Chronic poverty is the main cause of associal behaviour

"Sated man is a bad learner" – people often say this catch phrase from a popular Soviet animated film, not even realizing how much it is untrue. Because actually the opposite is true: no one will think about learning and education with an empty stomach.


Accusing the Roma people of being unwilling to learn, few of us think about actual reasons for this. It is easier to throw the standard phrase about lazy thieves and continue to do your own thing. Of course, the reality is not that simple. In this article we will try to understand why Roma chronically, from generation to generation live in poor conditions, are always half-starved and see no way out of this vicious circle.


Laziness is not the cause


For centuries we have been living along with Roma, but still most of us perceive them through a thick wall of stereotypes, and no one even tries to overcome it. This applies, in particular, to the living conditions of the Roma – it is believed that it is the result of their reluctance to change because of laziness. To prove this, they tell the stories of some successful Roma who managed to escape from their circle. Although in this case, it is the exceptions that prove the rule.

Education is rightly considered one of the major challenges in the integration of the Roma population. Of course it is true. However, no one will think about education until their basic needs are satisfied. The natural desire of all people is to take care of physiological needs first. In other words, first you think about how to provide yourselves with food, shelter, medical care, then you take care of your own safety. Only when these needs are met, the desire to get an education appears.

If search for food and basic necessities takes most of the time, people simply will not be able to educate themselves because the vast majority of Transcarpathian Roma now live in such conditions that anyone would consider unbearable.

This is strongly evidenced, in particular, by the monitoring of the Charitable Foundation "Development", held in conjunction with the Mukachevo City Council in July in Roma-populated areas in Mukachevo.

The results were predictably disappointing – the majority of Roma live in houses with ill-equipped utilities – without sewerage, central heating and water supply. People have to take water for drinking and cooking from open reservoirs, which increases the risk of intestinal infections. And the poor environment promotes diseases such as tuberculosis, dezynteriya, lice, respiratory diseases and more.


When you want to eat now

Under such living conditions, any conversation about raising the educational level of the Roma remain idle talks with no chance of becoming a reality.

Despite all the achievements of civilization, most people in their behavior are guided by instincts. For Roma, who are historically nomadic people, it is even more characteristic. And instincts urge first of all to take care about survival – to find food and to ensure the safety of yourself and loved ones.

When asked what it takes for a decent life, most of us will make a logical chain: to study hard to get good professional education, which in turn will result in top-paying job that will allow to live well.


This scheme is absolutely invalid in circumstances where you have to search for food right now. Try to imagine yourself in a situation when you have not eaten for two weeks and realize that in two weeks the situation is not going to change. It is unlikely that you will think about prospects of education in 5-10 years. Basic instinct will force you to find the solution at once – including scavenging food in the garbage, begging or stealing.

Chronic poverty results in social disintegration. People, who have long been unable to find a job, eventually become marginalized, drop out of society and degrade. A great number of such people among the Ukrainian population strongly suggests that it is a social problem, not a national one.


Psychological problem

 Remember your own experience if you happened to go to school with Roma children.In the classroom, they feel their isolation the hardest, because they see teachers’ indifference and classmates’ contempt. Is it any wonder that in a very short time, children simply stop attending classes?

The same applies to jobs for Roma. Most employers simply will not take them. And not just because of lack of education, but also because Ukrainians do not want to work with Roma. "I worked for 35 years, including 10 as a mechanic at the factory. But then I met my wife and we moved to Transcarpathia. And here, I could not find a job. In the Soviet Union, all people had jobs, they were afraid not to go to work, and now nobody cares for you – 58-year-old Roma Andras Kovacs of Mukachevo says. – In old times, you knew that if you finish at least a vocational school, you would definitely have a job. I was immediately sent to work at the factory. My son also learned to be a mechanic, but he has no job. At graduation, he was told – now, son, you are a skilled mechanic, go look for a job. And who will take Roma to work? So now he scavenges scrap metal, some of it he sells for recycling and makes household items of the rest. I try to help him as much as I can, but I am old and very sick. I do not receive pension because I have lost documents, and officially I do not have even the minimum 15 years of work experience".


So, the most the Roma can get is the least paid jobs such as a street-sweeper. Of course, such income is not enough to support a family. And the circle of chronic poverty is closed again.

Now, Roma are often accused of "making money on children." This, of course, refers to children’s benefits. They say that large Roma families receive tens of thousands for child raising and live "like a lord." This is, to put it mildly, not true. It takes a visit to any camp to see firsthand – mostly they live in the same conditions as before such payments.

The fact is that chronic poverty is, among other things, also a psychological problem. For example, most people who win big money in the lottery very quickly spend all of it – they just do not know how to handle such amounts that they would never have earned otherwise. The same is with Roma.

Summarizing the above, we conclude: although education still remains the "helper" on the way to the integration of Roma into society, the Roma will not study until they solve their basic needs: food, adequate housing and access to adequate medical care. Only then they will have free time for new "physiological" needs: the desire to learn and grow. 

After all, the Roma themselves are aware of their situation and hope to get out of it one day, but… "Poverty for me is… I do not know, I’ve always been poor, I have nothing to compare with. My whole family has always been poor – 24-year-old Roma girl Erica Laszlo from Svalyava says. – I got married at 16, had a baby right away. My husband is also from a poor family. I was going to school only until grade 5, and then dropped out. Why did I drop out? I do not know, I skipped the school once, then twice, then I just stopped going altogether. No one forced me. At least I finished 5 grades, my husband only 3 (laughs). We are unemployed. Sometimes my husband goes to work in another city, but I’m always here with children. I have three of them. I think that the reason for our poverty is because we did not go to school, but I really want my children to finish school and have a different life and not to be poor."

Oleg Grigoriev, the lawyer of Mukachevo Human Rights Protection Center said, "We can change the situation in the Roma community, only by taking complex measures. By solving material issues, developing social infrastructure in the camp, supporting a standard of living, helping in receiving education and ultimately by reaching out to people who seek to escape from the vicious circle of isolation."


Based on the materials of the Charitable Foundation "Development".

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