US Ambassador attends award ceremony for dozens of gifted Romani children in the Czech Republic
Sixty nominated children and young people gathered on Thursday 11 December at the American Center in Prague for the celebratory announcement of the winners of this year's Romani suno ("Romani Dream") competition, most of them accompanied by teachers or workers with the nonprofit organizations where the children attend classes. Other children arrived together with their parents from the towns of Brno. Plzeň, Ostrava, Ústí and Vsetín.
"The Czech Republic, Europe and the whole world would be impoverished if things were different, if the Romani culture and language were to die out. You have a great deal to be proud of," US Ambassador Andrew Schapiro told the children in his opening remarks after greeting them in Romani.
Martin Martínek,who attended on behalf of the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, also urged the children to keep up their Romani language. Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier gave his auspices to this year's competition.
"Write and create! Maybe someday you will be Romani authors," Martinek said in his speech, showing the children a recently released book by Iveta Kokyová, one of the jurors of the competition.
Jurors praised diverse aspects of the children's work - family solidarity, an original point of view, personal courage, sense of purpose and style in the Romani language. The texts themselves were also very different.
One of the themes of the competition was, for example, "My First Love". "Some wrote about a love from the playground, others about Platonic love for a wise teacher. A 14-year-old author described the experience of gradually realizing that her first love was basically the father of a family and that she herself was not his main concern. Another child wrote about the love of his parents, another of love for his mother. A second-grader wrote that he had two first loves. Two girls wrote about falling in love with their cousins and nieces, who were cute infants. Another boy wrote of his love for God," said contest coordinator Marie Bořkovcová.
The announcement of the winners was moderated by Romani singer Pavlína Matiová together with Romani activist and performer David Tišer. In between announcing the winners of the various categories the children were sung to by the successful young Romani singers Pavlína Danková, Milan Horvát and Veronika Kačová, with Pavlína Matiová performing at the end of the ceremony, whose song "Nane cocha" got the whole room singing.
When asked who was the ultimate winner, Bořkovcová said it was "Hard to say." She added: "They are competing in three areas: art, literature, and this year in the new category of spoken word. Children between the ages of six to 18 are competing in four separate age categories."
"Evaluating the work in Romani suno is, for me, mainly an opportunity to peer into the soul of Romani children and teenagers who are fearlessly describing their everyday, harsh reality. Even though the competitors also submit many happy stories which might even be better as far as the quality of their Romani language goes, the harsh stories from the children's homes, the residential hotels, and the unfriendly school environments get under my skin and remain with me long after the contest is over," said juror Karolína Ryvolová.
The literary jury this year featured Marek Babšický, the competition's sponsor, Věra Cvoreňová, who has a great deal of experience running a children's club, Romani prose author Iveta Kokyová and Karolína Ryvolová, a publicist and Romani Studies scholar. The fine art submissions were evaluated by graphic artist Terezie Chlíbcová and the visual artists Ladislava Gažiová and Antonín Střížek.
The competition is participated in annually by hundreds of children from primary and secondary schools all over the country. "This year we at Nová škola received 109 literary texts, 22 videos for the spoken word category and 277 pictures. That category is for both non-Romani and Romani children who want to express themselves on the competition themes but who do not speak Romani," said Bořkovcová.
The purpose of the Romani suno competition is to make it possible for Romani children and teenagers to describe the world around them as they see it and to appreciate their knowledge of Romani, a language which is not usually used in public. The contest brings the world of Romani children closer to the majority society and raises awareness of Romani as a full-fledged language.
A contribution to this year's competition
Hin mange 15 berš a bešav Janovoste. Sar pes adaj ačhiľa kola demonštraciji pro Roma andro berš 2009, oda mange pametinav. Na džanav, soske pro Roma, te amen adaj dživas keci berša. Adaj pes narodzindžam. Že som romaňi, me man vaš oda na ladžav. Aľe som manuš a kadaj som khere. Me vašoda našťik, ko sar dživel. Me man pal oda na starinav. Man miri fajta barardžas avri mištes. A že jon, o gadže, peske vimišlinde e demokracija, oda už hin lengeri vec. Amen o Roma peske navimišlindžam. Amara fajta a savoren - či kalen či parnen - has sakones buťa. A has lačhes a o manuša dživnas mištes. Dživnas pal peskero. Akana kas hin lenge te poťinel bare najmi, savoro draho, akana pes na del te dživel… Vakeren pal o Roma, hin len vareso čačipen, aľe našťi terpinas savore Roma.
I am 15 years old and I live at Janov. I remember the demonstrations against us in 2009, that was in our town. I don't know why they are against the Roma, after all we have lived here since time immemorial. We were born here. I'm a Romani girl, I am not ashamed of it, and this is our home. I am not responsible for how people live, that's not my concern. My family raised me respectably, and it's the gadje's problem that they invented democracy. We Roma didn't invent it. Our family, and all people, black or white, used to have work and things were good. They lived in their own way. These days who is going to pay such high rents? Everything is expensive, people are not living well today... They talk about us, and in some things they are right, but we can't suffer for all the Roma.
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