“Dream to Grow: How to make Europe’s labour markets a place for all”
ERGO Network together with the Romani Early Years Network (REYN) – an initiative of the International Step by Step Association (ISSA) – hosted a virtual human library on 7 October, where Roma professionals told the stories of their pathways to become who they are today, showing the difference that enabling, inclusive and diverse educational and working environments can make for society.
The human library took place online, where the participating “readers”, composed of practitioners and policymakers, academics, students and activists, could listen to the diverse and compelling stories of Enzo (Italy), Davie (Scotland), Tünde (Hungary), Milan (Croatia), Maria (Serbia), Ani (Bulgaria), Fatime (Belgium) and Manda (Romania). Four of them are Early Childhood Development practitioners working with national members of REYN, while the other four work in a variety of fields. All of them experienced antigypsyism in education, from wider society and in employment, but against all odds now have fulfilling jobs where they make a change for the children and adults they are working for.
The participants had the chance to read two of the books, and the human library experience was touching and captivating, each story denoting particular characteristics but a common dream – to grow.
The event was opened by Stanislav Daniel, co-chair of ERGO Network and Aljosa Rudas, Program Officer and REYN International Coordinator at ISSA , who introduced the concept and aim of the event and of the corresponding campaigns of the two host organisations: A Place for All (ERGO Network) and Dream to Grow (REYN).
They highlighted the aim of the event: to raise awareness of the benefits of ensuring equality, inclusion and diversity in education and at work, and of the obstacles that Roma need to overcome to be able to find decent employment. Besides offering an inspiration for the readers, the human library was also a call to action to policy-makers and employers that more needs to be done to overthrow these obstacles and to ensure diversity and inclusion on Europe’s labour markets.
Brando Benifei, Member of the European Parliament in the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, welcomed the continuous work of ERGO Network and REYN to shed light on this important topic, and explained the role that the updated European Youth Guarantee should play to ensure that those young people furthest from the labour market, including Roma, receive support to find decent employment.
Margareta Matache, Director at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights’ Roma Program and Harvard instructor, spoke about the history of racism against Roma and how the majority society needs to change its perception of Roma in order to ensure discrimination on the labour market and in general society will end.
After these introductory remarks, the most awaited part of the event took place, the online human library. In smaller libraries, the human books told their stories of how they reached the place they are at right now, who and what supported them along the way and which challenges they met. Librarians from ERGO Network and REYN facilitated the dialogue between books and readers in four smaller groups, ensuring human interaction.
In the debriefing, participants were asked to “review” the books they have read. They described their experience in the libraries as “inspiring”, “powerful”, “eye-opening” and “brave” and said that stories of courageous people like these will help Roma children to dream again. Some readers also expressed the importance that the stories are also read by other people, which you can do on the websites of ERGO Network and REYN.
Also Anu Ritz, representing the European Commission Directorate – General for Justice and Consumers, where she works in the Non-discrimination and Roma coordination unit for the EU Platform for Diversity Charters, thanked the human books for sharing their stories, as far too often the real stories of Roma practitioners themselves are not listened to. She presented the current efforts made at EU level to increase diversity and promote inclusion in employment, also linking the event to the EU Roma Strategic Framework for Equality, Inclusion and Equality that was published the day prior to the event.
Stanislav Daniel and Alyosa Rudas closed the event by sharing their final reflections. Stanislav pointed out that the eight human books who presented their stories all succeeded despite a discriminatory system. Going forward, we need to work for a world where people can succeed thanks to the system, not despite it.
Alyosa highlighted that the human dimension presented in the human library is often not reflected in national or EU policies and strategies, and not always needs and views of the community are captured in policy documents. This is why listening to personal stories and creating opportunities for dialogue are so important.
Listening to the life stories of the books and how they overcame prejudice and discrimination in education and employment, and how they are making a change in our societies through their work could be a first step towards a more inclusive future.