On Wednesday, February 22, the launch of the Roma Education Fund took place at the University of Bucharest in presence of Marko Bela, Romania Vice Prime Minister and the major representatives of the Roma civil society organizations.

The event was attended by about a hundred participants from diverse horizons: The most important Roma organizations in Bucharest, as well as representatives of smaller NGOs from the region participated actively in the event. Government offices were well represented, in particular the National Agency for the Roma and the Minister of Education who sent a number of high ranking civil servants.  A number of embassies from European countries also sent representatives.  The event was open by Jonathan Scheele, the head of the delegation of the European Union Commission in Romania and by   Paloma Petrescu,  State Secretary for pre-University Education. The United Nation Resident Coordinator Sokhan Han Jung also spoke at the opening linking the REF efforts with the objective of the Millennium Development Goals.  Jonathan Sheele stressed the importance of sustaining the efforts underway to build a more inclusive society as part of the process of access to the European Union with a strong focus on the Roma who are the most marginalized, at the moment, in Romania.  He also stressed the particular importance of education in this process of inclusion. Paloma Pterescu supported very much the importance of urgently reducing the education outcome gap between Roma and non-Roma children and presented some of the steps the Ministry of Education and Research has taken in this direction Mariae Ionescu, the President of the National Agency for Roma Inclusion presented the program of the Government for Roma inclusion during 2005/2006, the period during which Romania assumes the presidency of the Decade for Roma Inclusion. Costel Bercus, Chairman of the REF, gave a detailed presentation of the objectives of the REF and the way it operates. A number of NGOs presented ideas of programs to help the government implement its policies designed to support Roma inclusion in education and in particular school desegregation. Marko Bela, Romania Vice Prime Minister gave some concluding remarks and engaged in a lively debate with NGO representatives on the minority law and on the implementation of the program for Roma inclusion. The press had the occasion to ask questions and interview the participants. The event provided a forum for lively discussions that went far beyond the role of the REF and discussed the implementation of government policies education. This is very much at the heart of what the Roma Education Fund should be: a forum for discussion and exchange of knowledge on the best way to achieve inclusion of Roma in education in the Decade countries. The event was organized in collaboration between the Romania Agency for Roma and the Roma Education Fund.