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Fashion designer helps Romani Mentor project in Czech Republic

Prague, 9.2.2013 20:32, (ROMEA)
2013:  The Romani Mentor project is running at the Prádelna community center in Prague 5 for the second year in a row.
2013: The Romani Mentor project is running at the Prádelna community center in Prague 5 for the second year in a row.

The Prádelna community center on Holečkova street in Prague 5 is hosting a Romani mentor for the second year in a row. The integration project of the same name (Romský mentor) is once again featuring successful fashion designer Pavel Berky.

It's freezing cold, but the "little house", as the children call their center, is full of young people's voices. Just before 3 PM, Pavel arrives with "his" group. The movie screen in the pleasant twilight of the attic space is filled with colorful shades of the 1960s: Flowered dresses, long hair, bell-bottoms, peace signs and Janis Joplin's smile.

"Wow!" I say to myself, watching a bunch of teenagers listen intently to stories of the days of their grandparents' youth. They are not afraid to ask questions when something interests them and so the flow of the conversation churns through drugs, the war, religion, free love, and the shadow side of the hippies' lifestyle as well.

Then fashion becomes the star of the show and a whirl of measuring, shortening, sewing, fabric selection, combining accessories and braiding ribbons into hair begins. I almost forget I'm there as part of my job to visit the Romani Mentor project.

Achieving something and understanding one another

This international project is successfully running simultaneously in Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia and Slovakia. It was brought to the Czech Republic by the Open Society Foundations (OSF) and has been implemented since 2011 by the ROMEA civic association. "The main aim of the project is to contribute toward integrating disadvantaged children by implementing recreational activities in the field of arts and culture at schools," says coordinator Iva Hlaváčková.

One of the project's points of contact with the outside world is a successful Romani artist, a professional who regularly meets with a group of children and, in collaboration with a pedagogue, sets up a program for them according to his professional focus. As part of the program, the children then familiarize themselves with a specific activity and its broader contexts, but mainly they are also creating and inventing on their own.

In addition to developing skills, however, the children learn how to collaborate in a group and attain social competencies. The positive role model of a successful Romani figure motivates them to develop their own ideas about their own futures and to make efforts toward their own successful career paths.

The project is open to all children, so last but not least it contributes to non-Romani and Romani children learning about one another's cultures. The project increases tolerance and facilitates school integration.

Fashion from across the last century revived

Last year the Romani Mentor project focused on the spirit of traditional Romani clothing, the aesthetics of its colors, the kinds of materials used, Romani history, and Indian culture and fashion. This year Pavel and his "mentoring" colleague, teacher Lenka Jiroudková, decided to dedicate their sessions to a trip through the history of 20th-century fashion.

In the cozy attic space of the "little house", thanks to their combined efforts, we see a slideshow of photographs of elegant girls in close-fitting coats skittishly twirling umbrellas behind their backs as if they have just stepped out of the 1940s or 1950s. We see hard-core punks with Mohawks, hip-hoppers with their pants falling down, and dark gothic ladies in the blackest of black floor-length coats.

As the afternoon wears on the community center changes into a chamber-sized version of Woodstock. A comfortable, friendly atmosphere prevails among those present as people enjoy creating, enjoy their friends, and enjoy a shared aim. I do not doubt them for a moment - after all, I'm among the flower children.

You can find out more about the Romani Mentor project on the website of the ROMEA civic association (http://www.romea.cz/sdruzeniromea/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=103:romsky-mentor&catid=28:vzdelavaci&Itemid=63&lang=en) or on Facebook. The project is financed in full by the Open Society Foundations as part of its Budapest Arts and Culture Program and is also part of the Decade of Roma Inclusion.

Jana Baudyšová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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