To teach children essential social skills and hygiene, help them do homework and develop their talents. But also to support mothers and offer social counselling, conferences and cultural events to a wider community. These are just some of the activities of the new Saints Louis and Zélie Martin Community Centre in Topoľčany, central-western Slovakia, the latest Order of Malta initiative in the country.
“The Romani are the largest ethnic minority in Europe. Many of them face discrimination on a daily basis, which makes it difficult for them to complete primary education and subsequently find work. The Order of Malta now runs 24 programmes throughout Europe to overcome this vicious circle of marginalisation and poverty. In general, the children are eager to learn and grateful for the opportunities the programme offers them,” said Franz Salm-Reifferscheidt, the Order of Malta’s Ambassador for the Romani population.
The main objective of the Order’s relief organisation in Slovakia is to manage a community centre for socially disadvantaged groups, with particular attention for the Romani community and its integration. The town of Topoľčany – 100 kilometres northeast of the capital Bratislava – has some 1,000 Roma inhabitants. Around 350 Romani live in the immediate vicinity of the Community Centre, half of whom are children.
“We want our children to have somewhere to spend their free time and enjoy their hobbies. This is why we’ve been involved in the reconstruction of the Centre since the outset,” explained Slavomír Langer, head of the local Romani community. The centre will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will offer a wide range of social and educational programmes aimed primarily at children, mothers and pregnant women. The Order of Malta’s staff and volunteers will also provide social counselling and organise cultural events and conferences for all Topoľčany residents.
“What is important for us is not only the construction, but especially the long-term operation of the centre. Our goal is to integrate the Romani and encourage intercultural dialogue. We expect the Centre will be fully functional in 2024, when it will also be available for other purposes that will help us finance the long-term operation,” explained Július Brichta, President of Malteser Aid Slovakia, the Order of Malta’s relief organization in Slovakia.
The reconstruction of the building, a former sugar factory not far from the Romani settlement, began in the autumn of 2021, thanks to the support of Salm-Reifferscheidt, the Slovak Republic Government and the Global Fund for Forgotten People. This is the Order’s second community centre in Slovakia.
In addition to the Order of Malta’s Ambassador for the Romani population, also present at the inauguration on 21 March were the Slovak Government’s Plenipotentiary for Romani Communities, Ján Hero, as well as the President and Vice-President of Malteser Aid Slovakia, Július Brichta and Rudolf Páleš. The centre was consecrated by Mgr. Dušan Argaláš.