Ethnic minority participation through education and employment
The first meeting took place in Jelgava’s 4th Elementary school to discuss inclusion and integration of young children and cooperation with their families. Partners were welcomed by Mrs Agita Lundberga, Head-teacher of the school, Mrs Dana Didzus, teacher assistant and Roma mediators, as well as some parents and representatives from Jelgava’s municipality.
Dana Didzus’ position as Roma mediator and teacher assistant within the school is rather recent. She helps children enrolled in different grades with their studies, Latvian and English language, and in exam-preparation. However, her position does not only consist in assisting children with school. The “mediating” part of the job requires her to approach the Roma communities (as she is herself Roma), helping with administration, encouraging the parents to send their children to school, organizing parents meetings, or translating children’s homework. Individual learning appears to be essential for Roma children to start school. Thanks to this initiative, the number of Roma children enrolled in school has increased. The trust given to the teacher assistant is essential for Roma parents to send their children. 34 Roma pupils are now enrolled in Jelgava’s 4th elementary school. Unfortunately, the position of mediator is poorly recognized. Gypsy assistants do not have the pedagogical diploma which would allow them to gain recognition and the title (thus the salary) of a teacher assistant: they are now only considered as a “nanny”. This creates many difficult questions: How to promote a job which is not positively recognized? How to recruit people for a job which is not valued in the professional field? These questions led to interesting exchanges on the role and position of mediators within schools and municipalities.
Partners were then taken to Dobele Adult Education and Entrepreneurship Support Centre (DAEESC), created in 1996 with the support of the city council to activate the labour market on the local level. Dobele is a municipality of 23 000 inhabitants, living mainly from the agriculture and chemical industry, with an unemployment rate of 9.2% and a majority of small enterprises (1 to 9 employees). However, local firms have a difficult time finding people with the required skills. The Adult Education and Business Support Centre was created to offer trainings, consulting, projects, matchmaking meetings and help (through “projects days”) when it comes to creating new businesses, and bridging the existing gap between school and the professional realities. The state launched a programme to encourage firms to employ youngster by covering 350 euros of the salary, but because of the high rates of taxation on the employers side, the programme did not result in the initial success planned. Training youth is indeed time consuming and costly. The Youth Initiative Centre is the other structure created to support youngsters, offering psychological and health services. The centre provides a carrier consultant to help city youth according to their profile and organises as well as Carriers Days and Summer camps during the last year of high school. The aim is to make the business sector more attractive (“learn how to swim with business sharks”), knowing that Latvia is seeing its population immigrating to other European countries. Sharing success stories and branding business has become a must to avoid losing young professionals.
On the second day, partners were welcomed in Liepaja, the 3rd biggest city of Latvia, by the Head of the Development Department, the economic service, and the director of the employment project. Liepaja’s economy is mainly based on industry and export, both affected by the crisis in 2007-2008. The city tries to enhance opportunities for youngster in companies so that there are less of them leaving. The policy is heavily directed towards EU funded projects, responsible for the major part of the city’s budget. During the crisis, EU funds were the only resource available. It allowed Liepaja to invest in education and infrastructure, such as the technical college which is an answer to the needs of the local business. Apart from the creation of the business park, a special focus is put on the quality of life in Liepaja, as the city wants to attract high qualify people, prevent youngsters from emigrating after graduation, and to offer qualified persons not only a job but a house and the necessary services.
The youth house then welcomed the partners for an open discussion on guidance facilities for young people. The youth house is interesting as it works as an informal place for youngster, who themselves decided to establish it as a place to meet and to run activities. Opened in 2013 as part of a cross border project with Lithuania, the centre is supported by the Ministry of Education and Science. Different activities, from music to journalism, are available for youngsters aged from 13 to 25 years old. The Youth House also organizes different events or activities aimed at supporting youngsters to start their professional career, such as CV creation, lectures, meeting with employment agencies, use of internet, etc.… A cooperation with the US Embassy enabled them to receive lectures and training to prepare interviews. Around 25 persons visit the centre on a daily basis and these increases to around 70 people when events are organized. The Youth House also benefits from the NEET project (People Not in Education, Employment or Training), funded by the European Social Fund, which aims at getting youngster back into the educational system. Youngsters are identified by the municipality and their profiles are analysed by psychologists and social workers so they can benefit from a tailor made support initiatives for a 2 to 9 months duration and attend relevant workshops. 140 to 170 youngsters are enrolled in this programme.
The Diaconal Center in Liepaja opened its door to the participants who were invited to a round table discussion with the reverent Martin Urdze. The Diaconal Center in Liepajaj, registered as a non-governmental organisation since 2006, aims at offering help to disadvantage people and strengthening community life. Thanks to the European Social Fund, the Diaconal Center developed a rehabilitation programme for handicapped people, pensioners and elderly unemployed people. About 100 people are involved in the programme and learn different skills that will enable some of them to have their own income. The center also provides rooms for other organizations, distributes humanitarian aid, and offers trainings as well as weekly health consultation. The center wishes to develop work opportunities for handicapped people and plans to establish a community center in the church. The Diaconal team and the partners were happy to share thoughts and experience on employment and projects.