Underrepresented Voices: Positive Youth Development among Roma and Egyptian Youth in Times of Pandemic

COVID-19 is disrupting youth development globally. Ethnic and racial minorities are disproportionately exposed to the virus and affected by the pandemic due to systemic social and economic disparities. Yet, there is a lack of research on how at-risk minority youth are coping with the present pandemic to shed light on the developmental assets that can boost their positive development during these uncertain times.

In Albania, Egyptian and Roma communities are the most deprived and stigmatized minority groups. Despite their cultural and historical specificities, Egyptian and Roma communities share a very similar and concerning the situation. They face multiple challenges, such as poverty, barriers to education, poor integration, discrimination, and marginalization, and are often excluded from participation in research and intervention initiatives. The school dropout rate for these communities is the highest in the country, and school-based research often fails to include the high number of youth who are not at school. Undeniably, their situation has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent report denounced that Roma communities across nine European countries lacked essential and basic health, income and education during the pandemic. To support the realization of Egyptian and Roma youths’ potential and prevent the widening of social inequalities between majority and minority youth during and in the aftermath of the pandemic, it is fundamental that societies shed light on and invest in the resources that can boost the positive development of minority youth.

Our purpose was to give a voice to Egyptian and Roma minority youth in Albania during the pandemic to better understand their situation and find ways to help them during these difficult times. Specifically, we investigated the accessibility of personal (vision of the future, personality) and contextual (family, school) resources among Egyptian and Roma minority youth in Albania during the COVID-19 pandemic. We adopted a Positive Youth Development framework, which postulates that when the resources at both the individual and the contextual levels are aligned, young people can thrive and actively contribute to their own development and that of their contexts (e.g., family, school, society).

To guarantee the inclusion of Egyptian and Roma youths’ perspectives, a collaborative community-based mixed-method research approach was used. Participants were recruited through three community, non-profit organizations working with the Egyptian and Roma communities in three Albanian cities.We conducted six focus groups with Egyptian (n=16) and Roma (n=15) adolescents (14-20 years, Mage = 16.71; SDage = 2.00; 14 girls and 17 boys) in August 2020. In addition, adolescents rated how much they experienced a list of 40 resources.

Our analyses highlighted “a desert of opportunities”. The overall lack of contextual and personal resources was aggravated by the pandemic and by barriers to accessing available ones, such as lack of awareness/information and structural barriers (e.g., lack of money, clothes). High levels of violence in the neighbourhoods where these youth lived were reported, and streets and schools were described as unsafe places. Very low levels of empowerment were reported, with many youths blaming themselves for lacking personal strengths and abilities. The family emerged as the main source of support, who could provide safety, food and shelter. However, the pandemic compromised both family and community solidarity, increasing isolation among minority youth. During the pandemic and especially during the lockdown, many youths described experiencing fear and psychological distress (e.g., anxiety, insomnia, depression).

Schools and community organizations could play a crucial role in supporting the education and wellbeing of minority youth, but discrimination and violence could easily compromise the building of trust with these institutions. Youth compensated the lack of contextual resources by valuing their flexibility and capacity to adapt to adverse situations. Although they reported a general negative vision of the future, they expressed a strong motivation for change via education and the building of a more fair and inclusive society.

Egyptian and Roma youths’ concerning the situation in Albania before and during the pandemic is the result of a complex interplay at the individual, family, contextual and societal levels. Hence, policies and interventions need to adopt an inter-sectoral approach, encompassing sectors such as education, health, social policies, housing and the labor market. It is fundamental to invest in community-based research that involves Egyptian and Roma youth and families throughout the process. We need intervention initiatives to empower marginalized at-risk youth and build trust within and between communities. The impact of isolation and lockdown measures on minority adolescents’ mental health is concerning and calls for the urgent need of community-based and easily accessible services of psychological support. Professionals should educate minority youth about normal responses to acute and chronic stress to help them find ways to preserve and re-establish their routines and social relationships during the disruption brought about by the pandemic.

Reference to full research article:

Miconi, D., Dervishi, E., Wiium, N. Johnson Lafleur, J., Ibrahimi, S. & Rousseau, C. (2021). Egyptian and Roma adolescents’ perspectives on their developmental assets in Albania during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Research on Adolescence. DOI: 10.1111/jora.12665


Diana Miconi is a licensed psychologist and an assistant professor at the Department of Psychopedagogy and Andragogy at the Université de Montréal, Québec, Canada. She holds a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from the University of Padova, Italy. Her current research focuses on the risk and resilience processes underlying psychological adaptation and well-being among children and adolescents in a positive youth development perspectives.

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