Romani college and high school students motivate Romani pupils in excluded localities of the Czech Republic to continue their studies
In the year 2019, the scholarship recipients in ROMEA's program for Romani college and high school students had an idea that brilliantly matches the program's philosophy. They wanted to motivate Romani pupils living excluded localities to continue their educations, because they themselves know how complicated it can be to exit the vicious circle of undereducation and underemployment.
"These children have no such role models. It's too bad, because some of them have talent and a longing to show what they can do. They just don't have anybody to look up to or to discuss their dreams with," one scholarship recipient said after participating in the first such motivational meeting in the Předlice neighborhood of Ústí nad Labem.
The first step
The scholarship program has been running since 2016 and mainly supports high school students of Romani origin on their journey toward a better education and a better future. In 2020, the program grew to include support for college students.
At the beginning of 2019 we had been thinking about how to also support primary school pupils, because it is their experience in the first nine grades of compulsory education that significantly forms the future course of their careers and studies. Motivating Romani students from excluded localities (but not just from those parts of the country) is, in our opinion, quite important, and so it was just a question of time before we began to implement our meetings in the primary schools.
Drawing on our scholarship recipients' enthusiasm and ideas, and with financial support from the Bader Philanthropies foundation, we were able to hold our first such meeting in the autumn of 2019. The feedback from the pupils attending the school we visited in Předlice was brilliant and a clear indication to us that this project makes sense.
Even if nobody believes you
By the close of 2019, the scholarship recipients had held two more motivational meetings in the schools, one in November at the Chanov housing estate, the other in December at a school in the Mariánské Hory neighborhood of Ostrava. "We are doing our best to convey our experiences with education to these pupils," says Robert Olah, a scholarship recipient and student in management at the University of Jan Evangelista Purkyně in Ústí nad Labem.
"Some of us have experienced very similar stories, but it is important to not give up and to keep studying even if nobody believes you. It's important to have somebody to whom you can turn for advice, somebody with whom you can talk," Olah says.
"We are mainly here for them because we believe that talented pupils do exist even in localities where nobody else expects them to," Olah says. He knows what he is talking about.
Olah's own life has not been easy. "I am one of five children, and Mom has been a single parent our whole lives," he describes.
"She always told me that it is important to study. I also frequently visited the Indigo community center in Děčín, where I did my homework, because my siblings were at home and I didn't want to disturb them," he describes.
"At Indigo I was able to print out my essays or my materials for school," Olah relates, adding that in the future he wants to be a teacher of economics and mathematics. During our 2019 visit to the ninth grade of the school at Chanov, we found several pupils who had already decided to apply to a high school that would offer them exit examinations.
Enormous thanks for that go to Adriana Kotlárová, their homeroom teacher, who is a role model for them, motivating them and instilling them with the importance of education. Today, some of those pupils are already in high school and have joined ROMEA's scholarship program.
The motivational meetings project could not have had a better start, but after this beautiful beginning, a cold shower came in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed all schools for a long time. In-person meetings with the ROMEA scholarhip recipients are the most important stimulus for the pupils and are difficult to replace as an experience, although we did manage to stay in touch with them long-distance.
At the beginning of September 2020, the schools were open for a short time. After almost a year, we were able to again visit Chanov, and we held another meeting for pupils living on the Janov housing estate in Litvínov.
This enthusiasm, however, did not last long, as the schools closed once again. The other meetings we had scheduled had to be cancelled.
"I really looked forward to visiting children in the primary schools again. I enjoy motivating them to study," recalls Kristýna Dunová, a Romani scholarship recipient who is studying special needs pedagogy.
"I myself got support with everything at home, and so I am much more aware of how difficult it must be for those who have no such support or who have no idea it even exists. When the schools reopened, the other students and I immediately went into the field," says Dunová, who was accepted into the scholarship program so she would be able to attend a college preparatory school (gymnázium) and who says she applied not just for the financial support, but also for the psychological support from her fellow Romani scholarship recipients, which pushed her forward at that time.
In June 2021, a total of eight motivational meetings in four primary schools were held. "I believe that we have motivated and persuaded the students that education is the key to changing society," says Michal Gábor, a Romani scholarship recipient and student of geoecology and physical geography at Ostrava University.
"We evidently also inspired several ninth-graders who, after our meeting, managed to apply to the scholarship program, which reopened at the beginning of June. I am quite glad because this program is brilliant," Gábor relates.
"The program has really contributed significantly to my life, I have gotten to know brilliant people because of it, people without whom I couldn't imagine my life today," the Romani scholarship student describes. Once the summer vacation is over, the meetings will resume.
I am very pleased the meetings are enjoying such success. Those of us who are preparing them are ultimately also enjoying the experience.
The author is the coordinator of the ROMEA scholarship program.
First published in Czech in Romano voďi magazine.
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