Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Education and the Roma - 2004

Dear all,

Hope everyone is having a wonderful Thanksgiving. Here in Serbia we didn't
have off of school today, but still celebrated a staff dinner after school.

This morning, the head of the Serbian Red Cross (who has two children at our
school) came and spoke to the upper school students for the kick-off to
their charity drive. The student council decided to cooperate with the Red
Cross here in its work with the Roma children. The Romas are often known by
others as gypsies. They have been living in Serbia (former Yugoslavia) for
hundreds of years. Having said that, they are a proud "race" and have
retained their own culture, language, and identity. Unfortunately, that also
has meant that they have not assimilated into their "host" culture, leading
to some ostracism and definite misunderstandings/misconceptions.

According to the Red Cross speaker, the number of Roma people in Serbia is
unknown, but some estimates are as many as half a million. The Roma are
populous here, as they are in other eastern European countries.
Unemployment, lack of education, and poverty are big problems for the Romas
here as in other countries. Most Roma children do not go to school - partly
because their parents don't see the need (it is more important to them to
beg, steal, or spend the time collecting cardboard or other items for small
amounts of money), and/or because they don't fit in - no proper clothing,
can't speak Serbian, etc. This lack of education then perpetuates the
poverty cycle and accompanying problems.

The Serbian Red Cross has begun in the last three years piloting a program
that is the first of its kind with the Roma population. It has begun setting
up kindergartens for Roma children, catering to ages 4-7. Here they are
helped in their acquisition of Serbian, given warm clothing, have toys to
play with, a good meal, and a good start on education. The belief is that if
the Romas begin to get their children in school at an early age, they will
then feel successful and stay in school longer, get that necessary education
which leads to jobs, and begin a more positive cycle.

The student council is kicking off a drive to collect warm clothing, canned
goods, toys (used and new), school supplies, and hygiene products. These
items will be donated to the kindergartens. Currently there are 30 Roma
kindergarten centers, but by January that number is expected to be around
50. This "charity" choice is an interesting one for the students at our
school in that the local students (which number around 25%) come from
wealthy families and often harbor the attitudes of their parents - that
Romas are undesirables, etc. By collecting items for the Roma children,
(some) going into the homes and schools of the Roma children and seeing
their situation, I hope that this disadvantaged population is seen by our
students in a different light. I also hope that our advantaged children will
begin to appreciate the special opportunity they have been granted due to
their privileged financial and social status to have an excellent education
and all its advantages. And, of course, I hope they will experience the joy
of giving to others. Many overseas students will enter higher-level
international positions (such as diplomatic) as adults. Greater empathy for
the disadvantaged and actively working to address their needs will benefit
the entire world.

Until later,

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