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August 12, 2022



15th BARUVAS meeting in the Czech Republic for Romani students features theater performance about Romani history

8.9.2021 7:16
The BARUVAS 2021 gathering of Romani students. (PHOTO:  Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)
The BARUVAS 2021 gathering of Romani students. (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

The 15th BARUVAS Romani student meeting came to an end on Friday, 27 August. The meeting was held in the picturesque environment of the Moravian-Silesian Region near Praděd. 


During the meeting, students were made familiar with the techniques of argument and discussion by journalist Jarmila Balážová and created their own skits based on a lecture about the history of Romani people by historian Renata Berkyová, as well as enjoying a lot of fun during a hiking trip along the Bílá Opava waterfall. At the close of the week-long meeting the students competed with each other in the "BARUVAS Has Talent" contest, which demonstrated that they are not just abounding in knowledge, but in many talents, and there was certainly no shortage of talent to behold.

Students arrived on Sunday afternoon at the Hotel Soliter in Karlov pod Pradědem. Some had not seen each other in person for an entire year, so it was plain to see how glad they were to be able to meet again. 

After assigning rooms, the classic welcoming ceremony was held by the organizers, followed by games of introduction so the new students coming to the meeting for the first time could meet everybody. Already on that first day the atmosphere was brilliant and the students were looking forward to what the organizers had prepared for them.

Theater full of emotions

Monday morning covered the history of Romani people. Renata Berkyová prepared an overview of this history from the year 1918 until today for the students.

She discussed the interwar period, the Second World War, communism, the Velvet Revolution and its aftermath, and the impact of these historical events on Romani people in Czechoslovakia and later in the Czech Republic. The historical excursion was intended to prepare students for the theatrical performance they would be involved in that evening.

Renata Berkyová prepares students for theater performances (FOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

The students then rehearsed several theatrical techniques prepared for them by Berkyová and divided into groups. Each group was meant to prepare their own skit about the history of the Roma in different periods.

The subjects of the Second World War and the Velvet Revolution were worked on, while some students addressed the theme of the ban on Romani people living on the road. It was quite interesting to see how the students managed to deal with topics that were very often quite dark and heavy, and how they used what they had learned from the morning lecture.

Theater performances (FOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

The theatrical evening was quite an emotional experience for everybody. "It's brilliant how many acting talents are discovered every year during the BARUVAS theater production," says Štefan Balog, manager of the ROMEA organization's scholarship program, which produces BARUVAS. 

Experiences that will be useful in the future

Tuesday was the first day dedicated to media literacy. "For a previous BARUVAS meeting held online because of the government measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, my colleague Zdeněk Ryšavý and I created a questionnaire for the students and their answers confirmed what we had suspected - education about the media, in the schools, plays an almost non-existent role. Nevertheless, students are surrounded by an extreme amount of information, disinformation, etc. For that reason we wanted to expand their horizons with regard to the lectures and training the students receive about the media," says journalist Jarmila Balážová, who spent an entire day training the students through activities about the media.

The lecture, practical exercises and subsequent staging of debates and discsussions were something new for the students and did expand their horizons. It will be easier for them, in the future, to work with the media, and mainly they will know how to express themselves in public.

"The first part was concentrated on theory. We discussed how the media function, how politicians feature there, which subjects work there and why, which ones attract attention or not, which ones are abused, etc. The second part contained practical training in debates and surveys. The students actually surprised me in an unbelievably nice way with their creativity, ideas, grace under pressure, their ability during a brief amount of time to come up with a theme, grasp it, work on it, moderate discussion of it, play the role of a guest, etc. Some performances were good enough that they seemed like professional moderators or persons used to media appearances," Balážová.  

Jarmila Balážová prepares students for filming debates (FOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

The BARUVAS meeting was also attended by the team of the Albatros Foundation, led by director Jindra Marešová. The foundation has been a partner of the ROMEA organization's scholarship program for five years. 

"We rarely miss an opportunity to meet with the students, speak with them about their studies, listen to their future plans and witness how their talents are developed," Marešová said. The team also prepared a workshop for students during which they familiarized themselves with the social media education network called - a tool that can help everybody overcome difficulties during their studies.

Jindra Marešová presents to students (FOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

"We were greatly pleased not just with the accommodating reactions of the students, but also with the sincere feedback and valuable suggestions they gave us. That is something unusual and it is quite good to see how the students strengthen their communications and presentations skills, critical thinking and collaboration during BARUVAS," Marešová said.   

Overcome your limits

The only sunny day during the week was taken advantage of by the instructors and students to take field trips, and half of the students signed up for the day trip along the Bílá Opava. The demanding but quite scenic trip meant overcoming personal limits for many of the students. 

The other group of students chose a trip that was half as long but involved more adrenaline. That night the students gathered around the fire and told each other interesting stories, sometimes even ghost stories, which helped them brave their nighttime walks.

A trip along the White Opava (FOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

Media training and BARUVAS has talent

On the penultimate day, the director of the ROMEA organization, Zdeněk Ryšavý, spoke with the students about the media and how to work with it. Given that untrue information frequently appears on social media and in the media itself, it is quite important that the students know how to deal with information and find the information that is true.  

"We focused on concrete cases of disinformation and the students rehearsed what they should pay attention to when reading any media content and what might indicate to them that a report is untrue or misleading," Ryšavý says.

Zdeněk Ryšavý and his media education (FOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

The final evening was dedicated to the first-ever BARUVAS Has Talent competition, which was won by the excellent magician František Német, who will be studying artifical intelligence at Czech Technical University's Faculty of Information Technology this October - and other students performed dances, rap, and singing. 

Nathália Szinai (FOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)
The phenomenal magician František Német (FOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

"I am quite glad that we gathered with the students again after one year. We have been looking forward to it all year, and my expectatoins were fulfilled. Brilliant lecturers, talented students and a beautiful environment in the mountains, what more could one want? The final evening had a special atmosphere, though. The students sang, dance, rapped, and gave a magic performance. I am quite glad that they organized this event themselves and all I had to do was enjoy how talented they are. It was a brilliant ending to this jubilee BARUVAS meeting," says Štefan Balog, manager of the ROMEA organization's scholarship program.    

Lifelong friendships and motivation for the future

The BARUVAS meeting for Romani students was also attended by a group of university students from the Albatros Foundation scholarship program. "For the younger students it is valuable to see what kind of path opens up for them. The students naturally discuss their study careers, exchange experiences, share their successes and failures, and talk about opportunities for support during their continuing education. The shared experience at BARUVAS, moreover, contributes to bonding in the group," said Denisa Maková, coordinator of the Albatros scholarship program. 

"It is especially important, in the nonprofit sector, to come together around a common aim. For that reason, I am quite glad that ROMEA is open to collaborate with other scholarship programs that are ameliorating the impacts of unequal conditions in education. The BARUVAS meeting is proof of the fact that this can only be of benefit to the students," Jindra Marešová, director of the Albatros Foundation, said. 

Messages to students and lecturers (FOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

The contacts and friendship the students have established are unequivocally an investment for the future. Networking Romani students is one of the main pillars of the BARUVAS meetings, which create lifelong friendships. 

Before leaving, each student was given an envelope full of messages that the others wrote to them. Those are memories that will remain with them for life.

The Romani scholarship program is supported by the Albatros Foundation, Bader Philanthropies, the SOVA Foundation and many individual donors. The workshops focused on media literacy were supported by OSF through its Active Citizens Fund, the aim of which is to support civil society and bolster the capacities of nonprofit organizations, a program financed by EEA/Norway Grants.

ROMEA, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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