"A Way Towards Success and Possibilities"
Semiha (Semi) is one of the 17 Albanian Roma students who have got admitted to the Program over the 17 years. Semi has all the characteristics we are looking for in RGPP students. She is a highly independent, hard working person. She knows what she wants and is continuously looking for opportunities to grow. She is committed to encouraging young Roma girls to continue their education. While she considers her work for UNDP as one of her greatest privileges, she finds it equally exciting to develop relations with her new Turkish Roma community and engage in the daily interaction with Roma children and other volunteers. Currently she is a RES grantee working at a Turkish Roma organization, where she tutors students.
Why to apply to RGPP? Semi says: "Students who have been and will be there are lucky." For me RGPP is a way towards success and possibilities."
Q.: Can you share your most remarkable memories/happiest memories?
Semiha H: Everything is "a best moment", but two moments were really important to me. They relate to my personal development and to the journey we completed as a group. Upon starting the RELP program, during the first classes our teachers recorded us while we were introducing ourselves. At the end of the program after the end-of-year presentations, we - students, teachers, and staff - watched together these short videos. And in that moment, I understood how huge an impact this program had had on me. I applied to RELP because I did not have enough English to express myself at international activist events, and 10 months later, I could give a presentation about Roma in Albania in English. While I was watching the recordings, I knew that we - teachers, students, heads of the program – had done a great job there.
My happiest memory from RGPP also relates to the end-of-year presentation. When I started RGPP, thanks to RELP, I spoke English, but it was not academic English. At the beginning, I faced lots of difficulties because transitioning from intermediate conversational English to academic English is a huge step and takes a lot of work. But at the end, in June I found myself again in a situation when I could say: "Semi, be proud, you did it again!" I had learnt how to write and present a policy paper in English in an academic environment. For me these are big moments of success, and I will always remember how I proud I was of these achievements.
Q.: Why did you apply to the Program(s)?
Semiha H.: My English learning journey started with RELP. In 2013, I was an activist in Albania with relatively extensive experience. I wanted to become more integrated in the international activist circles because it was really exciting to meet others and learn about the experiences of Roma in other countries. However, my English was not sufficient to represent my organization and express myself. At high school I had not learnt much English, just very basic phrases and grammar. At university, it was a big enough challenge to do the coursework and work at the same time in order to support myself, and I could not afford English classes. Later, I joined the UNDP's Albanian office as a Community Facilitator for Tirana, and I felt the need for English even more. Communication there was in English. I tried to work around it by using Google Translate when I wrote emails, but of course, this did not really work. I signed up for private classes, but the progress was very slow as I could only afford a couple of classes a week. For a while, it seemed impossible to improve my English and to get to a level at which I could be comfortable in professional settings. When I saw the RELP call, I knew that this opportunity was for me, and I applied. I was not so confident about my acceptance, but I got accepted.
After RELP, I finally was at a level at which I could communicate, participate in meetings, but I did not have the academic English skills. Academic English had been a very important objective to me as I always wanted to earn an international MA degree. I could have continued my studies in Albania and earn a master's degree there. Unlike during my BA years, there were even some available scholarships, but that was not my dream. My aim was to earn an international master's degree.
At RGPP, I took tutorial classes in Public Policy; I was exposed to so much new knowledge. I applied to a Public Policy MA program at CEU, but I was not accepted. I was sad for a while, but I know now that it is not the end of the story and my time at RGPP did have many important results: I learned lots of things, including public speaking, writing skills, and theoretical knowledge. And, very importantly, I had more and more possibilities. After graduation, I did an internship in Turkey, I started to learn Turkish, and I went back to Albania. After being away for two years, it was a bit difficult to go back. But opportunities found me quickly. I started working with foreign donors on building a community center, and they involved me in the whole implementation process. Through working with them, I maintained my level of English and I worked with Roma communities in Tirana, which I really enjoyed. Not long after, another project with UNDP found me. This time working with the UNDP Team was a totally different experience; I was able to communicate in English with the colleagues and stakeholders, writing reports in English wasn't a problem any more. My supervisors realized my progress and they promoted me for a short-term position in the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative in Albania. Why did I have these amazing professional experiences? Partly, because I kept contact with the local organizations, but for the most part, because I had the English skills.
Q.: Who should apply to RGPP in your opinion?
Semiha H.: My experiences tell me that when you come from vulnerable communities, it is likely that not everything goes perfectly in your life. Sometimes you have to choose between focusing on good grades and taking on part-time jobs so that you can support yourself while studying. For me RGPP is a way towards success. You can argue about what success looks like, but I feel that being able to work in English in various offices and knowing that previously I was not able to compose a simple email in English is a huge success. Roma students who didn't have the possibility to learn English, people who lacked possibilities, should apply to RGPP.
The Program is for those who are eager to continue improving their skills - because it is not just English you gain there. Before my RGPP times, I remember, I was so worried when I had to speak publicly. My speaking skills improved so much. I am not worried any more when I have to give a presentation in front of people on any public policy topic. In addition, I learnt how to produce academic papers, for example policy papers. As I said, when I started RELP, my writing was full of grammar mistakes, but by the end of RGPP, I wrote and presented a policy paper.
RGPP students find themselves among Roma role models. I believe that all the young Roma people on the Program are role models in one way or another. They might have different stories, their culture might be a little bit different, but the most important point to me is that all RGPP students can find commonalities across their stories. What was especially new to me is that the Roma people I met – students and guest lecturers, Roma activists – often held leadership positions at their organizations. In Albania I knew many Roma activists and volunteers, but the people I knew were not in leading roles at their organizations.
Q.: What are your plans for the future?
Semiha H.:I always wanted to work with Roma on a community-level. This is what I did in Albania, and I want to continue doing it in Turkey as well. Since I moved to Istanbul, I have been working on re-establishing myself in the nonprofit network. It has not been easy, but I am on the right track. 2 years ago, I did a short-term internship with a Roma organization, and now I was granted with a RES internship support grant. I started working for an Ankara-based organization that implements a project called "Dreamhouse".
The project aims at helping Roma children through offering them extra classes and mentoring; we organize free time activities. The program works with volunteers who are university students or fresh graduates. I learn about the Roma people's situation in Turkey, we have online meetings with Roma and non-Roma NGOs, and I learn about the local dynamics.
We have lots of plans with Serkan about how to work for the Roma communities in Turkey. I find lots of joy in working with communities. To me it is very important that I always remember where I came from and that I find ways to give back to the community. Serkan and I build our community work on our and his family's story. We often organize meetings in his hometown and encourage young Roma people to apply to university; I tell girls that they must finish high school and I share my own experiences and tell them about my life. I always emphasize that continuing their education can help them fight discrimination. I do tell them that going to university for Roma students is difficult for so many reasons, but they must not give up and they should seize opportunities such as applying for scholarships and applying to RGPP.
And where are YOU now? If you would like to share your story with us, please write us: firstname.lastname@example.org