Change Stories


29 September

Dedicated to improving life for Kiseljak’s young people: a young Rom acts as role model

Many young people in Bosnia do not see a viable future for them. Voter turnout is low, emigrating to Western Europe often seems a very promising solution. The Roma more

Dedicated to improving life for Kiseljak’s young people: a young Rom acts as role model

Many young people in Bosnia do not see a viable future for them. Voter turnout is low, emigrating to Western Europe often seems a very promising solution. The Roma population is suffering particularly serious disadvantages. In Kiseljak, a community in the Bosnian canton of Tuzla, Vahid Beganović, supported by the Tuzla Community Foundation, sets up a Roma youth club. He makes sure young people are offered a variety of leisure activities and can proactively enter into the community – while simultaneously developing his own leadership skills and ambitions for his own future.
Photo: Tuzla Community Foundation
Right from the start, the Tuzla Community Foundation in Kiseljak, a municipality with an extremely weak infrastructure and one of the highest percentages of Roma in the country, has had a particularly strong commitment to empowering their young people. Up till then, no leisure activities whatsoever had been offered to adolescents outside the school environment, and they had – quite common in Bosnia – hardly any say in things and hardly any participation rights.

When in 2017 the Community Foundation initiated the first leadership training for young people, so as to impart to them skills for proactive participation in society and a self-determined life, one special focus was placed on having two instructors in charge of the training course – one of them with, the other without a Romno background. The aim was to motivate both young people from Roma families and other young people as well to participate in the activities offered on equal terms.

When Vahid, a Rom who is 26 years old today, was offered to lead the training course in question, it took some persuasion to get him to accept. Even though he had already been active in youth work before, he did not see himself as capable of assuming a leading role. Sabina Ćatibušić, a project manager at the Community Foundation, recalls a young man who was rather reserved to start with, but in whom she saw a certain potential at an early stage. In the end, Vahid agreed to do it – because he was looking for a job and prepared to face the challenge involved, as he himself puts it.

Bosnia’s very first Roma youth club

The training course turned out to be a complete success. Vahid was able to win the young people over, was respected and listened to by the entire group - by Roma and non-Roma members alike - and soon became their role model. Three months passed quickly, and then the training was over – but there was still so much left to do. Bursting with energy and full of beans, Vahid and around 20 other young people decided, supported by the Community Foundation, to set up a youth club that was to be open to all young people but was to focus especially on the empowerment of Roma. The Klub mladih Roma Kiseljak was born - the first-ever Roma youth club in Bosnia, with Vahid as its President.

"The Roma youth club is above all a safe space for the young people, so they don’t hang around in the streets after school hours, and where they are acquiring the skills for equitable social participation," says Vahid. It’s a place where people listen to them, where they aren’t criticized as is often the case at school or at home, and where they join forces to create the leisure activities they would like to take part in, like a cinema night or a barbecue. At the same time, the young people are campaigning for living together without prejudice and for a positive apperception of the Roma’s culture. For example, on World Roma Day the club organised a football competition to combat discrimination and racism, and on St. George’s Day in May, an important feast day for the Roma, a large public event in Kiseljak. Furthermore, the club members see themselves as mediators for the less well integrated Roma families in the community and advise them in school-related matters, for example. Kiseljak’s Roma population is a highly heterogenous one. Whereas parts of it – including Vahid’s family – have already been resident in Kiseljak for quite a long time and frequently been effectively integrated, both jobwise and in the community’s social life as well, above all many of the Roma families that have settled there later are living in great poverty.

New roles, new goals

His new role as a leader, and his work for and with the club, has also had a marked effect on Vahid’s personal life. Not only has he learned how to draw up professional project applications, how to effectively communicate in meetings and not to be shy when negotiating with authority figures like the mayor, he has likewise started a college degree course in economy and management. His determination to acquire even more qualifications, so as to feel he is really included in society on equal terms, and to be able to make a difference had been kindled, and he had successfully applied for a scholarship of the Roma Education Fund. His wife, who has herself already been working as a Roma mediator, also started a degree course. The two of them got married when they were very young, before Vahid even finished school, and have meanwhile had two little daughters. They are living proof of the fact that Roma traditions, like setting up a family early in life, and ambitious education targets are in no way mutually exclusive.

The Roma youth club means a lot of work – honorary work. In the meantime, the club has been accepted as a member in the newly founded nationwide Roma Youth Council, and is thus networked way beyond the confines of Kiseljak. Vahid’s motivation and his firm conviction that the club can make a real difference are unbroken. And he also feels he’s responsible for "his" young people. At the same time, though, a secure income for his family must now be his top priority. To be able to establish the club in such a way that it can give him a permanent job, so that he can reconcile both these aspects, that is now his one great wish.

The Freudenberg Foundation has been supporting community development in Tuzla since 1999, and in 2016 initiated the engagement for and with Roma in Kiseljak as one of the central elements in the cooperative alliance.