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"Baruvas" Romani student meeting in Brno, Czech Republic confirms that education makes sense

14.3.2017 7:11
The "Baruvas" Romani student meeting in Brno, Czech Republic, March 2017. (PHOTO: Jan Mihaliček)

"It was a brilliant feeling to see Romani people around me who are interested in education, who are motivated, who have dreams and vision. I am glad that none of us are alone in this now. Personally, it gave me a lot of new energy and appetite to work on myself even more, because I have the hope that it makes sense to do so," says Martin Dudi, a student of Philosophy and Religion at the South Bohemian University who attended a meeting of Romani college and high school students, "Baruvas", that took place in Brno during the first weekend in March.

Romani students frequently feel isolated and very often hopeless in their "fight" for a better life. They find themselves in a kind of vacuum between the Romani environment they grew up in on the one hand, where they were surrounded by extended family, and the alien environment of education on the other, which frequently happens far from their homes, places high demands on them in terms of performance, and involves experiencing a certain lack of trust felt by non-Roma toward students of Romani origin.

For that reason, as part of the Romani Scholarship Program implemented by the ROMEA organization, the concept of the Baruvas (Romanes for "We are growing") meetings of Romani students has been introduced. The meetings are meant to develop selected participants, support them in their educations, and help them motivate each other.

Many attendees were surprised at how many of their fellow Romani students share the same feelings and troubles, and this ameliorated the sense of isolation and uprootedness in which some of them live as well as strongly supporting their Romani identity - the students frequently spoke fluent Romanes with each other. The program of this second Baruvas meeting focused especially on intensifying their knowledge of Romani culture and increasing their skills at making good, meaningful arguments.

Experiences, friendship, information

"I got to know many brilliant people at the meeting, and I was pleasantly surprised at how many experiences and how much information can be squeezed into one weekend. I attended seminars and familiarized myself with different programs offered to students, including opportunities to travel abroad or do an internship at a big firm. I also learned something more about Romani history and I really enjoyed all of it a lot," says Štefan Balog, a fourth-year biology student at Charles University.

Monika Mihaličková, who works at ROMEA as a fundraiser, had this to say about the event:  "I was most affected by the visit to the Museum of Romani Culture, its exhibition on the history of Roma from India to the present is high-quality and interactive. It was a very strong, emotional experience for me, and I am glad we could at least partially facilitate it for our Romani students also."

In addition to the ROMEA scholarship recipients, the event was also attended by Romani recipients of scholarships from the Gendalos program of the IQ Roma Servis organization, the Open Society Fund Prague (OSF), and the Roma Education Fund. Representatives of the Albatros Foundation and OSF Prague spent almost the entire weekend with the Romani students as well.

Michal Mižigár, an assistant in OSF Prague's Child and Youth Education Program, is very familiar with the woes of "studying while Romani" and summed up the weekend in Brno as follows:  "The student meeting fulfilled its purpose - young Romani men and women could meet, discuss what they have in common, and mainly, they could inspire each other. It is clear to see that Romani people are indeed interested in education, despite the fact that they must grapple with many barriers and overcome their social exclusion to access it. Personally speaking, the meeting gave me hope that Romani people actually want to live better lives. It strengthened my conviction that the education situation is gradually improving for the next generation of Romani people who want to create their own good luck. This generation will create positive role models for those around them and will gradually lift the next generation up from the bottom of society."

The Baruvas meetings are a component of the scholarship program coordinated by ROMEA and are based on the needs expressed by the students themselves. The meetings are supported by the Albatros Foundation, Bader Philanthropies, OSF Prague and individual contributors.

Renata Berkyová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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