REF Hosts Bulgarian Roma University Students in Sofia

The Roma Education Fund (REF) called together nearly 200 Romani university students to the premises of Sofia’s Modern Theater on Friday, November 15, 2013 to celebrate and publicly recognize their educational achievements and success. Hailing from across Bulgaria and studying across a wide range of disciplines, they all are finalists to receive the 2013-2014 Roma Memorial University Scholarship awarded by the Roma Education Fund.

The Roma Education Fund is exceptionally proud to be able to recognize this new wave of Romani students applying to, enrolling in and graduating from state-accredited universities in Bulgaria and this year’s RMUSP scholars are studying in fields across the academic spectrum as both undergraduate and graduate students. Competition for the award has steadily increased over the years, and from an eligible pool of 352 students, 209 were chosen as finalists award, indicating just how higher education is increasingly in demand among Roma who have successfully completed secondary education.

Effortlessly hosted by Bulgarian National Radio’s Valeri Lekov, the two-hour event featured remarks and inspiration from a selection of the brightest and best of Bulgaria’s burgeoning Roma professional cohort: Kalinka Vassileva from Bulgaria’s Trust for Social Achievement; Krasimir Krasimirov, PR expert at Bulgaria’s National Assembly;  Denitsa Mihaylova from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Nikolay Urumov, one of Bulgaria’s most respected actors as well as impromptu observations from Mr. Mattia Poretti, Head of the Swiss Contribution Office in Bulgaria. REF took the occasion to debut four short videos about current RMUSP beneficiaries and their university careers, sharing their experiences among this new and exciting wave of Bulgarian Roma students. The annual number of RMUSP scholarships growing from 140 in 2006 up to 254 in 2010, and the total number of scholarships disbursed now exceeding 1,700 in the eight years of its operation. A report on the gala aired on Bulgaria’s Nova TV.

The Roma Memorial University Scholarship Program provides merit-based support to Romani students pursuing tertiary education at state-accredited universities in their countries of residence. Demand has been growing in all 16 countries where the Roma Education Fund operates its Scholarship Program, and the volume and quality of applications has shown dramatic improvement over the years, indicating an untapped and unacknowledged pool of skilled and talented individuals who are beginning to claim their places in their schools, workplaces, communities and societies.

This event in Sofia was the fifth event in a series of RMUSP autumn galas that celebrated and recognized finalists across the region: previous events were in Nitra, Prague, Tirana and Skopje, with a final event in Budapest on November 18.

The Roma Memorial University Scholarship Program is funded in part by the Open Society Foundations, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the Swiss Development Corporation and the UK Department for International Development. 

In addition to its scholarship activities, REF is actively working to improve access to all levels of education through comprehensive support and programs working for school desegregation, the abolition of special schools, and increasing access to early childhood education and care. Working with a variety of local partners and stakeholders, the Roma Education Fund has disbursed over EUR 1.8 million to provide small technical assistance and capacity-building grants to support the implementation of local education projects.

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