because it exemplifies the resilience of our student body.

A long-term impact on our students and Romaversitas was that our crowdfunding campaign received national attention via the press, and by reaching new donors, our coalition to carry out our mission broadened. During our crowdfunding campaign we collected cca. 8K EUR which is more than four times the average of the previous 3 crowdfunding campaigns of the organization. We also reached 70 percent more donors than in previous campaigns and the value of average donations more than doubled.

We managed to detach the messaging of the campaign from the usual socio-narrative which mostly dominates Romani issues in the media. Our campaign was centered around education and positive achievements which resonated well with our audience.

As soon as the pandemic situation got better in June, we organized an open-air event to close the academic year. The event was attended by several students, our staff, our founder and some key donors. It was encouraging to experience how much our community evolved during the pandemic.