A unique project involving the building of houses as a self-help measure is changing the lives of Romani people in the eastern Slovak municipality of Rankovce. A pilot project in 2013 made it possible for the first inhabitants of the settlement to construct their own brick houses.
The pilot project was launched by the ETP Slovakia - Center for Sustainable Development organization. Currently the nonprofit organization "Project Home" (Projekt DOM.ov) has given its auspices to the project and has brought it to several other municipalities in the Prešov Region-News server Korzar.sme.sk reports.
During the first two phases of the project, 14 houses were built and permitted for residence, and during the third phase, now underway, another 14 low-cost houses are being constructed. "Life in the settlement has changed by 180 degrees, I'd say," local field worker František Turták told the news server.
"Young families are able to acquire their own legal housing, a single-family home with a little garden. That was not at all possible before this project," he explained to Korzar.sme.sk.
"In the beginning, when we were choosing people for the first phase, almost nobody believed something like this might succeed here. Once it was tried, though, many more people applied," the field worker said.
In the past, young Romani families continued to live in the same housing as their parents in the settlement. Aid and employment were not available to them.
"This is not just about them addressing their own housing. At the beginning of the construction project, just three or four people were employed here, but now we have more than 60 % employment," Turták said.
"That's a big step forward, not just from the housing standpoint, but also from the aspect of jobs," he noted. The building of the housing does not happen free of charge and requires that strict conditions be fulfilled, including the active collaboration of those interested in residing in the properties.
Project participants must regularly save money for at least a year in order to buy the land and pay off the loan for the construction materials. The total budget per house is roughly EUR 12 000 - 13 000.
Františka Ondrašiková of the association "For a Better Life" (Pre lepší život) in Rankovce explained to the news server how the entire program functions. "Active participation by the municipality is necessary to allocate the building sites and guarantee the technical infrastructure," she said.
"A local nonprofit organization also enters the process to do community and field social work. Last but not least, the bank offers an appropriate micro- loan," Ondrašiková described.
"The project coordinator manages the client during the construction of the house itself. The most important thing, however, is that the client perceives this as his production, his life project, so that he takes on as much responsibility as possible for completing the task," she told the news server.
The initial self-help house-building project in Rankovce won the Golden Prize for Civil Society in 2014 from the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels, and the municipality has been visited by people interested in the program, not just from neighboring countries like the Czech Republic and Hungary, but also from farther-flung European states. Representatives from Bangladesh and the USA have also recently taken an interest in the project.
vhl, translated by Gwendolyn Albert