SINCE THEY WERE STUDENTS, NOBODY THOUGHT THEY COULD BE ROMA
Marin (28) and Emil (32) are two out of a hundred students of medical and other health care professions in Bulgaria with Roma-origin who receive a two year-scholarship through the EEA Grants. Marin is specializing in anesthesia, while Emil studies to become a nurse.
In general, only 12 percent of the Roma aged 18-24 completes upper-secondary education, according to a European study from 2011. The study does not include university level.
“We would most likely not have been studying if it wasn’t for the scholarship. If you have to put in a 100 percent effort being a regular medical student, you have to put in 150 percent as a Roma,” says Marin.
Emil (in the middle) is in his 4th year of nursing school. He is already working and aiming at becoming a senior nurse. Here, he and his colleagues are taking a selfie during a shift.
“This scholarship is essential for my career, it covers the university fees, mentorship, and participation at summer-camps. It´s important with financial support, especially when the possibility of being discriminated against is so high,” says Marin.
Access to health services
Emil sees himself as a family man, and says that his most important task is to support his family.
“I used to work beside my studies to support my family. It was difficult, you have to attend 80 percent of the lectures to be allowed to take the final exams, and without the scholarship it would have been impossible.” says Emil.
The Roma-scholarship is part of the small grant scheme within the Public Health Initiatives programme, financed through the EEA Grants. The programme aims at decreasing inequalities in health, addressing the health challenges of the Roma population and increase access to and quality of health services for Roma people.
“They locked their things away”
In Bulgaria you are not obliged to register your ethnic origin, and neither Emil nor Marin wanted anyone to know they were Roma.
“No one thought we were Roma because we studied. It was easiest that way. But when people found out anyway, everything changed,” says Emil.
“Co-students started to lock their things away when I was there, and they did not acknowledge my medical opinions anymore, even though I had better grades. Their prejudices were based on stereotypes and lack of knowledge,” says Marin.
Before receiving the scholarship in 2015, they both had an average score of 4 points. Today they are regarded as excellent students with 5,6 points out of 6.
“In addition, the scholarship gave me the confidence to become a real student and to be the best version of myself. I was treated as an equal by the system,” says Emil.
“In one and a half year our grades improved greatly, I think that shows the importance of support,” says Marin.
Example for the next generations
Europe's largest minority consist of 10-12 million people. There are no official figures of the Roma population in Bulgaria, but it’s estimated to be around one million.
“Most people fear discrimination and don’t want to register as Roma. The majority lives in extreme poverty, without access to health services, and even though they would like to become integrated in the society, it is difficult to confront society’s judgement,” says Emil.
His parents graduated from high school which was rare for that generation.
After finishing his lectures at the University, Emil works at the emergency room in Sofia to gain practice. Documented with a selfie.
“Now I am taking the next step by graduating from university. My dream is to become a senior nurse, and eventually take a master in health care management. It is important to set a good example for the next generation. My seven-year-old son has straight A's,” says Emil.
Aiming for a PhD
Marin is planning to start on his PhD next autumn. He wants to "build a bridge" between the traditional health care system and the Roma population.
Fewer vaccinated children, more lifestyle-related diseases, and an overall lower life expectancy than the majority; read more about Roma people’s health situation in this study from the European Commission.
“I would like to write a PhD on health care economics, aiming at developing the system. It shouldn’t be like it is today where you have to bring your own bed sheets to the hospital; and if you are of Roma origin you are most likely treated last,” says Marin.