Can education change the future for a whole group of people? Bruce Gulland and Liz Waid look at efforts to change the future of the Roma people in Europe.
Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.
And I’m Bruce Gulland. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.
Many people are travelling on a public tram in Bucharest, Romania. It stops, and a group of young people get on. One of them plays a box-shaped instrument called an accordion. But it makes a loud, terrible noise. Everyone looks at the young people. Then, the young people begin to speak to the people on the tram:
“Good afternoon. We do not know how to play the accordion even though we are Roma people. We are studying medicine. We are following graduate studies in order to become doctors! It is important for you to know that Roma gypsies do not always ask for something. They can also give. Today we are offering medical consultations for free.”
Later that day, the Roma medical students set up a clinic on the street. They give people hot tea. They measure people’s body weight and blood pressure. People ask the students questions about health. The students are getting an education that will give them a better life, and improve their community too. Many different organizations are working to bring more education to the Roma people of Europe. Today’s Spotlight is on education that is creating a better future for the Roma people.
Roma people are sometimes called gypsies or travellers. You may have heard another Spotlight program about the Roma people. They came from Asia many centuries ago. Today there are 12 million Roma people. Most of them live in Europe. But they do not usually live in settled communities. And the Roma are often poor. Other people often have fixed, bad ideas about Roma people. For example, some may believe that Roma people only play music and beg for money. These negative ideas stop the Roma from becoming part of society.
One of the biggest problems for Roma people is lack of education. Many Roma children do not go to school. In some countries, Roma children are not even permitted to go to school with other children. In northern Romania, Yalda Hakim of the BBC met a girl named Rebecca. Rebecca is 10 years old. Rebecca’s grandmother said that she tried to send Rebecca to school but Rebecca was turned away.
“The school will not take them. I wanted to send her to school. I wanted the authorities to sort it out, but they did nothing. I do not know why."
In Tirana, Albania, Roma children are also unable to go to many schools. April 2014, was Children’s Human Rights Month. During this month children and adults marched along the street. They asked the government to give Roma children equal education. They carried bright signs that said things like: “Invest in our education, and we will invest in society.”
Many experts agree with these children in Albania. They say that education is the most important way for Roma people to live together with the rest of society. Education gives Roma people opportunity. Roma people with increased knowledge and skills can find jobs. This would help to change negative ideas that keep Roma people from living together with other people. Yet, most Roma people still live separately from other communities. Isabel Fonesca lived with the Roma for many years and wrote a book about their situation. She told NPR:
“It is not a necessary part of Roma culture to be outside the main society. It is just that they are. And when this happens, it continues. And all over the Eastern countries, the Roma are mostly in separate schools. And they mostly do not start school until eight, nine or ten years old. By which time, it is really too late.”
Fonesca says the most successful program for Roma children’s education is in Romania. The organization Ovidiu Ro started this preschool program in 2010. Since then there has been a huge increase in the number of poor children who go to preschool every day. The program gives Roma families rewards if they send their children to school. This may be shoes or coupons for buying food. And the children in the program get food every day at school.
Getting young children into school early is very important for the future of the Roma people. But what about older Roma children? Experts say that Roma children are 10 times less likely to go university. The Open Society Foundation is one organization that works to get more Roma students in and through university. One Slovakian student tells her story in a video:
“My name is Nikola Horvathova. I am a student at the college of Saint Elizabeth in Bratislava. I hope for a nice small house when I have my own children. I would teach my children to get an education. I received some money for college from the Open Society Foundations for Roma students.”
Students like Horvathova and the medical students from the beginning of the program are very important for the future of the Roma people. People hope that as more and more Roma go to school, the negative ideas about Roma people will decrease. The Roma Education Fund works to encourage Roma students to stay in school. They also encourage other people to accept and respect Roma students. In Budapest, Hungary, the Roma Education Fund manages an after school program. There, young people can study and get support so they can stay in school. The afterschool program made a video of rap music to encourage students. We end our program today with a song written by Roma students:
Yet one thing cannot be taken;
the thoughts of your mind.
It is the greatest weapon you will ever find.
If you want to choose books or being hungry.
Choose education so you can end poverty.
Fight for yourself. Do not be scared.
Fight for yourself. Defend your rights!
You could pull your generation up off of the ground
All you must do is be smarter than those who push you down.
Work hard at school
Work hard at school
That is why you have to learn
So they cannot put you down
And you can hold your head up high”
The writer of this program was Rena Dam. The producer was Mark Drenth. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Roma: Change Through Education’.
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