Faces of The Fellowship: Roma

 |  November 10, 2015

Young boy smiling straight ahead as he's standing on a staircase.

For Roma, 7, who lives in Siberia along with his mother and sister, life with asthma isn’t easy. The family barely earns enough money for the typical family expenses, so providing Roma with the expensive medication to help him breathe is a challenge.

They live in the city of Tomsk, one of the oldest cities in Russian Siberia. In addition to needing medication for Roma, the freezing temperatures make living in poverty challenging for the family, who have extra expenses for warm winter clothes and heating year round.

And their home, a public housing unit previously used by their now-deceased grandma, isn’t very welcoming. This small one-room flat barely gives the family enough room to cook or sleep comfortably.

Sadly, life has always been a challenge, but a year ago, things became even worse. First, Roma’s mother, Larisa, was forced to leave her job because of a cutback in personnel. The family relied on the mother’s salary, and without her job they struggled to survive. The father continued to work, but one income wasn’t enough. Roma’s elder sister tried to help her family and applied to work night shifts while studying at a university, but she found it difficult to balance working and taking classes – and the pay still wasn’t enough.

This meant the father was the only one earning money for the family – and he grew frustrated and panicked. This frustration led to anger and fighting. Yelling became a daily phenomenon. After a few weeks, he left home and the couple decided to divorce, leaving young and sickly Roma feeling traumatized. The frustrated father decided to completely disconnect from his children and ex-wife; he does not pay child support, assist financially, or take part in bringing up his children – he doesn’t even visit.

But even with so many struggles, this year is an exciting year for Roma. Roma’s dream has finally arrived – he will begin school this year.

“I always dreamed of reaching this day,” says Larisa. “But I never imagined that it would be so difficult. Without a job and without a husband, I feel miserable, and then, suddenly, I realized that my beloved Roma will be going to school with old, torn clothing that hardly fits – clothes that I got as a gift from a few friends.”

Larisa continues to explain why she feels so miserable: “Imagine a week child sitting in class with funny-looking clothes that don’t fit him, waiting for somebody to become his new friend. Instead, he gets bullied because he is the most vulnerable. He becomes the target of the class, and his confidence drops to zero. My Roma is in danger.”

Thanks to the wonderful partnership between the Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) – representing the Jewish communities across the former Soviet Union (FSU), including the community of Tomsk – and The Fellowship, Roma will be a proud pupil this year. He received a voucher allowing him to purchase clothing of his choice, according to his personal needs and taste.

The Fellowship has also begun providing Roma with a monthly food package so he can stay healthy, and we’ve asked the Jewish community to closely monitor his medical situation and alert us if he needs special care.

“We wish to thank The Fellowship from the bottom of our hearts,” says Roma and his mother Larisa. “We don’t know Rabbi Eckstein and his donors personally, but that doesn’t stop them from caring about a Jewish family in Siberia.”

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