My 10 months of volunteering in a Roma neighborhood

Carine, odvoris skolu (Carine, you open the school)?” ask the kids every morning. 10.30 am and the voices of the kids are already resonating in the neighborhood and sometimes even earlier. If they are not at their school we see them playing in the street because we are neighbors. They recognize you far from the end of the street, run to you, ask you if you will open the school (it is how they call Imaginatorium even though it is not a school). They continue with thousands of questions and even three times the same question to make sure that you will not forget what you promised to them, and of course, I cannot forget the thousands of hugs and love I received from them.


I volunteered and lived in Gracanica for 10 months, in an educational/community center called Imaginatorium located in the Roma neighborhood, where actually only young Roma come. The town of Gracanica is a part of the approximately 10% Serbian identity that Kosovo possesses nowadays and pretty secluded from the rest of the country. I don’t take into account the time I went in Prishtina, the capital 7km away from Gracanica, and started to talk Serbian by mistake. I learnt without get a respond because people don’t speak it or don’t want to speak it. So, this country makes me feel like traveling between two identities in function of the languages I heard,  the stories people made for me, places,…and that confused me at the beginning and make me understand the complex situation months after months and still I have things to discover and to understand in that place again.

Kosovo is a mystery place. Before I left France, my relatives thought Kosovo was in Africa and in general for the outside world this country is only known as a post conflict place between Serbians and Albanians, but it’s not only that. There are so many issues and challenges to work on now. I can also see the potential of the country in moving forward because of its hub of young people. There’s also the beautiful nature and peaceful places.

I decided to volunteer to see if I can find an healthy working relationship in this world and I decided to apply for work with Roma‘s people to learn from them despite all the discriminations and the prejudice they have suffered.

Through non formal education we run in Imaginatorium, firstly I had to defeat my formal education that is anchor deep in my French education and I recognized this formal way of learning as only concrete education. Secondly, I had to put aside what I knew about teaching, because you can come with your beautiful idea, tell the kids what to do, how to do, but that is not the way it works, because they are not raised as you were, not sharing  the same references as you or not sharing the same perception like you. With that experience I changed a lot my view of people, also my position as a person, my self-tolerance and how I channel my energy.

Everything challenged me as well as how Imaginatorium function. I took more decisions than I was used to, dealt with my time, listened and gave confidence to my personal feeling or idea, analyzed and tried to understand well. Nobody will describe for you the shape or the details of your day and that was completely new for me, to be enough self-organized, and if you are not, you have to learn, it’s why in many occasion I felt pushing myself to do things because I saw the goods for our kids and that is enough to motivate me. Into Roma culture despite the love children gave to me, not everything was easy especially because I am a woman, and kids are raised in a patriarchal education. I had to fight sometime more or find different approach to be listen and have authority on them, more than my males colleagues sometime. For the first time I experienced the female gender as the inferior gender on a big scale.


Working with Gaia, which is active on educational, environmental and human link projects, I found opportunities to rotate on others project when two more hands were needed to help or when my brain needed to make some break from kids, and that is appreciable when you like to be multi task or to breathe on others topics. I saw such passionate people in my colleagues and others volunteers, that are driven and whom give sense to everything they do. I found them being very inspiring with the different ways they approach life, their dreams, hopes and the future they project for the organization. Roma kids, their families and their situations gave me some life lessons as well.

Experience Roma’s culture, working with kids and youth, being with others volunteers from all Europe, experience work in education, work with others with passion,… made me just want  to continue to give my energy into volunteering on projects which make sense in this world.

Carine, Lemaitre

GAIA volunteer, April 2017 – February 2018… to be continued 🙂

Sewing workshop. Photo credit: Polina Raynova