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U.S. Embassy awards Kumar Vishwanathan for his Work with Roma Communities

Kumar Vishwanathan and William J. Cabaniss (Photo: CTK) On the occasion of the 57th anniversary of International Human Rights Day the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic William J. Cabaniss handed over the Alice Garrigue Masaryk Award to activist Sri Kumar Vishwanathan, the creator of the Common Life program, on Thursday, December 8 at the Ambassador's Residence (Zikmunda Wintra 3, Prague 6).

Last year, the U.S. Embassy in Prague established the Alice Garrigue Masaryk Award to recognize persons in the Czech Republic who have made an exceptional contribution to the advancement of human rights in the country through courageous promotion of social justice and defense of democratic liberties and an open civil society. The award is presented annually and is named in honor of Alice Garrigue Masaryk, the pre-eminent Czech-American and founder of the Czechoslovak Red Cross, as a tribute to her devotion in combating social injustice and her personal courage in standing up for human rights.

Kumar Vishwanathan and William J. Cabaniss (Photo: CTK) This year, the recipient of this award is Mr. Sri Kumar Vishwanathan for his leadership and initiative that led to the creation of the Common Life Village in Ostrava - Muglinov where families of both Roma and non-Roma ethnicity live together as a single, coexistence community.

"The village has shown that Czechs and Romanies can live together and create something beautiful," Vishwanathan said.

"I've seen state institutions slowly opening [towards Romanies] and the confidence between Romanies and the police being built," he said.

But Vishwanathan said he thinks there is still a lot to be done to improve the situation.

"Romanies are pushed out of towns, new ghettos are established and the old ones are overcrowded. This generates new sources of conflict," he said.

Vishwanathan got the idea to establish the village in 1997, after flooding that left a number of Romanies without homes. The village where some 150 people live at present, was finally formed in 2002. There are 10 Romany families, 10 Czech and 10 mixed ones.

For his work with Roma communities, Mr. Vishwanathan has won national awards and international acclaim. As part of this award, Mr. Vishwanathan will travel to the U.S. in spring 2006 under the auspices of the International Visitor Leadership Program of the Department of State.

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