UPre Women moved to the Luník IX area in Košice

The programme helps Roma women from impoverished environments to change their mindset, become aware of their rights and responsibilities, and gain the desire and strength to work towards changing their lives. And the lives of their entire families. The stories of women from Luník IX are not simple, but participating in the programme is seen as an opportunity to escape from daily worries and learn something new.

After completing the UPre Women programme in Dobšiná and Veľký Krtíš, we continued in the Luník IX area of Košice in October 2023, in collaboration with the experienced organization ETP Slovakia. Twenty-two women enrolled in the programme and have already completed several educational modules. But let’s take it step by step.

Recruitment and expectations

The process began with recruitment and the first meeting with interested women, where they learned about the programme, how it works, what to expect, and how it can help them in life. In Dobšiná and Veľký Krtíš, we gradually realized that even though we initially described the entire programme to women as concretely as possible, they did not fully understand it and had different expectations. Therefore, in Luník IX, we explained even more carefully and with greater understanding to the selected women what the conditions of education are, what topics they will be educated in and why, how often and for how long it will take place, who will train them, and only after that the educational and developmental process itself began.

We started with personal development – participants defined their strengths and weaknesses, where they want to go, why they enrolled in the programme, what they expect from it, and what their life direction is. Most women want to find stable employment, which would allow them to find better housing and leave Luník IX. That’s their biggest goal. At the same time, they want to learn something new through the programme, and on the third or fourth meeting, they defined their expectations with the sentence: “I want to move forward somewhere.” Some women even consider it a unique opportunity to find time for themselves, escape from everyday problems, and learn something new.

Participants of the programme at Luník IX

Personal development was led by facilitators Stanka Jonášová from the civic association Successful Life in Lučenec and Zuzana Sojková. Through specific activities, women became aware of their current situation and what they actually want to achieve in life. For example, the “tree of life” activity helped them realize where they are now on the tree and where they want to be. They drew a tree on paper and marked where they saw themselves on it – near the roots, in the middle, or at the very top. The trees hang on the wall during education, and women can reflect on whether they are still in the same place or have moved higher or lower, thus visualizing their progress. Another interesting activity was using cards with various images spread on the table, and each woman had to choose three cards that characterize her and talk about them. Initially, it was quite complicated for women because they couldn’t grasp the purpose of the activity or what they were supposed to say. But gradually, they got into it, and very interesting outputs and associated difficult life stories emerged.

The destinies of women in Luník IX are really challenging

Life in excluded communities is significantly influenced by unemployment, lack of education, poverty, and frustration, which often leads to various forms of violence. That is why training on violence against women, domestic violence, or gender-based violence is an important part of education. Apolónia Sejková from the civic association We Mothers in Prešov spoke very sensitively about this topic to our women. She talked about how violence arises, what to watch out for, what are the warning signs that a man may be abusive. Women were also interested in practical information, such as where to seek help in case of domestic violence, and what steps they can take, but it was also important to address myths about violence that women from poor Roma communities often believe. For example, some believe that there is a difference if a man hits them as an act of love, meaning “beating them from the heart,” or if he does not love them.

Each woman had to browse through a magazine, cut out photos, and depict on paper what she thinks a happy family or relationship looks like.

Training on gender equality preceded the violence training, led by Monika Bosá from the organization EsFem. She talked to participants about inequalities between men and women, and about the historical context of this inequality to understand why inequality exists. She highlighted well-known Roma women from Slovakia and abroad who managed to break free from generational poverty and live a successful life. Many participants heard these famous names for the first time, yet role models, close or distant, can be a strong motivation for Roma women to systematically work on their lives, despite having an extremely challenging starting situation.

The "Path of Change" is a tool through which we observe whether and how women have moved during the programme. For example, at the beginning, they might answer, "I have no awareness of my rights," and at the end, they can answer, "I already know what my rights are." The photograph captures the visualization of the "Path of Change" in Veľký Krtíš. Each woman represents a star, and each tip represents one educational module. If she completes the module, the tip changes to white. This way, she can visualize how many modules she has mastered and how many are still ahead.

Women from Luník IX also completed a section on effective communication and active listening, they will attend a self-defense course (the article about self-defense course for Roma women can be found HERE), preparation for job interviews, family meetings, and many other activities that will help them build self-confidence, make independent decisions, gain financial independence and stability, educate themselves in their professions, financial literacy, and many other areas.