Pilsen school program introduces Roma kids to greater opportunities|
Internationally recognized musicians, community leaders, teachers and
politicians. This is the image of the Roma minority that a European
Commission-funded program is bringing to children in the Pilsen region.
The Roma are one of the largest minorities in the Czech Republic, and in
many people's minds they are associated with negative Gypsy stereotypes of
poverty and petty crime. The target audience: Roma pupils and their
non-Roma classmates in elementary and technical schools.
Students at a technical school in the industrial sector of Pilsen clapped
along under the direction of Pedro Aguilera, who was teaching them
Flamenco rhythm. The Spanish Roma community leader was highlighting one of
the key points of his presentation, that Flamenco is a traditional form of
Roma song and dance that became integrated into Spanish culture, as did
other aspects of Roma culture.
"Flamenco is a part of the Gypsy culture that is universal. The best
dancers are Gypsy, from the great Carmena Maya to Joaquin Cortez. ... But
you have to realize that it's so universal that it is not thought of as
something that belongs to the Gypsies, but part of the Spanish
Mr. Aguilera is director of the Barcelona branch of the Gypsy General
Secretariat Foundation, a community group that helps Roma in Spain.
He was in Pilsen Wednesday as part of "Czech Roma in a Europe of
Peoples." The program's goal is to help Roma kids believe that they
can broaden their horizons.
He told the children that to confront racism, you have to confront the
ignorance behind it.
"Racism has no better ally than ignorance. If you don't get to know
other cultures, if you don't know how one is raised in that community, you
are more likely to think that they're all alike, and based on the action of
one person, you judge the whole minority group."
Brady Clough, who is the director Center for Political Analysis, organized
"The picture that Roma receive of themselves is not limited to a Roma
stole from someone today, as written in the newspaper, or Roma are thieves
or Roma abuse the social system."
"In this case, what we're trying to show is that in Spain they had
the first Roma MEP, or member of the European Parliament. In France you
have Roma who are teachers or professors. In Germany you have Roma who are
lawyers and such, and our aim is to show young Roma that they too are not
limited to the social situation that they might currently find themselves
Roma teacher Iveta Pape also had a lesson about music for the children.
She told the children that as in the Roma's many home countries, there is
a Roma national anthem, "Dzelem Dzelem." Then she broke into a
different song, one sung by Czech Roma who were held in concentration
camps during World War II.
As she sang, a look around the room revealed that most of the students
were not Roma. Mr. Clough said what message the program had for them.
"For the non-Roma it's an opportunity to break a cycle of sort of
traditional prejudice that may exist among these students' parents and
previous generations because if you look at the institutionalized
segregation that existed under the communist times, then there is not a
positive view historically of Roma."