Covid affects Roma Communities

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Covid affects Roma communities disproportionately. Families often live in multi-generational households, often in crowded poor quality rented accommodation.  The culture is extremely hospitable and it is very difficult for us to maintain social distance without giving offence. Roma in Eastern Europe often live in excluded communities and attend low quality segregated schools; one of the reasons we came to the Western Europe was to benefit from inclusive education and to be treated equally. Many of the older generation suffer the illnesses associated with poverty and lack of access to good quality health care and information, and are therefore particularly vulnerable to Covid.

Parents are very protective of their children and when Covid hit, they were the first to keep their children at home. Unfortunately, when the lockdown was lifted, they were some of the last to send their children back to school. Most schools have tried to stay in touch with their pupils and support their home learning by digital means, but most Roma homes don’t have computers or tablets, and if they do they are likely to be shared between a large group of people. Children whose families have moved home and need to enrol at a new school, especially when phase transfer is involved, are in serious danger of dropping out of education.

Before Covid struck, Roma were feeling extremely threatened by Brexit and the hostile climate for immigrants. Most are unsure where their future lies and  in this climate of uncertainty education takes a lower priority. For most families feeding, clothing and keeping them safe is most important.

Romanes Picture Dictionary Project

Our aim has been to create an online speaking picture dictionary that could be accessible from mobile devices; for school staff, children and parents.  The picture dictionary has been in printed form for some time – but an interactive version is at a very useable stage of development.  

The format is based on a selection of key words divided into key themes:  Wild animals, Domestic animals, Minibeasts, Farm animals, Food, People, The body, Transport, Weather, Kitchen, Bathroom, Seasons, Fruit, School and Numbers.

There has been a lot of work going on to bring the online dictionary to a useable position.

We have met headteachers and inclusion managers,  and had many sessions with Roma children from Mayespark Primary, Woodlands Primary and Gordon Primary Schools in the London Borough of Redbridge.

This has included taking to parents and children about their words for each item, and discussing various dialect nuances, both within a country and across counties.  There have been numerous difficulties in trying to define an essential lexicon of words, that has provided fascinating and interesting discussions with the children and their parents.

The Romanes language has many commonalities across countries, but often the language will borrow words from the actual country, and these will be different for each country.  For example:  ‘Shop’ in Polish and Romanian are not Romanes words…Sklep and Magasin respectively, but are used by Roma as part of the Romanes language. Also, depending on the area / Roma clan, different dialect may use different Romanes words.  For example, a bear could be Urso or Richino, a car could be Machina or Vurdon and a lion could be Leu or Shagar. Currently there are two main dialects available: Vlack or Balkan Romanes and Polska Romanes.

We view this dictionary as a living evolving collection of words. The words are not set in stone, and throughout our work in schools, where children have used other Romanes words, we have encouraged their recognition, and the dictionary may include multiple Romanes word choices for the English equivalent.

The original dictionary on which the interactive version is based.

Pavees and COVID-19: An Education Policy Analysis

Chelsea McDonagh is the Education Policy and Campaigns officer at the Traveller Movement and is a member of the ACERT Executive Committee. She is an Irish Traveller from London and Master’s student at King’s College London. She will present the findings of her research to the 2020 ACERT AGM

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world and, in the process, has had devastating effects on the most vulnerable people, none more so than Pavee (Irish Traveller) children who are being failed by state policy once again. There is much research exploring the less positive outcomes of Pavee children and young people in education but what is much less explored is the state of education policy addressing the needs of Pavee students, an alarming omission when considering the impact that policy has on the lives and educational experiences of students. This research explores the policy silence phenomena in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic and contextualises it in the historic policy arrangements surrounding Pavee people.

Traditional Romani Folktales Project

Nick (a director of Nomadic Education) and other community members, have been busy sharing approximately 12 authentic, traditional Romanian Roma folktales with us.  They are stories that they were told when they were young children growing up in Roma families in Romania. 

We have been working on putting them into a format suitable for primary school children (Key Stage 1 and 2) to be able to read and enjoy.  These stories were traditionally told in families and re-told through generations, to partly pass their culture, values, behaviours and traditions.   

Story titles include:  Home is where the heart is, Why Roma love horses, Bakro the shepherd, Barvalo and the coat, Pangel and the Karfins, The Lautari and the Bears, Purro, the Bulibasha and the Karkalo, Jesus and the Karfins, Sumaki Petalo, The Shah of Persia’s lautari, The Busni and the Ruv and Tutankhamun was a Rom.  The stories use key Romanes words, and there will be a glossary explaining the words.

To see Roma culture and traditions reflected in school based resources has been our primary goal…hopefully it will not be much longer before a fully illustrated collection of stories is widely available.

Independent report finds GRT access to Higher Education is not increasing

A report written by Dr Graeme Atherton, Director of the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) has found no significant increase in the progression of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities into Higher Education and makes recommendations how the situation might be improved. It was commissioned by the Sir John Cass Foundation focussing on groups of young
people who are under-represented in higher education.

Main findings

  1. Access to HE for GRT communities is not increasing
  2. Less than 30% of Access and Participation Plans (APPs) mention GRT learners
  3. Less than 5% of Access and Participation Plans (APPs) include reference to any activities to support access to HE for GRT learners
  4. No APPs include targets related to access and participation in HE for GRT learners
  5. Only 2 of 29 Uni-Connect partnerships are undertaking activities with GRT learners
  6. Only 2 London HE providers indicate any work with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller learners in their APPs.

Recommendations

  1. Ensure there is a specific strand of work focused on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller participation in Uni-Connect from 2021 to 2025
  2. Ask all HE providers to outline how they are supporting access, participation for GRT learners in their annual APP statements to the Office for Students
  3. Establish a national GRT HE access and participation initiative
  4. Integrate focus on GRT community learners in the new national strategy to tackle Gypsy, Roma and Traveller inequalities
  5. Mayor of London to establish a GRT education task force.

Council of Europe

On July 1st, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers adopted a recommendation that for the first time ever calls on its 47 member states to include the history of Roma and/or Travellers (*) in school curricula and teaching materials.

An effective tool to combat hatred, discrimination and prejudice, radicalisation, Holocaust denial and revisionism, this Recommendation to include the history of Roma and/or Travellers in school curricula would improve the understanding that they are an integral part of both national and European societies.

The Recommendation emphasises the importance of teaching the Holocaust, as perpetrated by the Nazi regime and its allies as well as other acts committed against Roma and Travellers across Europe. It calls on governments to integrate activities related to the remembrance of the Roma Holocaust into formal and non-formal education, in connection with the European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day (2 August) or with a date more adapted to the historical context of the country concerned, for example local anniversaries connected with the imprisonment or deportation of Roma to concentration camps.

But such starkly negative historical periods should be complemented by teaching historical episodes when Roma and/or Travellers were not victims. For example, teaching should refer to positive narratives about Roma and/or Travellers’ history, such as their contribution to local, national and European cultural heritage, and the active role that Roma, Sinti and Yenish played in anti-Nazi and anti-Fascist resistance movements.

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month 2020

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month may look different this year but it remains a celebration of the rich culture and heritage of Gypsy, Roma, Traveller, Showmen and Circus communities in London.

More than 60 people joined the event via Zoom hosted by ACERT Vice-chair (among many other roles) Tyler Hatwell. The event included a range of video clips, live contributions and awards for GRTHM competitions. A recording of the event is available on the GRTHM 2020 Facebook page.

There were individual live contributions from:
Debbie Weekes-Bernard Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement
Chelsea McDonagh The Traveller Movement and ACERT
Lois Brookes-Jones & Traveller Pride
Dr Dea Birkett
Oliver (RSG)

Video clips included:
GRTHM 2019 London Event
Ando Glaso
Circus Videos
NFCA/Fairground & Archive footage
Faith I Branko
Newham Bridging Sounds Orchestra
Roma Support Group
London Gypsies and Travellers
Newham Bridging Sounds Orchestra

50th Anniversary of the 1971 World Romani Congress

8th April 2021 will be the 50th Anniversary of the 1971 World Romani Congress, which led to the explosion of Roma, Gypsy and Traveller activism across the world.

An open-membership, non-political committee has been set up in London to liaise between people who want to organise events to mark this very special Roma National Day. 

Within the London Committee we are working towards two specific events so far:

1)     A large, interactive exhibition organised by the Galerie Kai Dikhas in Berlin to bring a selection of the best of modern Romani Gypsy and Traveller art to prestigious venues in London 

2)     A pilgrimage to Cannock House, in Chelsfield, site of the 1971 Congress, with a concert/performance event led by the Romani singer-songwriter, Pashey Smith, hopefully at the Bull Public House where the Gypsy Council was founded in 1966 (and its own 50th anniversary celebrated in 2016.)

Funding applications are pending. An academic seminar might be another possibility if one of the younger Roma, Gypsy or Traveller academics who still has a job steps up to organise it.

We would love to hear from anyone who would like to be involved in these events, or would like help with or publicity for stuff they are organising.

The chair of the committee is Virgil Bitu, the secretary is Thomas Acton, and Grattan Puxon, who founded the Gypsy Council and ran the first World Romani Congress is a prominent member.

Contact details

Virgil Bitu  

Thomas Acton 

Grattan Puxon

Contact Thomas Acton if you want minutes of the three meetings held so far or to go on the London Committee mailing list.

Opre Roma – Awards for All Lottery grant news

We are very pleased to announce that nomadic education has been awarded a grant to develop two significant school resources that reflect Roma culture and draw on their rich tradition and history.

The Opre Roma project (Forward / Onward Roma) aims to create educational materials to celebrate and affirm Roma language and identity, in schools attended by Roma children. Roma children and young people often hide their identity, for fear of persecution and racism, and also teachers often do not have the knowledge or resources to respect their identity and culture. We aim develop two resources that are practical and can be used by schools, families and other organisations to promote inclusion and awareness of the presence of Roma children.

These resources would see Roma language and culture valued and respected in schools, promoting understanding and community cohesion. We will involve Roma children and families in every step of the project, from design, and ultimately involvement at the launch event around January 2019

Through a lot of previous work in London, across the UK and internationally Nomadic has built up a strong and wide range of community contacts and involvements with predominantly Roma, from Romania, Poland and the Czech and Slovak Republics. The project should take approximately one year to complete.

The project will involve two strands that have a particularly strong resonance with Roma culture; story telling and the Romani language:

1. A compilation of Roma Folk Stories (or tales with a moral or teaching point). These would be collected from community members and worked into a format including illustrations (by a Roma artist) that would be accessible and available to schools across the UK. The finished book will be available as an e-book and print-on-demand via e.g. Amazon. There is no such resource in the English language in Europe or more directly in the UK.

2. The other strand will focus on the Romani language. We plan build an app (either web based or iOS/Android) that would be an interactive tool, based around pictures in a child friendly format. It is essentially an interactive picture dictionary, which speaks basic school vocabulary in English and in three Romani Dialects. The app will also feature several educational games that would help children build their English vocabulary in an interesting and entertaining way.

The language spoken by most Roma is really defining feature of Roma identity. The language has its roots in Sanskrit from India, and shows the route the 1000 year journey from there to all parts of Europe and the World. The dialects would represent the majority of the communities of Roma who are in most UK schools ie. Vlach (SE European dialect), Polska Romani (Poland and associated areas) and possibly Vychod, a Slovakian dialect of Slovak.
The app will provide interesting and engaging educational resources which will contribute to mutual understanding and respect between Romani and other communities in schools. (e.g. the similarities between Romani and Urdu, Panjabi and Hindi open many opportunities for discovery).

Schools are regularly contacting us for resources that could be used with Roma children and young people, however few if any exist.

The end of the project would be marked by publishing the book and launching the app. The stories will be available on Kindle as inividual downloadable digital stories, and a hard copy book that will include the complete anthology. The end of the project will be marked by a celebratory event including, Roma food and music, to thank those who have contributed and to promote and celebrate the resources to potential users and others.