In the beginning, it would probably be good to go back to the very beginning, ie back to Ostrava decades ago. How do you remember your childhood, specifically the years spent at the school desk?
I can describe my childhood as happy. First I went to school on the outskirts of Ostrava, where there were several Roma children in the classroom. I didn't realize the difference. Of course, I perceived that I was darker and that I was Roma, but I was a favourite of the teacher. She kept telling me that one day I would be something and we were all friends. Then we moved closer to the centre of Ostrava and I found out that I was the only Roma child in the class. There were only four or five Roma children in the whole school.
Do you mention that you were the only Roma in the class, how did you perceive this situation as a little boy?
The children, but also the teachers, shouted at me about the dirty gipsy, even though my mother took care of the cleanliness. I remember being very friendly, but suddenly I began to feel inferior. I had almost no friends, even though I told everyone from the first desk and my classmates were copying me. For a long time, I thought I was exceptional, so I'm in a normal school and other friends are behind.
If, on the other
hand, we tried to empathize with your Romani friends, how did they understand
that you attend a "classical" elementary school? There was no sense
of alienation like "you're not one of us anymore"...? This reasoning is based on a stereotype that may
not be correct. I think they took it as if I was lucky because when it came
down to it, the vast majority of stories about how they found themselves in a
special school started with the fact that "I was sick for several months
and then I didn't catch up with the curriculum" and then followed, "and
my mother put my younger sister in a special school too, because I was already
Do you think that
your early childhood experience with the Czech education system influenced you
so much that in adulthood you began to fully devote yourself to this issue in
the Awen Amenca organization (its main goal is equal opportunities for Romani
children in our educational system)? Not so much that I perceived some injustice in my
childhood and then devoted myself to it, but on the contrary, I took it as
normal for a long time and this opinion was changed only by the experience with
the English education system. After travelling to England, I worked as an
interpreter and then as an educational consultant for Birmingham City Hall.
There I found out that they did not have special (later practical) schools at
all, and that Romani children coming from Slovak and Czech special schools were
placed in "normal" ordinary schools. In our country, the reason for
the transfer of the child to a special school was "bad" Czech, and in
England, they did not speak a word of English and were placed in ordinary
schools. At that time, it clicked for me
and I became more interested in this topic after arriving in the Czech
Republic, I began to work on a change.
You founded the
organization in 2013 and your first activity was a campaign to desegregate
schools in Ostrava, where you organized, together with Romani parents, the
enrollment of Romani children in mainstream primary schools. How did you work
with your parents? What barriers did you encounter? Already at that time, there were many organizations that were engaged in
the education of Romani children, but they worked and are still working in
segregated schools and are dealing with remedying the consequences of
But we wanted to go after the source of the problems, which is precisely segregation. That is why we have chosen the path of organizing communities
and building a leader with Romani parents, especially those who were deciding
which school to enrol their child in. We didn't tell them what to do or what
was right, but we did provide them with information about the education system,
the rights of the child, and the consequences of segregation, and then they
made their own decisions. We also helped them build leadership skills and they
passed on those skills and knowledge to other parents.
The barriers we encountered were mainly that the
parents do not trust various organizations very much, the initial distrust
reigned even in our case, but after they found out that it was not a project,
that it was a campaign that they were actually planning and managing
themselves, the distrust subsided and only in this way could we achieve that
2,000 Romani people came to the event on the anniversary of the DH verdict on
the square in Ostrava.
What results did
the campaign bring and how do parents and children evaluate it retrospectively? So far, we have enrolled around 1500 Romani
children in ordinary non-segregated schools directly at the enrollments we
monitored at the beginning, but many parents have chosen to be indirectly
influenced by our campaigns or by other parents. All parents are happy to have their children
in "normal schools" sometimes complain about larger expenses (in
segregated schools they have everything for free), but no one would change and
they are happy that their children attend a quality school.
existence of Awen Amenca, thousands of children have been placed in the
mainstream of education. You also contributed to the closure of six classes and
one special school for Romani children in Ostrava-Poruba, which were simply no
longer needed. Still... Do you encounter opinions, whether from school
management or directly from teachers, that it is not possible to have so many
Romani children in the classrooms because, for example, the parents of other
children do not want it? Yes,
at the beginning we monitored enrolment in schools in Ostrava, but also in
other cities, and during one enrolment the school head told us that he had
three Romani children with a postponement that he had to take, so he would not
take any more Romani children this year. At that time, nine Romani children
came to the register.
children went through various tests, and although all nine children had been
tested in advance by a special educator as part of the campaign, all nine were
told that they had not passed the tests and therefore would not accept them. As
the children looked forward to school, they began to cry and the parents wanted
to know what each child had done wrong. My colleague Jolana, who was present as
a monitor, said that the children had been pre-tested and that they could do
everything, so the teacher emotionally threw all the papers into the air and
nervously said that she would try them again.
said they would send the result by mail. A negative response was received in
the mail and none of the nine children was received. Two parents wrote a
complaint and the case went to court, which ruled in favour of the parents, and
the judge said that the director discriminated against Romani children by
trying to limit the number of Romani children at school and denying them the
right to education.
Can you remember
any particular story of inclusion that affected you not only at the time of the
founding of the organization, but also later? Every year, parents proudly show us their report
cards. One parent literally said 'you see and they say Roma children are
Otherwise, however, we follow the development of
"inclusion" in the Czech Republic, or rather the understanding of
I am involved in the Council of Europe and the
European Commission project INSCHOOL, which takes place in three European
countries and focuses on improving the inclusive environment in schools and the
results from practice are then included in legislative changes.
Thanks to this project, we are seeing a shift in
the understanding of inclusion in schools. Since previous years, when schools
were deciding whether inclusion was a yes or no. So now the debate is that
inclusion does, but how. Our experience in organizing parents helps the schools
with which we work in improving communication with Romani parents, reducing
absenteeism and improving interpersonal relationships in schools.
However, the topic of the INSCHOOL project deserves
another more detailed article.
is very often used. After all, this year you won the title of The Most
Inspiring Leader at Impact Hub Mash-Up, which was dedicated to communities. For
community leaders, there is also an Impact First acceleration program of the
Impact Hub coworking centre, which is currently accepting applications. What
sense do you see in organizing communities? Community organizing is not at all widespread in
the Czech Republic, so I welcome any activity to support this way of striving
for change. Based on practice, we ourselves have published a manual for
organizing communities and organize seminars for non-profit organizations.
What projects do
you think should apply for this acceleration project? Who would you recommend
them to? I
would recommend this program to anyone who wants to achieve any change, no
matter what it is in, from nature conservation, through the strengthening of
voter turnout, to the construction of the highway, I really can not imagine a
project on which the method of organizing communities could not be used.
If you had to
mention one wish at the end of our conversation, what would it be like in terms
of education and community development? Our
wish and the object of our efforts is to end the segregation of Romani
children, which would benefit not only these children but also society as a
whole. Education is the foundation of society and the future and prosperity of
individual communities and society as a whole depend on it.
Source: https://www.lidovky.cz/relax/lide/vzdelani-je-zaklad-spolecnosti-a-romske-deti-nejsou-hloupe-mym-pranim-je-ukonceni-segregace-romskych.A210830_145424_lide_ape (Czech version)