Empowering Roma women in Oldham. Where did it begin?

In partnership with KaskoSan and the University of Salford, Oldham Coliseum Theatre are working with the Roma community in Oldham to explore how taking part in cultural activities can enhance wellbeing. The project comprises a children and young people's strand and work with Roma women, who are currently exploring how they would like to co-produce the research outcomes with Roma Key Worker, Maria Palmai.


A blog by Roma Connects Key Worker Maria Palmai

How did the story of Roma women begin in Oldham? Who was the first to smile at Roma children, men and women?

It started with Zerg’s smile in 2016. Zerg Raja (RIP), a former First Choice Homes worker and a former KaskoSan Roma Charity trustee who could not understand why absolutely no one was friendly with Romanian Roma in Clarksfield, where he also lived in Oldham. One day he decided to smile at all Romanian Roma he came across. His smile was returned.

Five years ago, he was the first to see the potential in us, however neither we nor Oldham may have been ready for that back then. By now we've managed to catch up, and we opened a door to the ‘gadjo’ (non Roma) world.

We left our life in our home countries and we came to England full of hope for a new world, where everything works differently. Even if it’s hard. We started entering the non-Roma system, which helps us to better operate and to proceed on the right path. What our children receive through the British school system is miles away from what they would have gained in our home countries.

England is a country where women and children are important. That concern managed to reach us too, us, Roma women! Thankfully, we, Roma women coming from a traditional and closed community have become part of that concern. We are just making a new path in the ‘gadjo’, outsider world. We are enjoying it and want to carry on.

We are lucky to get a chance to take part in the Roma Connections project. We have activities on a weekly basis with 12 Roma women where we present our traditions, we can get to know each other, and where we can plan to build our common future together.

Through Zerg, Oldham Coliseum and Kaskosan began working together some time ago and so we were ready to begin working with Roma women through the Roma Connections project, funded by Ideas Fund. I build the relationships with the women and they trust me. We work with 12 Roma women a week, and I represent KaskoSan Roma Charity.

The past three sessions have been successful. We listened to what the women wanted to do and so we are currently preparing a Christmas event where we will present our guests with traditional Roma food. Roma women’s choir will perform evangelical songs and their personal stories.

We are building the event with joy and excitement from one week to another together with Carly and Chelsea from Oldham Coliseum Theatre. We have access to everything, and there is a solution to any issue we may come across, because they want it to happen. That’s what matters and it works. For an efficient system will include and not exclude us.

We are sure that Zerg, our dear friend, is watching us from above and is smiling at us.




The Roma Connects project is funded by The Ideas Fund. Delivered by the British Science Association (BSA) and funded by Wellcome, the Fund supports the BSA’s belief that science is about ideas that can and should come from anywhere and Wellcome’s commitment to funding ideas that empower people, lead to better research and enable science to solve urgent health challenges.

Reaching individuals and groups who have been overlooked by health research in the past is a key aim of the Fund – particularly in rural or minority ethnic communities, amongst the young, marginalised and socioeconomically disadvantaged people. 


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