Rebuilding Roma Slums to Tackle Urban Poverty in Bulgaria

In Bulgaria, our project to rebuild and renovate Roma slums to tackle local urban poverty is happening at steady pace, one home at a time. And each new home has a profound impact on its community.

Our pilot project to address poverty in Bulgaria trains housing mediators to help families in need obtain microfinancing and affordable construction materials so that they can renovate their homes and create healthy housing environments where their children can thrive.

Meet Svetla, one of our homepartners in the video documentary below. Like many Roma people in Bulgaria, when Svetla and her husband got married they didn’t have any money and they didn’t have anywhere to live. So they built somewhere. But not being builders or engineers they improvised.

Now Svetla looks after the house while her husband is away working. Their son still lives at home and Svetla has just become a grandmother. The growing family is desperate to improve their lot. And like 40% of Bulgaria’s population, desperate to climb out of the poverty they find themselves in.

Turgaj is one of Habitat for Humanity’s housing mediators here in the settlement of Malcho Malchev. Svetla wants a loan to improve the house. Turgaj has come to see what’s needed.

Video transcript

Svetla: Oh Turgaj, hello.

Turgaj: How are you?

Svetla: I am fine.

Turgaj: I heard you were looking for a loan?

Turgaj: So I see a lot of problems. What do you want to do?

Svetla: First, to fix the roof, and make it higher, and keep this entrance so my son can use this room with his new family.

Turgaj: This is dangerous, and needs urgent attention.

Svetla: Very much, yes.

Turgaj: There are a lot of problems that need addressing. I’ll need to come back and see what we can do. But you need help.

Inside Roma settlements: lack of windows, insulation and plumbing

Roma family in new safe home
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Once Svetla has filled in the application and it’s been approved, she could start on the improvements in a couple of weeks.

Later that day Svetla gets another visit: a local doctor, Dr. Edreva, has come to check up on the health of the newborn.

Dr. Edreva (pediatrician and advisor for Club NGO, Targoviste): “Visiting the homes of children gives me the chance to see the conditions in which these children are living. Many houses here lack any windows, and have bad insulation.

They also suffer from draughts and damp. There’s often no plumbing for sewage, and no toilet in the house or the yard. For those that live there it greatly increases the risk of infectious disease. Thankfully for Svetla’s grandson, he’s healthy and has nothing more than a bit of nappy rash.”

Lung and infectious diseases are rife

As Dr. Edreva explains, poor housing conditions can have a serious effect on people’s health. “In these environments, a lot of people suffer lung problems due to poor air quality. Children often get infectious diseases from poor levels of hygiene in their homes and environments”

Just around the corner from Svetla, lives Ognyan. Turgaj has come to see how he’s getting on with the process of improving his home thanks to a Habitat loan arranged by Turgaj.

Ognyan: I’ve done the walls, floors and ceiling with the loan that I took out.

Turgaj: You’ve done a great job, well done.

Ognyan: The bathroom has new fittings.

Turgaj: What do you want to do now?

Ognyan: First I’d like to improve the roof, and the insulation. That’s most important for now.

Turgaj: OK, Ognyan, I’ll give you and answer within a few days.

Ognyan and his family feel much happier in their new home. It’s cleaner and warmer, and as a result, his children don’t get as sick as they used to.

Training mediators to scale up renovations

Happy Roma family in slums settlements
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Habitat wants to help more people like Ognyan and let more people out of poverty.

Mincho Benov, national director at Habitat Bulgaria highlights that “this is exactly what this project addresses to socially and financially improve vulnerable communities and help families raise children to improve their housing conditions.”

With more funding, Habitat can really scale up this programme. One million euros would fund enough housing mediators to help another 15,000 people, giving them hope of a decent home and healthy environment for their children.

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