Romano Centro is an Austrian Roma-NGO based in Vienna, which was funded in 1991. Its main working areas are education, combatting antigypsyism, social counselling and providing information about Roma. Ferdinand Koller is working as the head of the educational programs since 2011.

  • How would your describe the position of Roma school mediator?

A Roma-school mediator is a person from a Roma community who works in various schools and facilitates communication between the institution and the Roma families. For him or her, the interests and problems of the school have the same importance like the concerns from the parents or children.

  • What are the biggest challenges for Roma school mediators?

Unlike in Germany or other countries, in Austria there is no official formation for Roma-school mediator. This means that they have to be very clear about what is their task and what not, because otherwise both the parents and the schools overwhelm them with tasks and concerns. They are also faced with very difficult, sometime very tragic social situations and the have to cope with this. Therefore they are supported by a professional supervisor.

  • What are the reactions of other teachers to Roma school mediator?

Teachers in Austria hardly know anything about the historical causes of the bad educational level of many Roma. They are more led by prejudices than by knowledge. The cooperation with a Roma-school-mediator helps them to better understand the situation of the families and to see things differently. In cooperation with a social worker the mediator also has the task to find solutions for social problems which are an obstacle to success in school. Teachers neither have the competence nor the time to take care about those issues. For them it means a big support if somebody is there who cares about the roots of the problems in schools. All in all the reactions of the teachers are very good, although there are some single ones who don’t want to cooperate with the mediators for whatever reasons.

  • About how many children effect the work of one Roma school mediator?

This is very different from school to school. Some of our mediators work with up to 100 children, others have less because they work in a smaller school.

  • How does look the typical day of Roma school mediator?

They usually start before school starts when parents bring their children to school. They talk to them an keep in touch, exchange information and answer questions. They check if all „their“ children are in school. If not and if there was no call from the parents, they call them and ask. They usually work with the teachers in the classes, sometimes they support children individually if they can’t follow the rest of the class, i.e. in the case of nelwy migrated children which do not speak German. Very often they are present when there is a meeting between the parents and the teachers, to make sure that both sides do understand each other. In the afternoons there are many phonecalls with the parents and osical insitutions to solve problems of different kinds. Very often it is necessary to accompany parents to some insitution or authority to get things done.

  • What are the best assets of Roma school mediator?

A Roma-school mediator has to be a good communicator and must not be shy towards parents or teachers. One the one hand they have to stick to their neutral position, on the other hand in many situation it is needed that they are able to assert themselves and convince i.e. parents. They have to speak severals languages, in our case this is German, Romani, Serbian and Romanian.

  • How does his/her work influence the school environment?

The school environment changes for the Roma-children and parents. In Vienna, many of them (try to) hide their ethnic background because they are ashame and fear discrimination. If there is a Roma-school-mediator in school, this changes, because their cultural background becomes visible and more estimated by the teachers and the other children. The mediator is an important person of trust in a surrounding which is not seen to be safe for the children by many parents.

  • What conditions Roma school mediator need to fulfill his/her work the best possible way?

The Roma-school-mediator must be accepted both by parents and the school. They need to be paid properly for their difficult work and have to be accompanied by a professional team. School mediators are alone in their position in school, thats why they need an exchange in the team, with the project leader and a social worker and they need team supervison.