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Czech Republic: 11th Romani student meeting BARUVAS is changing lives

2.9.2020 7:43
The 11th BARUVAS meeting of Romani students took place in August 2020 at the Doubravka Education and Recreation Center in the Czech Republic. (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)
The 11th BARUVAS meeting of Romani students took place in August 2020 at the Doubravka Education and Recreation Center in the Czech Republic. (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

In August the biggest-ever BARUVAS meeting was held near Chotěboř, Czech Republic at the Doubravka Education and Recreation Center. The program brings together Romani college and high school students.

BARUVAS is becoming increasingly popular, with 40 students attending this year. Students learned about the history of Romani people, tried their hand at producing a magazine, and also created theater skits about many difficult social subjects.

New members' concerns, Romani Olympics and history of the Romani people

The first day was mainly for people to get to know each other. Almost half of the students were attending BARUVAS for the first time, so concerns were in the air over whether they would manage to fully participate in the program.

It didn't take long to see that those concerns were unnecessary. The experienced "matadors" took care of the "newcomers" and by the second day everybody was brilliantly attuned to what awaited them.

This meeting saw the second-ever "Rompiliáda" (Romani Olympics), beginning Sunday morning with an obstacle course. The students had been assigned to seven groups and began a week-long competition for the title of Champion of the Rompiliáda.

After the beginning athletic competition, the subject of the history of Romani people was next. The afternoon seminar led by Markéta Hajská and Dana Hrušková was a brief overview of that history.

"It is important that students learn more about the history of Romani people. In high schools such material is not taught, and we all feel it is important that our scholarship recipients know their own history and realize how rich the culture and history of the Roma are," said Jitka Votavová, manager of the ROMEA organization's scholarship program, which runs BARUVAS.

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Lety u Písku and guitars beneath the night sky

Monday's program was directed by Romani Studies scholar Renata Berkyová. She spoke about the Second World War and specifically about the concentration camp for Roma at Lety u Písku.

It was clear that the students were interested in the subject and everybody avidly listened to the stories of the survivors, even though doing so is frequently debilitating, emotionally. Students then worked in groups on imagining possible designs for the future memorial to the victims at Lety u Písku.

Most students had no idea what the winning design for the future memorial actually looks like, and the biggest surprise on Monday (including for the students themselves) was that each group came up with something similar to the design according to which the memorial will actually be built. That evening there was a campfire around which the students roasted hot dogs and played guitars under the starry night sky.

Journalists and judo

Tuesday was a creative day. The groups were given a simple task in the morning.

Students were asked to design and produce an eight-page magazine inspired by the monthly Romano voďi. "It was brilliant to see how enthusiastically they all threw themselves into it. I'm certain we will use some of the interesting ideas they came up with," said Jana Baudyšová, who is the Editor-in-Chief of the periodical.

Reportage was a required part of the magazine. Students reported on their experience with the virtual reality tour of the former concentration camp at Lety u Písku that was shared with them by Kristína Dientsbierová of the ROMEA organization.

Many students were afraid of the VR gear, but eventually everybody participated and the magazines produced were excellent. In the afternoon, instructor Patrik Šabo arrived to take a look at the students and instruct them in the basics of judo and self-defense.

Emotions in the air

Wednesday morning began with a workshop on the subject of media literacy. Zdeněk Ryšavý, director of the ROMEA organization, demonstrated to the students how easily one can get lost in the media space and how simple it is for different disinformation websites to distort information.

"At the beginning of the workshop I asked the students who among them had already encountered some form of education about the media. It was surprising to me that out of 40 students, just five said they were familiar with such material," said Ryšavý of the workshop, which was supported by the Active Citizens Fund program run by Open Society Fund Prague and financed by EEA and Norway Grants.

The rest of the day belonged to the sketches and theatrical performances that each group was responsible for producing. "We wanted the students to portray social subjects, which are frequently complex, from a bird's-eye perspective. For that reason, we also asked them to work in a genre that would lighten the theme as a whole. For example, we asked them to tell a story about the topic of infidelity using the genre of a Bollywood musical, or a story about anti-Romani demonstrations as a fairytale, or we asked them to parody the organizers of BARUVAS, which really entertained us," Votavová said.

"I really liked it that the organizers gave us free rein and we were able to tell the story absolutely in our own way. I was satisfied with our team and our version of Romeo and Juliet in the Czech-Romani environment of the anti-Romani demonstrations eventually was quite a success," said Robert Olah, who is a student at Jan Evangelista Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem.

After the performances and a brief rest, it was time for the talented young Romani singer Tereza Ondičová (Tessie) to create a brilliant atmosphere in which the students could dance together. "I really liked that we all did the circle dancing together. What happened in the room at that moment was indescribable. I'm awfully glad the BARUVAS program exists, because thanks to the program I got to know people who will remain part of my life and in my heart forever," said Kristýna Dunová, who is a student at Pardubice University.

Mosquitos, basketball, tears and words of thanks

Everybody needs to spend time in the fresh air, so all the students and the organizers took a walk on Thursday morning along the river behind the Doubravka Education and Recreation Center. For some this involved a couple of mosquito bites, but eventually everybody got through the experience successfully.

The final round of the "Rompiliáda" was very active. In addition to playing floor hockey blindfolded, or basketball, students had to also use their minds in disciplines involving memory.

The last round was decisive and the rankings of the different groups were quite affected by it. In the evening, awards were given as the song "We Are the Champions" was played.

Everybody believed the evening would end with the ceremony. However, we then all sat in a circle and were asked to pick a person in the group to thank for something specific he or she had done during BARUVAS, as well expressing gratitude to ourselves.

There were emotions, feelings and tears... "Suddenly, it was as if the only thing that existed was our circle. We all thanked each other and expressed how much we loved each other. I'm happy to have found a second family here. It's almost unbelievable how attached your heart can become to some people, but it might be because we all have the same dreams. We want to live a satisfied life. That is what drives us," said Michal Gábor, a student at Ostrava University.

"I have attended Baruvas several times, and each time it gives me something. This year at Doubravka we covered the subject of Romani people during the Second World War. We had the opportunity to try out a virtual reality program showing the concentration camp at Lety u Písku, which aided us with better empathizing with the situation that happened there. We worked in teams and got to know each other," said Adéla Švábová, a high school student from the town of Most.

"I am really grateful to be part of BARUVAS. I met many new friends here, I leared more about my culture, and I got a lot of motivation. Above all, though, I learned to love myself," Švábová said.

Goodbye?

Although the sun was shining on Friday morning, the students' mood was decided not happy, as it seemed to everybody that the week had gone by terribly quickly. Saying goodbye and shedding a few tears is a part of BARUVAS, but those feelings are soon replaced by enthusiasm and looking forward to the next encounter, to the gathering that is changing these young people's lives.

PHOTO GALLERY

Štefan Balog, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Baruvas - Rosteme, Stipendia, student, studie



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