Sunday, 20 October 2013

Roma Rant

Well not really a rant but Romanian gypsies have been very prominent in the news lately and are generally getting some very bad press. Obviously I can't defend the ones who actually have been engaging in illegal activities, but they only represent a small percentage of the Roma population. I have been to Romania twice now to work with the gypsy children in the village of Urvind, near Oradea. Even in there own country, where they have lived for hundred of years, they are victims of discrimination and have not been able to integrate. As a result there are extremely high levels of poverty, unemployment and poor education. Many are illiterate and it is estimated that 1 in 10 cannot read or write. Though the living conditions have improved for the gypsy village I visited, I also went to another village where they are only just beginning to get help, here the living conditions were overcrowded and squalid. Families were packed into tiny spaces and there was rubbish and human/animal waste everywhere.  Birth rates are high within the Roma community so families are large and often times the parents are very young themselves. Education as a result isn't a high priority though many of the children would love to go to school and learn. During my time there last year we worked in partnership with the village school and carried out some educational activities with them. I saw lots of gypsy children who showed great potential and a real eagerness to learn who, sadly, will more than likely not be able to reach their fullest potential. Education programmes are in place for the Urvind gypsy children but it is never going to compare to what the other children are getting, especially when in some instances parents try to keep the children at home to help with the chores. One of the most horrific sights I saw in Romania was a girl getting repeatedly hit across the face by her mum for being at school and not home. The poor girl was dragged away in tears when just minutes earlier she had been having fun and enjoying herself. A real rarity, she always looked so sad. The scene really broke my heart and it still upsets me to think about it now. Thankfully Teams4U, the organisation who have been helping the Urvind gypsies, have reported that the majority of children are now attending the state funded government school and are being able to graduate high school. A pre-school programme and after school club have greatly helped the children on their way but many gypsy communities do not have this support. What I am basically getting at is that education is the best way out of poverty and without the right opportunities then they will continue to be unemployed and have to cope in the only way they can which, ultimately, is by illegal means for many. Without the opportunities how can they escape a lifestyle which to them is the norm? Of course this problem is never going to be eradicated, as in every ethnic group there are always going to be criminals, but what I'm hoping to get across is that if everyone keeps pushing the Roma away then surely the problems will only get worse. I understand there are arguments for and against every situation but this is just how I feel.

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