REF Law and Humanities Program (LHP) Enables Critical Thinking on Education and Civic Activism

“What’s wrong with being a Roma human rights activist who likes fantasy books, listens to rock and loves dark chocolate?”
– Aliona Kazanska, law student at Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv.

The Roma Education (REF) has supported the wider participation of Roma students like Aliona in national education systems since REF began managing the program ten years ago. Each year Roma university students benefiting from the scholarships offered by the Law and Humanities Program (LHP) are invited to share experiences and knowledge at an annual conference.

Representing nearly 17 percent of the 1,269 Roma university students supported by the REF Scholarship Program in 2016-2017, LHP beneficiaries assembled in Kyiv, Ukraine for a weekend of workshops on civic activism. REF intends that students can deepen their knowledge of civic activism, adding value to their portfolios, and later contributing to a successful job search. LHP also stresses the importance of community engagement as part of its strategic priorities that seek to increase the visibility of Roma in universities, public policies and the workplace.

Together with the support of the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” (EVZ), REF has concentrated on creating a cohort of Roma knowledge producers in Moldova, Russia and Ukraine, disbursing some 1,390 scholarships to 559 individuals from 2007-2016 and valued at some EUR 2,282,652. Just over 60 percent of students studied for a BA in this period, while post-graduate students account for some 28 percent of scholarships, and the remaining 12 percent studied for vocational or technical degrees.

With components targeting professional development, so-called soft skills and chances to manage small-scale projects, in addition to formal education, LHP has generated exceptional results. As of 2015-2016, 99 percent of students successfully progressed to the next academic year, and of those in their final year (61 individuals), 97 percent graduated from their field of study.

Students like Aliona Kazanska are part of an upcoming generation of Roma professionals who are gathering critical skills for the labor market thanks to REF and EVZ support. She said of her educational journey, “I’m particularly proud of my participation in preparing a toolbox against discrimination for Stories That Move, a youth empowerment initiative led by Anne Frank House. By participating in this kind of storytelling, I found a generation of teenagers from many different backgrounds who value diversity as much as I do. The project echoed my own awareness of the historical injustices experienced by Roma in Ukraine and highlighted how I could amplify our history, making it relevant to today and not allowing our voices to be silenced.”

This annual conference was made possible by a contribution from the International Renaissance Fund.

For more about LHP, click here.