Wednesday, June 4, 2008

When in (a) Roma (community)...

In addition to meeting Bosniak, Serbs and Croats in my daily life in Mostar, I've also had the opportunity to meet some people from a local Roma community. The Roma/Romany people are a distinct ethnic group (with their own language, which I've heard is related to Hindi) that can be found in most countries in Europe. They are also known in popular imagination as "gypsies", and in Ireland were once called "tinkers" and are now called "travelers". Their culture emphasizes family ties and traditional culture-- most marry as teenagers and their traditional music, played at weddings and other functions, is very popular here in the Balkans, in spite of the discrimination and prejudice that Roma people face. Because of difficulties in relating to those outside their culture, few attend school and thus most people from these communities turn either to "secondary materials processing" (ie, collecting re-usable trash like aluminum cans and selling it) or begging. Some of my friends from church have been visiting this particular Roma community for several years and this past fall they also started a "mobile school" to teach basic math and literacy skills to this group of kids. They are also starting a sponsorship program for sending selected youngsters to regular school. (You can read about their work with the kids at I go on Sundays with them to plays games and do crafts with the kids. This is a photo of me with two of the girls (plus a baby brother) squinting into the sun during a birthday party.

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