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Romas hope to level playing field

Istanbul, 9.2.2008 18:42, (Turkish Daily News)

The Romani children that Istanbul residents are used to seeing in the central district of Beyoğlu or at a pier of the Asian side district of Kadıköy mostly leave a smile on people's faces with the melodies they play on their tabors.

Their fathers are drummers or clarinet players, their mothers flower sellers, and a few lucky and talented sisters might become very popular singers. However, who knows if in their childhood they dream of becoming a doctor or lawyer, despite the association of their culture with music, joy, dance and fun?

“The conception that Romani people only want to sing and dance is a stereotype that should be changed,” said Ivan Ivanov, director of the European Roma Information Office (ERIO) based in Brussels, on a panel called Roma Access to Education in Turkey yesterday. There is nothing wrong with dancing or singing, said Ivanov, who is Roma. “This is one of the shining parts of our culture, but we should encourage our children to work toward other professions as well,” he said. The panel was jointly organized by ERIO, the Sulukule Roma Culture Development and Solidarity Association and the Roma Education Fund.

Regarding Romani people as on the margins of society and assuming that they do not want access to education is one of the first barriers to securing an education for Romani children, said Rumyan Russinov, deputy director of the Roma Education Fund based in Budapest. Romani children in eastern European countries should be included in mainstream education, said both Russinov and Ivanov in their speeches. “There is huge aspiration and potential for mainstream education among Roma,” Russinov said. Victoria Mohacsi, a member of the European Parliament, is still working in her country, Hungary, to make sure a law for the desegregation of Romani children is applied, she said. The law was passed in 2002.

There is practical segregation in Turkey for Romani children, since the national education ministry started to direct parents to register their children in the school in their own neighborhood, said Begüm Uzun, a Master's student from the audience who is working with the Roma, speaking to the Turkish Daily News. “So practically all Romani children have Romani classmates,” she said. According to Uzun, one of the most significant problems for Romani children at school is attendance, which is due to the families' economic problems. “Families make their children work to contribute to their income,” she said.

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