Self-Help and the Rom

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

What surprises me time and again the the fact that the Rom, and I do include in the term Rom all Romani Groups, do not appear to be willing, in the great majority, to help themselves; whether economically nor in any other way.

Other groups of people, whether the Native Americans, poor people in South Africa, the Philippines and others, everywhere establish co-ops and (community) livelihood projects, while most Romanies, especially the Roma in Eastern Europe, sit on their backsides and women and children beg and steal and scavenge, for food even, on the municipal rubbish tips. It would appear that they simply have no pride and no self-respect whatsoever.

But we have trodden this path before and berated them by means of articles and essays and I very much doubt that there is much more that can be said on this matter to get them motivated.

So, let us, therefore, concentrate on looking at some ideas for self-help projects for those that might want to make a change in and to their lives and that of their families and clans and seek some solutions that may fit.

There is not going to be one solution that is going to fit all situations and circumstances, but I am sure that there is at least one solution for every problems and then some. Such solutions, however, do not drop, as by parachute, from the sky. Thinking, lateral thinking often, is required in order to come up with such ideas or to adapt existing solutions and then to implement them.

There are some, it would appear, though, that have to have every idea handed to them on a plate and then they still will reject each and every one of them with comments such as that the solutions are not properly tailored for the needs of the Romani People or have not been discussed with the People, etc. Excuses, always excuses, and more often than not the same excuses and made by the same so-called “leaders”.

There are ideas for livelihood projects and such like that can be found in various places and countries and it should be possible and will be possible to adapt and adjust most of them to, in one way or another, fit a situation and circumstances in which Romani find themselves and from which they seek an escape. While the example of Trashe Bolsas from the Philippines is one that could, I am sure be adapted, it may not necessarily will be or even have to be in using tarpaulins such as those used by this group. However, many Rom in Eastern Europe, as I said, scavenge, or at least their women and children, for it would appear that the men are just too proud and lazy to do such menial work, on the refuse dumps and I am sure that that is where some such recycling projects could be brought to life.

When I was a youngster we did a lot of such kind of work, that is to say, recycling. Not that the word had even been invented then. We made things from discarded fence wire, for instance, such as BBQ forks, toasting forks, and other things; from old nails, from old knives; everything we made, basically, went for sale door-to-door or and especially on local markets.

Others made pegs, clothespins and tent pegs, etc. while we also recycled old leather goods into new stuff and and uncle of mine, for instance, and his group, made a living, and a good living, of picking up other people's cast offs, such as furniture items, and restoring them for sale.

Those are a few examples from those days which still can have a value today. Yes, even the making of pegs, for on the right kind of markets they, yet again, fetch good prices.

When it comes to the “green” sector, especially, that is to say the recycling and refurbishing of stuff, the possibilities are there to do it and to make money from it. Versatility is also a requirement, which is to say to be able to do more than one thing in such ventures.

Presently we are told that plastic bags will soon be a thing of the past and the things of the past need to come out again when we go shopping. That is to say that we – and not just we but everyone – will need to have “cloth” shopping bags again and many places now sell the cotton, fair trade cotton even at times, tote bags. However, they are newly manufactured and whether fair trade cotton or not, it still is a drain on the natural resources. There we come again to the recycling co-ops of, maybe, Romani groups. The material could be old clothes, such as jeans, and other cotton or even synthetic material – we are recycling after all – that can be recycled into a variety of shopping bags, totes and others. The only limitation is set my the mind and to a small degree by the material(s).

The possibilities for the Romani to help themselves though their own co-ops and livelihood projects is there and I have tried to present a few small ideas here without actually writing the blueprint for such projects. There is no “one solutions fits all” and therefore there is scope for everyone to come up with ideas. So, let's do it!

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008