This 22-year-old girl from Herceg Novi, who participated in the German TV program “Deutschland such den Super star” two years ago, is in her final year of German studies, and her next goal is a scholarship to Heidelberg or Berlin.
If it had not been for her brother who suggested that she enrolls in her studies she would have been a hairdresser or a visagist, today she is fortunate to be fighting for her future outside Montenegro, for the fourth year in Niksic. In addition to her studies, she is also active in promoting RE rights – in particular women’s rights.
Interview with Linda Jefkaj iz part of project Civil society in action promoting and protecting Roma and Egyptian rights in Montenegro, within we promote women’s role models. The project is funded by EU and implement Help with the Roma youth organization Walk with us Phiren Amenca.
Help: Linda, in an interview I read on Roma.net about you, you said that you always had a role model and motivation for you – your brother.
Jefkaj: My start was a bit difficult. Yes, my brother was my role model in everything. He graduated psychology here in Niksic. And after high school, he was the one who gave me instructions in what faculty to enrol in. Since I always wanted to enroll in German language because I loved German culture and German – the best option was imposing on its own– German language, germanist.
Help: That’s great.
Jefkaj: Yes, let me tell you. First, after high school, I had no intention of enrolling in college at all. Why? Because I always wanted to be a hairstylist, and I always had a talent for hairstyles and makeup, but in the end I got into college. My brother, who advised me to enroll in these studies, played a key role. As he said, you have a talent for hairstyles and makeup, but you can always finish that, try studies.
And so, I enrolled in college in 2016 and here I am now in my third, final year, I have one more semester left.
Help: You were born in Herceg Novi and we are doing this interview now in Niksic where you are studying. In addition to learning, you are also involved in the civilian sector. Where did the motivation for that come from?
Jefkaj: I work at the Center for Roma Initiatives. I was introduced to their work at one of the seminars I attended. They then offered to engage me on their projects. I realized that this is a very good option since I am here in Niksic where I study and where their headquarters are. Of course, they met my specific student needs, and allowed me to work for four hours a day to balance my obligations with learning. I am working on a project for inclusion of Roma and Egyptians, with a focus on women. I gained work experience here and learned a lot about activism along the way.
Help: How do you see your role as a young and successful Roma woman in promoting the female Roma population in Montenegro?
Jefkaj: We know that the Roma population in Montenegro has many problems, we face different difficulties and different forms of discrimination. First of all, as a positive role model and as a positive example among Roma and Egyptians, I want to help my community in every sense. First, I want to prove to them that they can achieve whatever they want.
First of all, Roma women should focus on education, then self-confidence, in order to gain knowledge and experience in many fields. However, it is very difficult to work with our population.
Jefkaj: Because it is not easy for us to raise their awareness to that level that they realize that everything we do is focused for their own good. It’s a big challenge…
RE population numerous but poor, working with the community is very difficult
Help: How much success do you have in working with the community with the RE population and what are the main obstacles?
Jefkaj: The obstacles are the fact that a large number of Roma and Egyptians is in Niksic, but they live in very poor conditions, and in order to improve that status it is a very long process and hard work. Working on long-term projects also requires a lot of money and a lot of work and a lot of experience, but all of this is gained over time.
I think the way we are doing now is a very good path and that it is a way to prove and show that the RE community needs a lot of help.
Help: In particular, I know that the focus of the organization of the Center for Roma Initiatives is largely on preventing early marriages. How much success do you have in this area?
Jefkaj: We have a lot of success, given that Fana (Delija, president of the organization) is constantly working to prevent arranged marriages. A total of 84 cases of early contractual marriages have been prevented so far. But the problem is that not one of these cases has been criminally reported.
The problem is, among other things, that institutions need to be much more involved in this matter. Unfortunately, we have a very large number of such cases, we literally work daily to prevent arranged marriages, through campaigns, through various presentations and educations. First, we need to get to these young girls to talk to them, to family, to try to change that tradition, as they call it, even though it’s not a tradition.
I mean there are different customs in our country, but that can change. With education and a set of other things, we can bring about changes in society, but as a society as a whole we do not yet see it as a common problem that everyone should work on. This is usually pushed aside and so the problem cannot be solved.
Help: How often does it happen that, as someone who has had the full support of their family to educate and continue to build their own lives on their own, you have the opportunity to impose your own example and persuade a particular family to give up the intention of sacrificing their own child for a arranged child marriage?
Jefkaj: I also come from a Roma family, I usually tell them that it was not easy for me at the beginning, to get educated and enter the system, although I always had the support of my family, my parents. The environment in which I live has understood differently that I went to another city alone to continue my education and have been living independently for four years. But I have succeeded, and I always try to make them aware that they can too.
Help: Do you encounter, have you encountered discrimination before and how do you deal with it?
Jefkaj: I have to admit that I did not face discrimination, although it seemed to me that people, for example at the university recognized that I was Roma by my name, but that was not an obstacle for me to fit in and improve. On the contrary, even though they let me know that they considered me different, I proved to them that it was my advantage, that I was better for that reason.
Help: What are your plans for the future when you complete German studies?
Jefkaj: It is my priority to finish my studies by August, finish this semester and graduate with a degree in German language. Then I want to apply for a scholarship in Heidelberg or Berlin. The next step is the master’s degree, and then on.
She sees her future outside Montenegro
Help: Do you see your future outside Montenegro?
Jefkaj: Yes, although after school I want to make a difference in Montenegro in order to gain some work experience, but I see the rest of my life in Germany.
Help: What would your message to young Roma women in Montenegro be, how to fight for their rights?
Jefkaj: First of all I would say enthusiasm, courage and perseverance are important, I have always relied on my courage. I have always strived to gain some experience through communication with society and with institutions. It wasn’t easy for me at college, but I was convinced that with persistence, which was how it was in my case, everything could be achieved, and that every effort would eventually pay off.
Help: What is your communication with professors and colleagues at the faculty?
Jefkaj: Very good. In addition, I can say that I cooperate with many lecturers, professors from abroad from Austria, Switzerland and Germany, and the cooperation with them is even better. They have a much better understanding of our abilities and incapacities.
Help: Do you think that from a professional point of view or because you are Roma?
Jefkaj: No, it doesn’t matter that I’m Roma, it has to do with accessibility. It’s just that professors-lecturers from abroad are much more accessible than professors here, to me and to other fellow students. That is unfortunatelly so, and I hope that will change sometime.
Help: How are your relations with your colleagues?
Jefkaj: I have great communication with my colleagues, I have acquired very good friends here. I feel good with them, they are from all over Montenegro, and I am here alone, no one from Herceg Novi has been enrolled in German studies. Maybe it’s better that I was alone at the beginning.