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May 24, 2022



Emil Voráč: Some non-Romani social work clients in the Czech Republic refuse aid from Romani people

3.10.2019 9:55
Emil Voráč, head of the Khamoro organization, with the Czech entrepreneur and philanthropist Karel  Janeček. (PHOTO:  Jan Tichý)
Emil Voráč, head of the Khamoro organization, with the Czech entrepreneur and philanthropist Karel Janeček. (PHOTO: Jan Tichý)

Romani community member Emil Voráč (58) is the recipient of an award from the Karel Janeček Foundation in the Czech Republic for his lifetime work with socially vulnerable people over the past 25 years. He first began his working life as a miner, after which he became a chemist.

After the 1989 Velvet Revolution, Voráč established the Romani Club of Interpersonal Relationships (Romský klub mezilidských vztahů) and currently leads the Khamoro ("Sun") public benefit society. While his road to success may seem to have been an easy one, the beginning was anything but simple.

Despite many complications, this native of Karlovy Vary has never given up on achieving his dreams and fulfilling his resolutions. After graduating from an agricultural-industrial secondary school, he tried out several different professions, working as a glassblower, a chemist, and in porcelain production at a manufacturer in Karlovy Vary.

Eventually, however, what won out was his desire to dedicate himself to the area of social work. When he decided to become a professional in that field and study at the Evangelical Academy, he already had several years of practice behind him.

Studying excited him so much that he decided to continue on to university. His plans were prevented by a health emergency, however - a sudden heart attack and partial memory loss.

Voráč had to interrupt his university studies due to his health complications for some time. He had to get by with his knowledge from high school and the experience he acquired from his daily practice.

Romani people and others seek his aid

"I recall Romani people turning to me during the previous regime, long before I established the Khamoro public benefit organization in Chodov in the Sokolov district. They most frequently asked me to aid them with filling out the paperwork for different requests, such as divorces, court motions, and housing applications," Voráč says when asked what led him to establish an organization based on the principle of helping people in difficult life situations.

"The petitions for assistance didn't let up after the revolution, so I decided to dedicate myself to social work full-time and professionally," he says. Today Khamoro annually aids more than 300 people with a small team of six, both majority-society and Romani staffers.

"Together we focus on assisting people who find themselves in difficult life situations, most of them are people from excluded localities," he says. Those relying on his help are not just Romani, either.

Majority-society clients doing their best to resolve what are predominantly bankruptcy problems also seek out the organization. "Even if some of them sometimes have a problem accepting aid from Romani people, they realize they have no other option given their situations," he says.

"However, it has also happened that a client has refused our assistance outright because the person who would be helping them was Romani," Voráč relates. Insolvency problems are among the most frequent they encounter.

Voráč says that quite often majority-society clients are able to deal with resolving these problems very successfully because, unlike Romani clients, they can handle the challenge of asking for aid in time. "Romani people don't come to us until it's too late, most of the time, and quite often their problems can no longer manage to be resolved as we would like, despite all our efforts," he says.

"The earlier clients address the fact that they are in a collections procedure, the greater the likelihood is that they will get out of the problem faster," he warns. In addition to debts, clients contact the organization about finding housing and jobs.

"In such cases we do our best to alert our clients to the fact that our organization is not focused just on searching for housing and jobs and then securing them, but that above all we encourage our clients to make greater efforts to solve their problems on their own by motivating them to do this themselves," Voráč explains, saying he is convinced it is only one's own determination and effort to get rid of one's problems that is the primary road to success. Voráč says his biggest motivation comes exactly from those people who are grateful for their second chance and who, thanks to the aid of his organization, get back on their own two feet again, gain permanent employment, and regularly pay their rent on time, as late payment would once again plunge them into the debt trap.

Romani youth still don't believe in themselves enough to go to college

Khamoro's focus is not just on aiding adults, but also on providing services to children and youth between the ages of six and 26 related to education, jobs and tutoring. Voráč says the children who visit his community center are interested predominately in the blue-collar jobs that are in great demand among Romani people.

"We support Romani youth in their studies, we motivate them to aim higher, we tell them that if they can deal with an apprenticeship, then they can also handle graduating from high school and maybe even from college, but they don't believe in themselves enough for that. Naturally they also have our support in choosing from among the various industrial trades, because we are aware that with such experience they can establish their own companies someday and go into business. After all, a good trades person is extremely difficult to find today. Here in our area many Romani people are in business exactly in the construction industry," Voráč says of the situation in the Karlovy Vary Region.

Another field his organization focuses on is that of cultural programs, educational seminars and summer camps. In Chodov's excluded locality, Železný Dvůr, a large-capacity community tent has been pitched for these purposes and serves local residents above all.

Voráč says the project is unique because its aim is not just to hold different events for the inhabitants of the excluded locality, but to actively involve Romani people in what is happening. Annually Khamoro also organizes a trip by Romani residents of Chodov to the commemoration ceremony honoring the Holocaust and its Romani victims at the site of the former concentration camp for Roma at Lety u Písku.

According to Voráč, it is important that Romani people be able to speak Romanes and know their own history, the Romani flag, and the Romani national anthem. In addition to social work, to which he dedicates a great deal of his time, he is also in the hospitality business.

The profits from that business are invested into working with the children who visit his community center, all of whom come from socially vulnerable families and whose parents cannot afford to send them to camp or on field trips. Last year he was given an award by the Karel Janeček Foundation for his painstaking work and successes in the area of social services.

"When I found out about the award, I told everybody that somebody else should get it. Eventually I accepted it, though. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that the honor launched an inexplicable wave of envy among the locals and people began to turn their backs on us," he admits.

"We won't give up, though. We know we are aiding people, and I will keep assisting people in our region as long as I can," says the lifelong social worker.

First published in Romano voďi.

Rena Horvátová, Ája Čiháková, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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