Consider the "Gypsy" photograph as text. The prevailing ingredient is exoticism, an "otherness" separating this group from its majority context. Such style of photograph, in the words of Professor Miroslav Vojtechovský, produces a theatre of grotesque characters, irreconcilably different, without redemption. Often, those pictured are presented in garish colour, furthering the isolation.
RomaRising offers quiet, respectful black and white images of dignity, counter argument to those who would discriminate. First, we consider human terms. Among these mostly anonymous souls, a few even have capacity to perform as ministers within governments, and as society-wide leaders. Indeed, Mr. Ciprian Necula did become State Secretary in the Ministry of European Union Funds, representing the Romanian Government. There are further such individuals in other folios.
The Bulgaria and Romania folios and select portraits feature biographical narratives by Mary Evelyn Porter. Now one can hear in and individual's own words the life experiences that have given RomaRising participants their vibrancy. The narratives obviate "the tendency to define people of colour, rather than allowing them to speak for themselves." (Alina Serban, Actor, Romania)
Alas, many become sequestered to the "Gypsy Bubble" of Romani Affairs. Others are unable to use hard-earned university degrees to seek employment. Some of the most gifted have chosen to emigrate to locales where peace and security allow them lives of normalcy. Witness the obvious sense of freedom on the visages of those within the Canada folio.
Two final points, which initially escaped me: RomaRising, has become a record of feminine empowerment. Time and again we encounter women of strength and character stepping onto the stage, and with impact. RomaRising has become an interantional community: participants from 12 countries met one another at the RomArchive rollout in Berlin, some for the first time.
Our hope is that majorities everywhere will come to recognise that these individuals of RomaRising are talents of vast ability, any society’s found treasure. Regardless of their chosen path, one discovers them to be superlative embodiments of our common humanity.
Chad Evans Wyatt / Mary Evelyn Porter
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Gruia Bumbu and his family live in the town of Alba Iulia, Transylvania. His father's family is Gavar and Lovari, while his mother's family is Romungro. "During communist times, my father's father found work buying and selling hides in a traditional Roma community. For this he was condemned to death. My grandmother secured his release by bribing the authorities with a suitcase full of money." Although illiterate, his grandmother made sure her boys received a university education. As a sign of appreciation, Gruia and his nephews taught his grandmother basic reading and writing when she was in her sixties.
"On my mother's side, my great-great grandfather was the illegitimate son of the Count of Sighişoara. His mother was a slave to the count's family. During the interwar period it was difficult for Roma to attend university. Rumour has it that the count continued to support the family and provided the economic means for him to continue his studies. My grandfather did not want my mother to marry my father. She was promised to another Roma man. My grandfather's family did not consider my father's family to be their intellectual equals. However my father staked his claim by beating up all his rivals."
Gruia's father attended military college after the birth of his two children, and became a lieutenant in the Romanian army. He was a hero of the Romanian revolution of 1989. He was shot twice in the head, but survived.
Gruia also fought in the revolution. In the early 1990s he established the Democratic Union of Roma in Alba Iulia. In the mid 90s, Gruia ran for MP with the United Roma Coalition Party. From 1998-9, he was Interim Director of Romani Criss. Gruia was one of the young Roma leaders negotiating the EU Decade of Roma Inclusion at the beginning of the 21st Century. In 2005, Gruia was instrumental in establishing Pakiv Romania, a non-profit dedicated to confronting social and structural issues of discrimination and segregation directed at the Roma ethnic minority in Romania. He has been president of this organization since 2009. A major accomplishment has been raising 24 million Euro for projects implemented by the Roma communities themselves. Gruia has also been a participant in the U.S. State Department's International Visitor's Leadership Programme.
"My primary objective is to seek recognition of the Roma Nation; that is to say recognition of the Roma as a multi-national, trans-border people with a common language and cultural identity, but with no established territory. Beyond questions of poverty and minority status within a particular state, the crux of the problem is that Roma lack representation as a global people. The consequences are discrimination and exclusion from national, European, and world politics."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Florina Busuioc was born in Islaz, a town in Southern Romania north of the River Danube. Her family is Vatraş, descendants of former slaves who settled on their former masters' estates. Her family were fishermen, basket weavers, and farmers. Only her grandparents spoke fluent Romanes. Under communism, Roma people spoke Romanes among themselves, but there was no education in the language or in Romani culture. "As a child I did not appreciate the importance of the Roma language." Her father spoke Romanes, but her mother did not, and did not want the children to learn and be marked as Roma.
Florina is currently a Health Mediator with the city of Bucharest . She lives in Bucharest with her husband Virgilio and her daughter Mirala. She has two sisters; the elder is a psychiatrist and the younger, a nurse. "My father was a paramedic and my mother was a nurse." That's probably why the whole family has taken up careers in medicine.
Florina graduated at the top of her class in high school. She applied to the faculty of medicine, but did not pass the entrance exam. She married, but then came the Romanian Revolution and the restructuring of Romanian society. Privatization led to the disappearance of what had been guaranteed factory jobs. Florina applied for a number of service positions. Over the phone she was told there were openings, but when she arrived in person, she was offered only jobs as a cleaning woman or other menial tasks. "This is not a new story, but it was my first experience with the open discrimination that resurfaced after the end of the communist period."
In 2000, a well-dressed, distinguished looking man bought a house on her street. She had no idea who these new Roma neighbours could be. They turned out to be Nicolae Gheorghe, and the founders of Romani Criss. They asked her to come to work with them, but Florina refused because she was pregnant at the time. One day Florina was out for a walk with her daughter, Mirala, and Nicolae Gheorghe saw the baby for the first time. "The tradition is to give money to new babies, but because he didn't have any Romanian money, Nicolae gave her forty German Marks, an enormous sum of money at that time. I believe he gave her that money out of respect for me." Romani Criss helped pull Florina out of her depression and set her back on her road.
In 2004 she was hired as a health mediator for Romani Criss in partnership with the Romanian Health Ministry. She participated in trainings focused on the needs of the Roma community. She was part of the first generation of health mediators. The job consisted of visits to the Roma community and collecting of demographic data such as number of children per family, level of education, health status, access to primary care physician etc.
Our job was to assess the needs and then inform people of the resources available. Additionally, we were asked to mediate conflicts between the community and the medical institutions and practitioners. For example, "I would inform families of basic sanitary requirements for good health. However the majority of families did not have a family doctor- sometimes a doctor would refuse to treat a woman because he/she would say 'you smell'. However, the family might not have water or heat — no way to keep clean." Additionally many families did not have identity cards or birth certificates."
In 2006, at age thirty-four, Florina entered the Department of Social Assistance in the Faculty of sociology at the University of Bucharest. She completed her degree in 2009. By 2009, the health mediator position had been switched to local control. Each city council was now in charge. Nowadays Florina is under the auspices of the 6th district Bucharest City Council.
Florina's current work is not focused solely on the Roma. Her position in Social Assistance provides services to vulnerable populations including Roma, people with disabilities, children who are wards of the court, victims of domestic violence, migrants and refugees. Florina specializes in working with those suffering with mental illness. Those with psychological disabilities are no longer institutionalized, but there are not sufficient resources in the community to meet their needs.
"I have completed a number of major projects for Roma people. People in the Roma neighborhoods call me 'tanta Flori' (aunt Flori). However my colleagues do not come to me for advice because I am Roma, but rather because I am efficient and thorough."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Luminiţa Cioabă was born in Târgu Cărbuneşti, a town in the Wallachian region of southern Romania. Luminiţa's father and grandfather were Bulibaşa, traditional leaders, who were often mediators between the Roma and the state authorities. Before the Romanian revolution of 1989, Roma families were engaged in traditional trades such as coppersmith or basket weaver. With the influx of imported goods since the revolution, traditional crafts, and the jobs that went with them, have disappeared.
As a child in the 1960s, Luminiţa traveled around Romania with her Kalderashi family. "We lived in a caravan when we were on the road, and in tents when we stopped. I still have the kerosene lamps from the caravan, but can no longer buy the gas to fill them."
In the evenings, the elders would tell folktales and sometimes recount memories of the deportations to Transnistria. "There is a story my grandmother used to tell of a little boy who took food from the pot while his mother was cooking. Later when the food was ready, his family called him for dinner. The boy called out, 'I'm not hungry. I ate fish.' His mother replied-'But I cooked potatoes'!" As a small child, I tried to sew a 'gonoro' (kit bag) to hold all the stories. As a Kalderashi writer, I now gather those memories into books and documentary videos. "
In 1963, Luminiţa's family arrived in Sibiu. Her father was the first Roma to buy a house and settle there. The family made friends with their German neighbours. The wife taught her how to plant potatoes and radishes. Luminiţa decided to start her own garden. She planted several rows of vegetables and one row of coins. All the vegetables came up, but not the coins. Luminiţa complained to her father, "my money garden won't grow." Her father explained that a money garden needs lots of water. Luminiţa enthusiastically watered the coins and the next morning there was a row of paper money.
Luminiţa attended school for the first time when they settled in Sibiu. At first she didn't like school. "I already had an occupation as a fortune teller." Then one day she heard some Romanian children reading a fairy tale from a book. How are they doing that?, she wondered. The children explained that they had learned to read at school. Luminiţa's first language was Romanes, but the school's language of instruction was Romanian. As there was no bilingual education offered, Luminiţa was at a considerable disadvantage. She made a deal with the neighbour's children, "you can come to our house to watch TV if you do my homework for me." Her teacher caught on to the ruse and Luminiţa told her the truth. In fifth grade Luminiţa took an exam in Romanian Language and Literature. She did not do very well on her first try scoring only a 2 out of 10. The Principal took an interest in her education, lending her books and creating special grammatical exercises to improve her academic writing skills. "The second time I took the exam, I scored a 7 out of 10 and on my final attempt, I scored 10 out of 10. Without the dedication of this Romanian educator perhaps I would never have succeeded as a writer. "
"I did not become a writer; I was born a writer. My mother spoke to me in rhyme; she was a natural poet." Luminiţa has written several books of poetry including, The Rain Merchant, Earth's Root, and Poems of Yesterday and Today. "My books are my gift to the Roma people of Romania."
She has also made several documentary films. The film Between Tradition and the Law discusses the practice of early marriage and arranged marriage among the Roma, as well as potential conflicts with legal age of consent in Romania.
The non-fiction, Romani Tears is a collection of interviews with Romanian Roma survivors of the deportations to Transnistria in the 1940s. The Romanian Government funded the documentary film version of "Romani Tears" with interethnic relations monies. However the government did not provide funding for distribution to all schools and universities in Romania. Recognition of Roma Holocaust survivors has been slow in coming. The President of Romania presented medals to Roma survivors in 2007. Romani Tears was screened at the University of Washington, Seattle in 2012, and in 2015 for the first time Roma speakers were included in a conference on the Holocaust held in Bucharest. "The audience should be worldwide. This is the world's history. "
Luminiţa is deeply concerned by the lack of progress in equitable treatment for the Roma, the largest minority in Romania. European Union funds are dedicated to the needs of Roma communities such as affordable housing and jobs that pay a living wage. "The goals are on paper and in discussion but the outcomes are not realized." Roma community organizations are not able to access the funding in order to make grass roots changes-acquiring ID cards or title and deeds to property.
The poems of Luminiţa Cioabă are suffused with a sense of place:
Sibiu — Transylvania — Romania, the town to which her family moved in 1963. The road appears in her poems; there are wagons and white horses and women in swinging skirts. Luminiţa looks over her shoulder at "the garden where you once did walk." Time passes. Suddenly, it seems, fifty-five years of nature and love entwined under stars and trees have elapsed. For Luminiţa, mostly there is loss and memories of a princess in springtime, "how beautiful it was, on a street corner, someone was exchanging for a smile, Poetry."
Luminiţa's latest book The Lost Country, explores that kit bag of her childhood, the folk tales and fables told by Roma elders. The title story, The Lost Country, explains Roma migration as a search for a dimly remembered homeland. After a lifetime of fruitless searching, the Bulibaşa instructs his daughter to tell his people "from now on wherever we live; wherever we work, our country will remain in our hearts."
Through poetry and legends, narration and oral histories, Luminiţa Cioaba gives voice to the complexity of the Roma experience.
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
"I live on Liberty Street. It was meant to be. My spirit. My leitmotif."
Norica Costache was born in Bucharest and raised in Glina, Ilfov County during the communist period. Nora is the youngest of four and the only girl. "Our childhood, I cannot say mine because we were so close, was suffused in music." Nora's brothers studied classical music and play clarinet, violin, and piano. They had a separate music room in the home. Her parents built on land owned by the family. Nora's father was Lautari; he worked two jobs; an accordionist and music teacher during the day, and a hotel porter at night. Nora's mother came from a well-educated, middle class family; her father was a clerk for the local government. Nora recalls his beautiful handwriting despite a war wound, which rendered one finger immobile. Both grandfathers were veterans of WWI. During WWII, her maternal grandfather helped to prevent Roma from being deported to Transnistria.
Nora attended the "Iulia Hasdeu" history and philology college during the Ceauşescu regime. "The school was just in back of our house. I could climb the gate and take the short cut. We had some of the best teachers there because they had studied abroad. The principal knew my family and encouraged me. My family called me a 'performer.' I used my mind instead of music to excel." As a child Nora never thought about being Roma. The family was integrated into a mixed community.
Shortly before her eighth grade graduation, Nora's father died. She had planned to study philology, the examination of language in historical context. In December 1989 we were marching for freedom on the streets in Bucharest. In1990 with diminished financial resources, Nora switched to journalism. This turned out to be fortuitous because immediately after the Romanian Revolution of 1989, the media was freed from constraints imposed during communism. "I was in the right place at the right time of my life." Nora created two final projects to complete journalism school: the first was a mock up of a Byzantine book, modeled on Orthodox Christian prayer books; the second was a bilingual (Romanes — Romanian) newspaper for Roma. "I never presented the second project. It was the project of my soul."
In 1990, Aven Amentza (Come with Us) appeared on posters in bus stations and in announcements on state TV. Roma were invited to a gathering at the Sala Palatului (Palace Hall) in central Bucharest. Nora's cousin, Carmen, was involved with the Aven Amentza foundation and encouraged her to attend. "At the gathering at the Palatului, I saw people such as Nicolae Gheorghe, Ion Onoriu, Vasile Ionescu, and Costel Vasile ...some of the leaders who initiated the Roma movement. This was a turning point in my life. I found the place where I could play an integral part. I met the spirit of the Roma movement."
Nora began volunteering for Aven Amentza working with Vasile Ionescu on the first newspaper for Roma in Romania publishing articles on Roma history and culture. "I learned about Roma slavery for the first time and about the Holocaust. My mother had always spoken to us in Romanes, but I had not grasped the significance of the language to my Roma identity."
A series of conflicts reverberated throughout the country in the year following the end of communism. The Mineriads of 1990 and 1991 saw supposed miners from the Jiu Valley violently break up protests against the ruling National Salvation Front, a party composed largely of former communist officials. There was a simultaneous rise in violence targeting the Roma. Nicolae Gheorghe a member of the Group for Social Dialogue calling for a democratic Romania and providing a safe space for such discussions, asked Nora to mount a press conference on the Roma situation and translate a document from French to Romanian. She delivered the translation the next day. Nicolae Gheorghe invited Nora to take part in various events and press conferences addressing the growing interethnic conflict.
After the fall of the Ceauşescu communist regime in 1989, thousands of Romanians including Romanian Roma, left the country for western Europe. In 1992, Roma without documents were expelled from Germany and repatriated to Romania. Nicolae Gheorghe asked Nora to conduct interviews with returnees. She learned that many Roma had sold their homes when they left. Some had fled Romania after experiencing interethnic violence such as the torching of homes in the village of Mihail Kogălniceanu near the Black Sea. The Romanian government did not provide the support and assistance needed to resettle the returnees. Nora helped mediate the post conflict situation in Mihail Kogălniceanu. She worked with the mainstream community to help them understand that the Roma were part of their village and fellow Romanian citizens.
Nora believes that the 1993 Hădăreni case was an impetus for the creation of Romani CRISS. An interethnic conflict between Roma and Romanians in the Transylvanian village of Hădăreni resulted in the destruction of the Roma community there and the explusion and murder of Roma and non Roma with the cooperation of local police. Nicolae Gheorghe established the NGO, ROMANI CRISS (Center for Social Intervention and Studies). Nora Costache was one of its founding members. "What happened in Hădăreni, ignited a spark in all Romanian Roma."
In the mid 1990s, Nora married the activist, Costel Vasile. Their daughter, Sara is now twenty-one and studying law at the University of Bucharest and International Law through the Sorbonne. "Costel Vasile was a man of honour. He was an optical fiber mechanic with the Romanian Aeronautic Industry , during the communist period. He would look up at a plane and say to me, 'see that plane Nora — if anything happens, I am still responsible'."
Mr. Vasile founded the Societatea Tânăra Generaţie a Romilor (Young Generation Society of Roma) in 1991 as a civil society approach to the prevention of violence and discrimination against Roma. Zoltan Barany in his chapter, Romani Marginality and Politics in Romania since 1989, highlights the Young Generation of Roma (YGSR) as one of the best managed Roma organizations of the 1990s, pointing to its effective projects promoting educational and cultural initiatives for Roma youth and creating dialogue to prevent interethnic violence.
After the loss of her husband, Norica drew upon her considerable educational and professional credentials to secure full time employment. Nora has a degree in sociology and social assistance from the University of Bucharest. She is a licensed interpreter of Romanian-English, English-Romanian; Romanian-French, French-Romanian; and Romanian-Romanes, Romanes-Romanian. Nora Costache has been working at the National Center for Roma Culture in Bucharest for the past two years.
Nora sees herself as part of the continuum of Roma activism from the beginning of the movement to the new approaches examining the roots of Roma culture.
"A determinant in the initial stage of the Roma movement was the effort to mainstream Roma, allowing us to become more visible and more involved in decision making at a regional, national, and international level. Now it's time to look into the roots of Roma culture and language. The Romani language is the basis of my identity. It provided me with the foundation needed to confront prejudice and discrimination as I matured. Knowing one's culture and language in no way closes one off. I also speak 'elegant' Romanian. In the modern world, speaking several languages and delving into several cultures opens opportunities and expands our parameters."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Dan Doghi is currently Senior Advisor on Roma and Sinti Issues, Chief of CPRSI at OSCE Warsaw, Poland. He previously served in the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights: Contact Point for Roma and Sinti.
Dan has been a human rights advocate since his work with Romani CRISS in Bucharest in the 1990s. "I became involved in supporting the Roma community's efforts to obtain the same rights as other Romanian citizens. My father's example was always before me. His civil rights work was my first inspiration. Meeting leading human rights and Roma rights activist, Nicolae Gheorghe was a turning point. He became my other source of inspiration and motivation as a human rights advocate. I had the privilege of working with Nicolae as a Programme Coordinator with Romani CRISS (Centrul Romilor pentru Interventie Sciala si Studii)."
Dan was formerly Higher Education Program Manager with the Roma Education Fund (REF), in Budapest until 2018. One of his duties was administration of The Roma Memorial University Scholarship Program (RMUSP), which awards scholarships to Roma students studying at the undergraduate and post-graduate level. The programme, set up initially by the Open Society Institute (OSI), is titled 'memorial' because parts of its initial funding originated from the recuperated gold that Nazis confiscated from their victims during WWII, thus the RMUSP was envisaged to commemorate and preserve the memory of the Roma victims of the Holocaust. . Other scholarship schemes focus on studies in the fields of law, humanities, and medical science. There also grants awarded for innovative research proposals and for study outside the student's country of residence.
Dan grew up in the Manastur district of Cluj-Napoca, Romania. "We moved there when I was about two. My father was a cobbler and my mother was an ice cream and sweets vendor as part of a local co-operative during the communist period. Our neighbourhood was diverse, Romanians, Roma and ethnic Hungarians who all got along fairly well. My brothers and I attended integrated schools in our neighbourhood." Dan's parents disclosed to the boys at a young age that their Roma (Romungro group) ethnicity was not always viewed positively by mainstream Romanians. Roma, they explained, were often disadvantaged educationally and occupationally because of racial and cultural prejudice. Although both parents were Romani speakers, they did not teach the boys the Romani language in an attempt to shield them from discrimination.
Dan attained his BA in social work at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, and completed a postgraduate course in International Diplomacy at Malta University. The fall of the Ceauşescu regime saw the beginning of Roma activism. Racism, which had been suppressed under communism, manifested itself in attacks and mob violence on Roma communities throughout Romania. From 2000 to 2004, Dan was a Program Coordinator with the Open Society Foundation's spin-off Resource Center for Roma Communities, in Cluj-Napoca. Dan and his wife Lorena have two daughters and currently live in Warsaw.
Dan's suggestions that RomaRising create a Facebook Page and YouTube channel have been invaluable contributions to the growth of the RomaRising community. Thank you for your support Dan.
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
"I grew up in a family of Roma musicians- violinists. My grandfather was a musician and also a trained shoemaker during Soviet times.
My father was also a violinist. He died at thirty-three when I was only five leaving my twenty-seven year old mother to raise four children."
"Because I grew up in an integrated community, not a traditional Roma community, I did not experience a lot of discrimination unlike my darker skinned brothers. When I completed school at sixteen, I had a chance to continue my education, but my mother needed me to help her so I had to go to work. I began work at a shoe factory in Cluj Napoca. Because I was only sixteen, I had to get permission to work from communist party. I worked there until 1998. At that point I received skilled training and became a master shoemaker. My wife, Terezia and I opened our own firm, making and selling shoes."
In 1993, soon after the fall of Soviet control, Pavel joined a Romani political party. In 1996, his son Dan founded an NGO "Amare Phrala" (Our Brothers). Pavel has now been involved with Amare Phrala for over twenty years.
Pavel and his wife have four sons. He knew it would be difficult for his children to remain in Romania after the end of Soviet control because Romania has no tradition of democracy. The Roma were the first to lose their jobs in Cluj. They moved back to the rural areas, but without land they had no livelihood. "Non Roma were given back the land taken away by the communists, but the Roma did not own the land they worked."
Pavel's eldest son Dan is currently in Budapest, Hungary where he is Higher Education Program Manager with the Roma Education Fund and a member of the board of the European Roma Rights Centre. Pavel credits progress in his own career to his son's encouragement.
Paul, the second son, is in Sweden with his family working in construction. He has obtained a technical degree and plans to open his own firm. His third son Alin has been living in Northern Ireland for the past fifteen years. He is working in the IT field. He is married to an Irish woman and has one child. The youngest boy, Tiberiu is the only son still in Romania. He and his mother, Terezia, recently opened a produce market in the neighborhood where the family lives.
"My work with Amare Phrala has allowed me to fulfill goals that I never dreamed possible. Funds maybe limited and inconsistent, yet we persist." An example Pavel cited to illustrate the human rights work of Amare Phrala, is a recent court settlement regarding the eviction of a Roma neighborhood in Cluj near a garbage dump. Municipal police, with the mayor's tacit support, burned down the settlement in the middle of the night to force families to evacuate. Houses and property were destroyed, and people injured. The NGO petitioned the municipality for restitution. The European Roma Rights Centre provided Amare Phrala with a lawyer. The court ruled that the municipality must pay damages of 2000€ to each family and provide housing for Roma within the city of Cluj Napoca.
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
When he was only five, Orlando Drăghici's grandmother asked him what he planned to do with his life. Throughout his childhood she would remind him, "Your life's course is in your hands." Perhaps that is why at the age of thirty-six, Orlando can cite accomplishments in several fields.
Orlando was born into a musical Lautari family in Bucharest. He studied at the music conservatory there for five years. In 2000, he traveled to Los Angeles, California for the wedding of his first cousin, Romanian Roma Representative to the EU Parliament, Damian Drăghici. In 2003, Orlando had a chance to audition for the London Symphony. Instead he decided to marry Cristina Manolache.
In 2005, Orlando returned to Los Angeles with his wife, Cristina. His cousin Damian encouraged him to apply to UCLA. He passed the entrance exam, but the registration period had passed. "I begged and finally they made an exception for me." Orlando studied clarinet at the UCLA Graduate School of Music completing a master's degree in instrumental music. Orlando met a number of American Roma musicians in the Los Angeles area. His brother, a violinist, lives there and encouraged Orlando to move to California. However Orlando returned to Romania.
At present, Orlando is 1st clarinetist with the Romanian National Opera. He has perfect pitch. "If God takes my eyes, I'll survive; If God takes my hearing, I'll go crazy." Sometimes people ask Orlando why he is still playing for the National Opera." Orlando auditioned for the Flemish National Orchestra and was selected, but chose to stay in Romania.
The reasons for Orlando's decision to stay put in Bucharest may be traced to his passion for entrepreneurship and belief that business capital is the path out of poverty for the Roma. "Small scale entrepreneurs are the key to change in the Roma communities of Romania. If Roma do not help each other to build capital, how can Roma prospects for the future improve?" True to his word, Orlando is part owner of the restaurant La Tigançi and the Beverly Hills Beauty Salon. "We must be role models and leaders for our community."
In the next few years, Orlando would like to start a family, create a beauty salon franchise throughout Romania, and explore a personal music project mixing classical and dance music. Orlando Drăghici very much charts his own life course.
Mary Evelyn Porter
"There are so many women who have inspired me, so many valiant women. Perhaps Angela Davis and Maya Angelou most prominently among them. My objective has always been to develop a theatre company to highlight the courage of Romani women in the face of centuries of racism."
Three years ago, Mihaela Drăgan began a one-woman show Del Duma exploring the lives of four distinctly different women facing limitations within a traditional Roma community. In 2014, Mihaela founded Giuvlipen (feminism) a collaboration of Romani women actors. As a playwright and performer, Mihaela addresses discrimination against, and hyper-sexualization of Roma women by the majority society. Her play, Gadjo Dildo, confronts traditional Romani gender roles through the eyes of a Romani Lesbian. La Harneală examines the effect on Romani women of evictions of Roma families by Romanian authorities. Kali Sara evokes Saint Sara, the protector of Romani women, to spotlight ongoing prejudice and acts of violence against women. Mihaela Drăgan has performed in Bucharest, Budapest and Vienna. Her plays have been translated into several languages. She has spoken on behalf of Romani women to both Roma and non-Roma audiences. On May 22, 2016, Mihaela Drăgan gave a Ted Talk in Cluj Napoca, Romania.
Mihaela Drăgan is Lautari, a descendant of musicians and singers. She was raised by her grandparents in the region of Cândești in south central Romania. She has asked herself why no mention is made in history books or in university lectures of the five hundred year history of Roma slavery in Romania or of the horrors suffered by Roma during the Holocaust, from the deportations to Transnistria to the camps. Mihaela can understand why the Roma themselves might not want to talk about these horrific experiences. "There is a belief that when one talks of death, one calls death to oneself." The purposeful ignorance of the majority society to these events however feeds stereotypes generations in the making.
Lautari entertainers were often slaves. In Mihaela's opinion, Manele is a modern outgrowth of traditional Lautari music. "Manele music expresses the outrage of our people in ways which are acceptable to society – a manner of striking back without inviting retaliation." The same may be said of the performances of Mihaela Drăgan.
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Cristina Manolache Drăghici was raised in a traditional Lautari musical family. "My father encouraged me to sing, but I didn't quite fit with this tradition because I preferred to cut my dolls' hair, do their nails and design their clothes."
Cristina studied cosmetology at a vocational high school. Her two older sisters are also stylists and were her coaches as she was developing her skills.
In 2005, Cristina had the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles, California with her husband, Orlando. She enrolled in a six-month training course under the guidance of well-known stylist, Anatasia Soare of Anastasia Beverly Hills. Cristina studied the latest techniques such as Bed Head, Toni and Guy dry shampooing, Goldwell Hair and Nail Color, Wella, and Bobbi Brown cosmetics.
In 2012, after her return to Romania, Cristina opened the Beverly Hills Salon, Bucharest. The salon and barbershop is located in a middle class residential area. Most of the clients are Romanian not Roma. Cristina has several Roma trainees. "It concerns me that so many Roma women marry young and do not acquire the skills to take care of themselves. I have a twenty-seven year old trainee. She has a baby, but had never worked, because her family didn't let her. I said to her "what are you doing? Come work with me!" Eventually Cristina would like to establish a beauty academy for Roma students. She plans to apply for grants to turn this dream into reality. Her immediate goal is to open a second Beverly Hills Salon. She visualizes a BH Salon franchise in the future.
As for Cristina's personal goals, "My husband and I trust each other. He encourages me to pursue my career. I married at seventeen, but I am not going to have children until I am ready. I am a proud, independent Roma woman."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Toflea, Romania — a picturesque rural village in Galaţi County, Romania set among rolling hills and lush cultivations of wine grapes, vegetables and grain. One of four interconnected communities, centered around the Toflea Orthodox Catholic Monastery constructed in the fifteenth century by the Tofles, a local Boyar family.
Toflea, Romania is a community of 10,000 inhabitants over ninety percent of whom are of Ursai Roma heritage. Roma families began arriving in this region in the mid fourteenth century. The local Orthodox monastery was administered by a Boyar family named Tofle. Roma were enslaved by the Boyars and the monastery from their arrival in what was then Moldavia, until emancipation in 1856.
Mircea Dumitru, Mayor of Toflea, was born and raised in Toflea in a Roma family of three boys. "According to accounts I've heard, our extended family first arrived in Toflea in about 1454." Originally the Roma worked for the boyars and the church as smiths and iron-mongers . They were not employed in agriculture. After emancipation, Roma craftspeople worked out of their homes producing objects such as iron adzes and chisels used for carving wood. They were steel workers during the industrial revolution; during communist times, there were no factories in this area; Roma made the wooden ties for train tracks. Roma also produced objects made from aluminum. During the communist period, Romania was in competition with Japan and Germany for industrial contracts. There were many orders and almost full employment. After the revolution, the region as a whole suffered. For the Roma, in particular, the jobs disappeared.
After Mr. Dumitru graduated from university in Bucharest, he worked three years in private industry. He first worked in the human resources department of a private train company. He then worked with a regional winery and managed 1000 hectares of wine grapes. "We have two excellent red wines sourced from the Toflea area, a cabernet sauvignon and a merlot."
Since his election in 2005, Mayor Mircea Dumitru has directed his considerable energy and enthusiasm to creating local infrastructure and to providing young people with jobs to keep them in the Toflea area. There are now more than thirty jobs in small Roma owned enterprises in Toflea such as a bakery, and a barbershop. ROMACT, a joint programme initiated by the European Union and the Council of Europe provides guidance and direction including submission of the project To Cohabit in a Multicultural Society, to the Romanian Government's Department for Interethnic Relations in April of 2016.
Before 2004, only about ten Roma children finished high school and a handful went on to university. In 2016, high school graduation rates for Roma in Toflea compare favorable with non-Roma peers elsewhere. The Toflea Education Foundation, established by Gruia Stoica, a Toflea native, now a successful businessman has awarded over eight hundred scholarships to Roma who complete university. Mayor Dumitru, himself, was one of the first recipients.
The next few years? — "Continue to support my wife and two children in their endeavors; build on what we have started here. We have Internet, but we need free WiFi. Roads must be paved and a working sewage system installed. Build a medical center for which funding is already in place. Increase local employment opportunities."
Toflea, Romania, a thriving municipality, whose Mayor and the majority of its inhabitants, happen to be Roma.
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Adrian Nicolae Furtuna is a researcher with Centrul National de Cultura a Romilor, The National Centre for Roma Culture. He was formerly a project manager with the Policy Centre of Roma and Minorities, and with Amare Rromentza.
Nicu Furtuna was born and raised in the small town of Bârlad, in the Moldovian area of eastern Romania. In his large extended family, the boys learned Romanes, but the girls did not. Boys were supposed to represent the family in interactions with other Roma. "My grandfather was well educated. He graduated from high school, an unusual achievement even for Romanians sixty years ago. He was my first mentor." During the communist period, Nicu's family were small business owners. They had a clothing store and traded with Roma who brought goods from Turkey. After the revolution of 1989, new governmental regulations required consolidation of small businesses into a single mall. Entrepreneurs were required to rent a shop within the mall. The Roma who used to sell flowers on the street corners went out of business because they were required to buy a kiosk. Such regulations augmented the loss of capital caused by global competition in the newly free market economy. Many Roma who lost their livelihood did not have the educational background or job skills to retrain for new employment. As a youth, Nicu remembers going to the garbage dump with Roma neighbours to look for things to sell. In the 1990s, former Communist Party Members threw away their membership cards along with medals and decorations. These items fetched ready cash at pawn shops.
Nicu is grateful to his parents for encouraging him to attend school. He attended a prestigious high school. His mother in particular pushed him to do well in school, and he credits her with enabling him to negotiate the current demanding economic and occupational climate with confidence.
"My first contact with Roma civic initiatives was around 1995. My parents had taught me to be proud of being Roma, to be proud of our customs and traditions. I was the only Roma student at my high school, however there were specific TV programmes directed toward minorities. In about the year 2000, I discovered the website — Romanistan, and began to learn about the Roma Holocaust."
Nicu studied sociology at the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iaşi; then transferred to the University of Bucharest to be near his future wife, Catalina. After graduating, he began work at the Roma NGO Amare Rromentza on a Roma Holocaust project funded by UNICEF's Task Force For International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research. "I first learned about the deportation of Roma to Transnistria during a soccer game, Romanian kids playing Roma kids. When the Roma team won, the Romanian fans yelled out, -Antonescu (former Nazi aligned dictator of Romania) did a good job when he sent all you Roma to Transnistria and put you in camps. " Nicu and his team interviewed survivors of these horrific events. The Roma were rounded up and herded onto trains, or open wagons. To receive compensation by the Romanian government, each survivor had to prove his or her identity and testify about what they had endured. However many could not confirm their identity because many Roma do not have birth certificates or identity documents. Thus only some received reparations.
In 2009, with the encouragement of a Romanian friend, Nicu became a Jehovah's Witness. He married, and his daughter, Natasha, was born.
In 2010, Nicu became project manager at the Policy Centre for Roma and Minorities as part of an initiative for young Roma professionals. "At first I found it difficult because I was not used to working with gadje (non-Roma). In my previous job there had been only Roma."
Nicu directed an after school programme during which he was able to introduce information about the Roma Holocaust. In 2011, Nicu Furtuna established his own organization, Romane Rodimata Cultural and Social Research Centre. In 2012, Nicu initiated and managed four projects:
In 2014, Nicu began work at the National Centre for Roma Culture in the Department of Research and Documentation. Romane Rodimata still exists as a project based non-profit. Its current project investigates forced child labor among families deported by the Nazis to Transnistria.
In March of 2016, Nicu Furtuna was selected as one of five research fellows examining the effects on Roma culture and language of the five hundred years of slavery in Romania, through a grant funded by the Roma Initiative Office of the Open Society Initiative. Archival records of slaves and slave owners are located in monasteries and on estates of the Boyars, traditional Romanian nobility. Access to these records will be difficult, and will require permissions by the Orthodox Church and living Boyar descendants. An additional barrier is that thousands of these transcripts were written in old Romanian, which used the Cyrillic alphabet.
The Centre intends to eventually make these documents available online.
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Lucian Adrian Gaman is President of the NGO, Apollo Resource Center, deliberately headquartered in Pioieşti, the county seat of Prahova County about fifty-six kilometers north of Bucharest. "My vision is to approach Roma issues from a new perspective. That is why the office is not located in Bucharest. Our headquarters are local which gives us an opportunity to act outside of the centralized structure."
Lucian Gaman was born in the industrial municipality of Filipeştii de Târg. During communist times, his parents were employed at the local factory. His father drove trucks and tractors. His mother worked in a smelter coming into constant contact with molten metal. She died at age fifty-four. There were two distinct Roma groups in the area: the Rudari or Boyash who do not speak the Romani language and the Zavragii, formerly slaves of the state, who spoke Romanes as their home language. After the Romanian Revolution in 1989, the two groups intermarried. Lucian's sister has finished medical school. His three brothers did not attend university. As eldest, Lucian feels responsible for the well being of all his siblings.
"As a child I didn't worry about who I was or what I was, I just wanted to be the best. I was always at the top of my class. During the communist period I was appointed class leader. This gave me the impetus to strive for excellence. I still have classmates who seek me out at Apollo to ask my advice."
After graduating from high school in 1986, Lucian put in his one-year compulsory military service. A local factory then hired him in 1989. Although he would have liked to attend university, Lucian knew his family could not afford that. A work accident sidelined Lucian for almost a year. Lucian Gaman's prospects changed with the fall of the communist regime. He began studying accounting at the Bucharest University of Economic Studies. At the same time, Lucian returned to work and was promoted because of his skills in mechanical engineering. Once Lucian completed his degree, he left his factory job and ran his own business for a couple of years.
In 2000, some friends suggested that he enter politics at the local level. Lucian was elected to the city council from the Roma Party. In 2001, Lucian became the regional Roma expert for Prahova County. For ten years he worked in that capacity persuading local authorities to implement grass roots measures supporting governmental initiatives for the Roma. "I never wanted to be just a Roma government official; I wanted to make sure that I was not simply focusing on Roma issues, but on issues of public administration in general." Lucian Gaman has received accolades for his work as an expert in Roma affairs. However his goal has always been to have Roma issues viewed in the context of issues facing the nation of Romania as a whole.
In 2010, Lucian formed the Apollo Resource Center with a mandate to address the needs of at risk youth of all ethnic backgrounds. The center has several sources of funding including the European Union and the Open Society Foundation. One project deemed particularly successful by the EU and the Romanian government focused on improving career readiness skills and building self-esteem. Many Roma young people, even those who had finished high school, could not find employment. Students were taught interviewing techniques, resumé writing, and dressing for success. Outcomes were positive with many receiving offers of employment.
Another focus of the Apollo Resource Center is supporting Roma entrepreneurs. "There are certainly Roma in our society who are 'in need.' However, we would like to promote the concept of the Roma as contributing members of society through partnerships with other NGOs such as Agentia Impreuna and the Romano Butiq." A current promising Apollo Project is the Apollo restaurant in Poieşti. The restaurant provides employment for Roma from entry level, up to management. "The trick is to build a loyal customer base."
Lucian is the father of a sixteen-year-old boy who is studying tourism services at the vocational high school. His son is a tennis player and competes at the national junior tennis level. He has been named best future player. Lucian counseled his son, "Whether you achieve success or not, always look to the future." Lucian hopes that his son will be able to move beyond a focus on only Roma issues. "He will have to choose his own direction, but I can guide him. I may be perceived as a Roma working only for Roma. My son needs a chance to move beyond those expectations."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
"Grass roots organization implies putting ideas into practice." Since 2011, Carmen Gheorghe has returned to her birthplace in the Roma community of Mizil, Romania to initiate community development among Roma women.
During the communist period, her father worked in a factory and her mother was a housewife in Mizil. At school, during communist times, Roma children were relegated to benches assigned to 'special' children. Carmen shared a bench with a girl whose mother had an abortion. Abortions were illegal under Ceauşescu, and the entire family was held responsible for the mother's act. Teachers at that time, and sometimes even today, held out no academic expectations for their Roma students. Carmen's mother told her, "That's why you should never say that you are Roma." Carmen's mother died when she was thirteen, but she inspired Carmen to think for herself and not depend on men, "almost as if she knew she would not have the time later on." One of Carmen's aunts worked in insurance and she encouraged Carmen to challenge the assumption that girls cannot access the same opportunities as boys.
Carmen considers herself an activist but does not try to speak for women, rather she believes in "giving them a chance to be heard." The title of her master's thesis in political science, Re-imagining the Roma woman throughout history, highlights her focus on women whose lives have remained invisible because "they are seen only through the eyes of the other."
In 2012, Carmen travelled to the United States under the auspices of the U.S. State Department's, International Leadership Program. She had a chance to observe community development by non-profit agencies in five states, "It was a personal journey and life changing; a new way of looking at people." When she returned to Romania, Carmen founded the E Romnja (Romani Women) Association. Some of the initial funding came from Mama Cash, an organization based in Holland which funds women's initiatives, generally in Africa and India. Nowadays monies come from OSI and the Norway Funds. Carmen stays away from government funding so as to remain independent. E Romnja is active in both urban and rural settings particularly in the poorest regions of Romania.
In Mizil, E Romnja now has a group of ten to twelve Roma women of various ages who petition for needed infrastructure improvements. Two years ago, they managed to convince the municipal authorities to pave local streets. A woman who lived on one of the unpaved streets announced, "If the mayor doesn't pave our street, I won't vote for him in the upcoming election." Within a week the street was paved. However, there are still only two pumps in town and no sewer system.
"Power means organizing the community and asking for your rights. In the local context, there are always balance of power issues: rich/poor; age differences; Roma/gadje; male/female. Both men and women have internalized the paternalistic concepts of women's roles. For many Roma there are concomitant issues of poverty and lack of access to resources."
E Romnja can count a number of innovative approaches to conflicts as accomplishments. In a rural area, where many Roma belong to the Pentacostal Church, E Romnja intervened to give women the right to 'women-only' discussion groups. Women from the Mizil group created a photographic exhibit for E Romnja. One group member, Aldeza became a student, just graduated from university in Ploieşti and is now with E Romnja.
"Feminism is about the empowerment of women. There are hundreds of issues, which disproportionately affect Roma women. Unfortunately, some Roma organizations replicate the patterns of the wider society. The concept of intersectionality, that is women's rights, is not in conflict with the concept of Roma inclusion."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
The team of RomaRising Romania was fortunate to welcome George Gogan as assistant photographer during the spring of 2016. Chad Evans Wyatt, founder of RomaRising, speaks to the value of George's contributions. "I have always considered my work to belong in equal part to those who volunteered to participate. With the contribution of two immensely talented Roma assistants, Asen Mitkov in Bulgaria and George Gogan in Romania, the project has reached its original aspiration: to find common ground between one minority and another. It was remarkable how many of those we met in Romania seemed to be not just acquaintances, but actual friends of George. One look at his accomplishments at such a young age, and one sees immediately why George Gogan was a seamless fit into the project."
Born in the city of Bacău, Romania, George Cristian Gogan is the eldest of three siblings, two boys and one girl. He was raised in a middle class Lautari family. George is the first university graduate, and the only family member who does not play a musical instrument. His younger brother, Denis is a violinist, while his father plays several instruments including the Ney or Caval, a middle-Eastern end blown flute. George's parents taught him to be proud of his Roma heritage, to do well in school, and to follow his passions. "The only condition my father put on his support was to never lie to myself or my family."
While still in high school, George tried out for the Romanian National Junior Soccer team. He made the team, but they wanted him to pay 5000 Euros in tax. George decided instead to attend university in Iaşi. While working on his BA degree, George met the Roma politician, Ciprian Necula, who asked him to join Meste Shukar, a project to promote traditional Roma handicrafts. "This was my introduction to the Roma movement."
In 2010, George interviewed with the Roma Education Fund, Romania. He was hired as a grass roots organizer in Roma communities. He also worked with Amare Romensa as a mentor in their after school programmes. At least thirty of his Roma mentees raised their test scores, demonstrated greater self-esteem, and were admitted to high school.
In 2013, George received double masters degrees in, "Marketing and Political Dialogue" and "European Law and Social Institutions" from Iaşi University.
After graduation, George worked as an Intern with the European Commission in Brussels on Roma related issues-specifically education and culture. He analyzed the demographics and statistics on the educational achievement of Roma throughout Europe: the lowest rate of school completion was in Bulgaria. "I was disappointed by my experience with the European Commission. The Roma are just numbers to them, not real human beings."
He returned to Romania in 2014 and became a high school Romani language instructor. George used the classroom as a format to build social skills.
Toward the end of 2014, George began work at CNCR, The National Centre for Romani Culture in Bucharest. This was his first time working for a Romanian governmental institution. Once again the focus was education and culture. George published seven books for the center and made four DVDs — Roma Slavery in Romania, The Roma Holocaust, Positive Roma Role Models, and Improving Self-Esteem. CNCR brought a play "The Prince and the Wise Man" starring well-known Romanian Roma actor, Sorin Sandu, into the Roma communities. "Because this was the first theatre production they had ever seen, the children did not know that they were supposed to applaud and sat silently in their seats."
In March 2016, George left CNCR to explore other avenues for change in the Roma movement. He is considering a career in politics as well as establishing his own NGO.
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Rrom sam, Devla, ci meras:
Rrom, rromni ai ol chave
Amaro drom na mukhas,
Amari baht lachiaras,
O ciacipe t-arakhas
Ol phure ai ol terne!
Not man, not wife, nor child
Our way we never leave,
Our Romani way
Our destiny we shape,
To seek out truth
The elder and the youth!
Opre Roma! Lyrics by Delia Grigore. Recorded by Mahala Rai Banda on the album Romani Kultura.
Delia Grigore was born in 1972 in Galaţi, a port city on the Danube in Eastern Romania. Her father's family was poorly educated and quite poor. However during the communist period, her father was given the chance to study to become an engineer and her mother trained as a teacher. Delia's maternal grandmother told her of the family's Roma background, but advised her not to admit to being Roma. Some non-Roma in the community referred to them as "Gypsies."
When the family moved to Bucharest in 1976, they became assimilated and no longer spoke the Romani language. During the 1970s, many Jewish families moved to Israel and Roma moved into the former Jewish neighborhood. The dictator Ceauşescu demolished the neighbourhood in 1985 to make way for apartment blocks. "I was happy in the Mahala with my maternal grandmother. When we moved to the blocks I felt very depressed." When Delia entered high school, an excellent school with a focus on languages, the students believed she was Jewish. This carried negative connotations, but not as negative as being Roma.
Delia received high marks, but did not want to go on to university. She audited a class on Indian culture and language in which she studied Sanskrit without recognizing her Indian roots. The class piqued her interest in the Roma. She began a degree at the University of Bucharest in folklore and ethnology and graduated with an MA in 1994. Delia conducted research in both Romanian and Roma communities, and has come to believe that the Roma originated in India, but have been influenced by many other cultural roots such as the Byzantine and the Balkan.
Delia began learning Romanes at university from Romani language textbooks, but really picked up fluency while employed as a curator working with Roma craftspeople in the village museum of Bucharest in 1995. At that time Delia believed she was only Roma intellectual. She asked her boss for assistance. Cati Dulcu sent Delia to the Ministry of Culture to meet Vasile Ionescu. Delia told Mr. Ionescu, "I am a Gypsy and I want to research Gypsy culture and folklore." Mr. Ionescu replied, "We work only with the Rom, not with Gypsies." Delia's friend, Cristinela Ionescu explained her uncle's statement and helped Delia to gain entrance into the Roma movement at its inception. Delia impressed Vasile Ionescu with her dedication. She volunteered with Aven Rromentza for ten years. "Vasile's vision was to cultivate identity and promote self esteem, to celebrate Roma culture rather than to promote integration."
Delia developed a Ph.D. thesis on cultural practices among Kalderashi Roma of Sintesţi, Ilfov County because she saw them as 'real Roma.' Amazed, she discovered some of the same practices in her own family. She had great difficult finding a supervisor for her thesis; only a researcher, Radu Octavian Maier, would agree. Delia wrote an 'Ethnotype.' Some of the practices she describes are archaic to the modern Roma particularly in urban environments. Ms. Grigore sees the ethnotype as "a point of reference. Of course traditional culture is not fixed, but we need the reference point." She argues that practices viewed as negative by the wider society, should be discussed, but not treated as barbaric customs. Delia Grigore received her Ph.D. in 2004.
Delia is a founding member, and current President of, the NGO, Amare Rromentza. Since its creation in 2000, Amare Rromentza, has focused on historical research, although money for such has not been forthcoming from the Romanian government. Delia and her colleagues have collected oral histories from the survivors of the Roma Holocaust, those who were deported to Transnistria and placed in camps. Sadly the Romanian National Museum for the Holocaust continues to overlook the Roma Holocaust. A recent conference sponsored by the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C attempted to broaden the topic to include the Roma, but the dates for the conference were not widely advertised and the local Romanian Commission rejected many of the researchers on the Roma Holocaust.
Similar difficulties occur in attempting to research the five hundred years of Roma slavery in Romania. "Archival research is missing." In February 2016, the Roma Initiative Office of the Open Society Institute opened five scholarship positions for research on slavery. The National Centre for Roma Culture is establishing a database to document and transcribe data found in archival records. "The most complete archives are found in the monasteries because Roma slaves were held by the Orthodox Church as well as by the Boyars, that is ruling families." Delia Grigore was on the panel, which chose the five researchers for this pivotal endeavor.
In November, 2015 Delia Grigore founded the Democratic Roma Federation, composed of several groups including: Partida Romilor, Amare Rromentza, Sastipen, Romano Butiq, Centrul pentru Educatie si Drepturile Omului, and Agentia Impreuna. Their goals are to reform the Roma movement from the ground up and build an ethnically responsible Roma elite; bring back militancy and human rights to the Roma movement. First step, "Recognize your culture and admit your Roma identity."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Cristinela Ionescu describes herself as a journalist and human rights activist whose documentaries celebrate Roma culture. Cristinela is the first born of a family of four girls and one boy from the city of Petroşani, in the Jiu Valley deep in the Carpathian Mountains. Prior to the 1960s the area was sparsely populated, but under the Ceauşescu regime, Roma and other minorities from all over the country were moved into Petroşani to work in the coal mines. Cristinela grew up in a multicultural environment. "There was a saying among the Roma miners — when we enter the mine, we become equals."
Cristinela credits her family for her love of education. "My grandmother although illiterate, was incredibly powerful and insightful." Her father has always been a key figure in her life. He stressed the value of education for both boys and girls. "He taught me to play chess, but he always won. I entered competitions and won, but I couldn't beat my father." Then one evening at the start of a game, her father realized that in four more moves, Cristinela would win. He turned over the chess pieces, stated, — "you are now the master" — and never played against her again. Her mother, Nela, is her constant support. She takes care of Cristinela's teenage son, Sundal while she is at work.
The fall of the communist regime in 1989, and the transition to democracy provided Cristinela with the opportunity to travel, to explore her identity and to study Romani history. She went to South Africa as part of a conference confronting issues of xenophobia and racism. She met Zulu journalists and watched a TV programme in Zulu. When she returned to Romania, Cristinela produced Tumende (For You), a programme in Romanes, which aired on local TV. The programme ran for seven years until funding was cut.
At that point Cristinela began to make TV documentaries. She funded her projects through her NGO, Thumende, based in Petroşani. The Judge, 2007, highlights the tragedy of the Roma Holocaust, the deportation of Roma to Transnistria by the Nazi aligned Antonescu administration. The main character, Marin Constantin, who was deported in 1942, mediated conflicts between Roma and Jews. Jewish deportees were housed in buildings while Roma were in tents in open fields with no potable water. When Mr. Constantin returned from Transnistria, he was appointed a judge with the Kris, the traditional Roma justice system. Still alive and living in Târgu Jiu in 2016, Mr. Constantin has devoted his life to providing justice for Roma people. Non-Roma police in the area turn to him to help mediate internal disputes among the Roma.
In 2008, Cristinela produced Rubina, the story of a Roma woman who wants to have both a family and a career. "Roma have been afraid that if they open their culture to the world, they will become non-Roma. This film demonstrates the commonality of challenges faced by women whether Roma or not." Her 2009 documentary, We Are People, highlights the struggle for Roma rights in the Jiu Valley of Romania.
Cristinela helped organize the Roma Pavillon in Venice, Call the Witness, for the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011, focusing on the Roma justice system.
Ms. Ionescu was a participant in the Professional Fellows Programme sponsored by the US State Department and visited non-profit organizations throughout the United States in 2015.
At present, Cristinela is project manager with the Thumende Jiu Valley Association. She produces films in the Romani language for Tumende TV Production Company with accompanying PR materials. She also works with various NGOs on projects such as the Norwegian Salvation Army's Roma initiative. Cristinela conducts awareness education workshops for students, teachers and government authorities on particularities of Roma culture.
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Aurel Ioniţă was born to Lautari parents in the Roma village of Clejani, featured in Tony Gatlif's 1993 film, Latcho Drom. "In Clejani everyone sings, and most men play a musical instrument."
"My grandfather, Nicolae Neacşu, was a violinist with Taraf de Haidouks, one of the best known Roma bands in Romania." Aurel learned to sing and to play violin, accordion and cimbalom at age six. "My grandfather said that since he had no toys, he learned to play violin almost from birth. He was my mentor and teacher." The family encouraged Aurel to focus on the violin and he began to take over for his grandfather at weddings, playing for snacks and small change.
At seventeen, Aurel began to conduct the family band. Because Clejani is a small village with limited opportunities, the family moved to Bucharest. In the capital, there were many bands, various musical styles, and fierce competition. Despite the challenges, the band from Clejani achieved success through performances at the Horizon Taverna in the Roma Mahala (neighbourhood) of Bucharest. "We brought a new style of music to Bucharest, 'country music'. We brought the essence of the countryside into the heart of the big city."
In 1989, when the Ceauşescu regime fell, Aurel was twenty-two. He decided to try his luck in the west. "In Germany, I was singing on the streets to earn enough money to eat. I lasted two weeks, then I returned to Romania." By the early 1990s, music producers from Belgium were in Clejani asking about Aurel. He refused to leave Romania. Only when Taraf de Haidouks had established a reputation in the west, did Aurel agree to play violin with them. In 2001, Taraf de Haidouks in collaboration with The Koçani Orkestar from Macedonia produced the CD Band of Gypsies. There followed a collaboration with Fanfara Ciocarli on the CD A Rough Guide to Gypsy Music.
In 1998, Aurel organized his own group, Rom Bengali. A variety of problems caused the band to break up a year later. Aurel remained determined to form a major group. In 2000, he made a demo in Belgium with Mahala Raï Banda. Two months later a crew arrived in Bucharest with the offer of a CD and a concert tour. The first album, Mahalageasca was recorded in Bucharest in 2004 and released by Crammed Discs in 2005. The title song garnered acclaim worldwide.
"It is probably the most frequently copied track of Roma instrumental music ever." Mahala Raï Banda's second album Ghetto Blasters was released in 2009 on Asphalt Tango Records. Mahala Raï Banda has brought the energy of Balkan Reggae to audiences throughout Europe and North America. In March 2016, Aurel signed a contract with CAT Music, the premiere record label in Romania.
"Success is an illusion if you don't have the presence of mind to remember where you come from. I am proud of being able to support many family members with our earnings. I am grateful to have a loving wife who understands me, and two fine sons. We live in a rapidly changing world. May the music of Mahala Raï Banda promote Roma culture to the world. This will be my legacy."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Daniela Irimescu was born and raised in Bucharest. She and her siblings, Cristian and Simona, were raised by their mother, Maria. Daniela attended university in Bucharest graduating with a degree in law. "During my first year I volunteered with the NGO Romani CRISS creating activities for Roma and non-Roma kindergarten students. We made Roma puppets to increase the children's awareness and self esteem." After graduation, Daniela got married and now has three children: a son Daniel who is five and three year old fraternal twins, Daria and Darius. She is now divorced.
Daniela works for a multinational company, GENPACT, Generating Impact based in New Delhi, India. She is in charge of training and technical support. She facilitates workshops, conferences and trainings for administration and staff of multinational IT compatibility and financial corporations. "When I was hired by GENPACT, they told me that the fact that I had volunteered and worked at Romani CRISS had given me the facility of interacting with a diverse group of clients and personnel. I enjoy what I do because I interact with interesting people every day and learn new skills which will benefit me in whatever career I decide to pursue."
Daniela has educational goals she intends to attain. She would like to improve her English and begin studying French. She would also like to return to university to complete a degree in psychology. She holds high expectations for her children and is determined to give them the resources to achieve their own aspirations.
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Ioan Cristian Irimescu is a third year medical student at UMF "Carol Davila" in Bucharest, Romania. After his parents divorced, when he was two years old, Cristian and his two sisters were raised by their mother, Maria. "She is my guardian angel. As a single Roma woman, she has had to struggle to survive."
Thanks to his mother, Cristian attended an international kindergarten. At elementary and secondary school in Bucharest, Cristian was admitted through a quota set aside for students of Roma background. Because "Roma" appeared next to his name, Cristian was bullied by non-Roma classmates. Cristi began volunteering with Romani CRISS NGO on a project monitoring segregated schools in Bucharest. He helped create the Romani CRISS report which condemned ongoing segregation of Roma students despite government legislation mandating integration.
Cristian completed high school at the top of his class; his mother and grandfather urged him to pursue higher education. In 2008, he was admitted to law school in Oradea as a regular student. "This was a great time for me. I was able to hide who I was. I wasn't bullied and had the freedom to explore my own goals." However, the effort of hiding his identity weighed on him. Almost no one in law school knew that Cristian was Roma. "My mother encouraged me to come home and come to terms with who I really was."
In 2012, Cristian took part in a summer study course sponsored by SASTIPEN (Wellness), an NGO funded by OSI and REF. The Rădulescu brothers, directors of the project, helped him rebuild his trust in his identity and set him on a new career path. "I had always dreamed of becoming a doctor, but thought it was beyond my means."
Cristian was accepted to medical school in Oradea in 2012, but decided to transfer to Bucharest in 2013 and complete two years in one. Now in his third year at UMF "Carol Davila", Cristian believes he is engaged in the real study of medicine, including extensive lab work and learning about cutting edge treatments.
Cristian has been a guest on the nationally televised show, "I too was born in Romania" with moderator, Irina Ursu. Ms. Ursu called him a role model for other Roma youth and asked him to describe his volunteer work in Roma communities. Cristian detailed for her the appalling lack of medical services for Roma families; aide was promised, but never delivered. "Roma families often have no connection with specialists in the Romanian medical system."
Cristian has inspired his family to pursue their career goals. Daniela is in charge of support services with a multinational corporation, and Simona's daughter, Jeny is studying to become a nurse. Cristian helped her prepare to enter nursing school. In the next five years Cristian plans to become a resident in either psychiatry or internal medicine. He also intends to become fluent in the Romani language to better communicate with his Roma patients.
"Medical science has made enormous leaps in the past few years. We need to strive for higher standards and treat patients at that level, infuse traditional practice with new insights into patient care."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
The aptly named 'Plebis' Ivan is owner and manager of La Tigançi Restaurant in Bucharest. " My mother named me Plebis, a Latin name because she loved Latin and wanted to convey the sentiment — of the people — in her daughter's first name." The Ivan family lived in a middle class suburb of Bucharest and spoke Romanian, not Romanes, as their home language. "We are Lautari; when the Lautari were slaves, they performed constantly for the "masters." Lautari were in daily contact with the upper class of Romania." Plebis was raised by her single mother. "She played saxophone. She was one of the few Roma women who played a musical instrument in those days." Her mother graduated from high school, but wanted more for her daughter. Plebis obtained a BA in Management at the University for Economics Studies, Bucharest. She went on to finish an MA in Corporate Financial Analysis.
One of those involved in the initial establishment of the National Agency for the Roma, Plebis' vision was to have thirty specialists assigned to the eight geographical regions of Romania designated by the EU as 'development regions', and an additional twenty specialists in the capital city. In 2004, she began working with fifty experts in various areas of Roma concerns including the Romanian Roma MP, Nicolae Păun. The agency was integral to the EU's, Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015, and to Romania's bid to become a EU member state, which occurred in 2007. "We began with high hopes for measurable outcomes for Roma throughout Europe. Today we have come to the realization that little has resulted from the dreams of a decade ago." Due to ongoing funding cuts, the agency currently has only fifteen development specialists in Romania of both Roma and non-Roma background. "Now there are only a handful of people attempting to provide services for an estimated million and a half Romanian citizens of Roma ethnicity."
In 2005, Plebis was Romania's Representative to the Council of Europe's, European Roma and Travellers Forum. In 2008, Plebis created the Agency for Human Resource Development and Diversity. Its mission was to eliminate segregated education by implementing projects at a grass roots level. The NGO targeted 'disadvantaged' children, predominately Roma, with after school interventions, parental support and counseling programmes, remedial education, and wellness campaigns.
In 2015, Plebis opened the restaurant, La Tigançi in Bucharest city centre with an infusion of European Union Social Funds, an initiative within the European Structural Funds, to reinforce regional competitiveness, and support equal employment opportunities.
"The Roma have always been entrepreneurs and small business owners. Our traditional names reflect a craft based economic structure. There are several Bucharest restaurants owned by Roma, but our establishment employs Roma at all levels, from bus boys and servers to the Maitre d'hotel who we were fortunate enough to hire when he returned from Italy. Our Chef is Romanian Roma who previously worked for major restaurants throughout the country." I would like to open another restaurant in Bucharest this year. Eventually, I visualize a franchise of La Tigançi restaurants offering living wages to Roma employees in all areas of Romania.
Plebis intends to adopt a child, a boy, "because I already have a beautiful seventeen year old daughter." His name will be Elisha — The Lord is our Salvation — inspired by the Old Testament prophet and miracle worker.
"Both positive and negative stereotypes of Roma are unhelpful; both perpetuate a gloss of Roma reality. Roma women are either described as beggars, or as extremely beautiful and sexy. In fact we are simply women, part of the vast diversity of human kind."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Georgian Viorel Lunca was raised in Plopeni, a small industrial city in south central Romania. His mother and father urged their three children to complete as much formal education as possible. "Their minimum goal was for us to graduate from high school. Being Roma means carrying the baggage of negative perceptions." Many Romanians believe that Roma families are not interested in their children's education. "Each of us has had to deal with the consequences of these societal misperceptions on a daily basis."
In 1998-99, when Georgian began studying social work at university, he met a group of young, enthusiastic Roma students trying to break down the barriers that separated them from mainstream Romanian society. He joined them and became part of post communist generation of Roma activists. "My training in social work from 2000-2004, prepared me for the rigorous demands of projects aimed at improving ethnic relations in Romania." Georgian Lunca was a reporter with ROMA News, a Romani CRISS project in partnership with the Media Monitoring Agency, from 2001 to March 2005. The mission of Roma News was to promote Roma rights through use of the media.
After leaving Romani CRISS in 2005, Mr. Lunca joined the Project on Ethnic Relations Regional Center for Central, East, and Southeast Europe, where he served as a project officer until 2007. The center worked to achieve intra and interethnic social and political cohesion through productive dialogue. PER, a U.S. based non-profit, ended all initiatives in 2012 on the death of its founder, Mrs. Livia Plaks. From 2007-2009, Georgian Lunca was a project and grants manager with Medienhilfe, a Swiss organization that supported Roma media development in the Balkans. Mr. Lunca returned to Romani CRISS as a PR expert from 2009-2010. He joined REF Romania from 2010 to mid 2013 mentoring high school students in effective communication strategies. For the remainder of 2013 until mid 2015, Georgian was a project coordinator with Romano Butiq.
Currently, Georgian Lunca is in Brussels serving as a facilitator for Damian Drāghici, the Romanian Roma Representative to the European Parliament.
"My dream has always been to open a theme park whose purpose would be to educate people about the joys of living together in a multiethnic, multicultural society by bringing children together in a non judgmental setting."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Marian Mandache was born in the capital city of Bucharest and raised in a Roma family of four. Marian's siblings all live in Romania. One sister works as a legal expert, and his brother is a police officer in the Metropolitan Bucharest area. Before WWII, the Mandache family traveled across Romania as Ursari, or bear trainers. The Ursari were the chiropractors of the day. Bears were trained to walk on people's backs without harming them in any way.
Marian attended high school in Bucharest where he began his study of English. Marian studied law at the Romanian American University in Bucharest. In 2005, Marian took the bar exam and became an attorney in Romania. In 2009, Marian Mandache received a LLD degree from Columbia University in New York. He returned to Romania in 2010 and resumed his previous position at Romani CRISS, the Romani Center for Social Intervention and Studies. When Margareta Matache left Romani CRISS to accept a teaching position at Harvard University in 2012, Mr. Mandache was selected as Executive Director.
"Before the Romanian Revolution of 1989, overt racism was kept in check by Communist Party Officials. As the party controlled employment and housing, people were hesitant to express racist views aloud. However under cover, racism still existed."
Reports of school segregation, forced evictions, and lack of access to medical care affecting those of Romani ethnicity began to emerge in the 1990s, as Romania's borders opened to Western Europe. In 1993, Nicolae Gheorghe founded Romani CRISS to address education and housing policy, and to facilitate health mediation. Mr. Gheorghe, a prominent Roma human rights activist worked with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe on the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, under the auspices of OSCE. At first, individual countries, mainly in Western Europe, funded Romani CRISS. Once Romania became part of European Union in 2007, Romani CRISS was able to access European Union structural funds.
Several high profile school segregation cases have been brought forward by Romani CRISS. The 2003 CEHEI School Segregation case grew out of allegations that Romanian students were educated in the main building of the school while Roma students were relegated to a smaller extension building. Schiek, Waddington, and Bell cite this case in Non-Discrimination Law, 2008, as an example of Romania's flouting of European Union regulations. The Romanian Ministry of Education originally denied the allegations, but in 2007 reversed its position and ordered Romanian schools to eliminate direct and indirect segregation.
In 2001, Romani CRISS implemented an innovative approach to health mediation, "women were able to mediate with the majority population when men could not." The Romani CRISS model of health mediation was taken up by the Romanian Ministry of Health in 2002. The Ministry of Education adopted a similar model for education mediation in 2005. There are now about four hundred school mediators. The Romani CRISS mediation model was adopted as Best Practice at the European Union Level ROMED in 2010.
Other ongoing problems involve forced evictions, including police abuse of Roma, and interethnic violence. Currently Romani CRISS is investigating thirty-seven such incidents. Evictions happen because municipal authorities want the Roma moved out so they will not 'bother' the majority population. Sometimes there is a matter of expedience. Property values have increased and local authorities see evicting the Roma as a means to elevated real estate price. In 2001, a Roma community in the town of Piatra Neamţwere evicted to the site of a former chicken processing plant. The Roma had to live in the abandoned hen houses. The 2011 attempt to move Roma from their neighbourhood to a garbage dump near the city of Cluj in Transylvania was adjudicated in front of the European Union Court in Strasbourg. There are about eighty such cases now in front of Romanian civil and criminal courts and twelve awaiting trial at the European Union Court. "This is merely the tip of the iceberg." The European Union Court of Human Rights has condemned Romania for consistent violation of Roma rights.
Marion Mandache, as Executive Director of Romani CRISS, is at the forefront of the struggle for Roma rights in Romania. He is well aware of the risk of a potential backlash. "At the moment there is no extreme right wing party, but it could come to Romania too"
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Elena Mihalache, Project Coordinator for RomaRising Romania, was born in the small town of Severin in southwestern Romania. Elena and her three older brothers were raised by their mother who is of Lautar background, from a family of traditional musicians. Her father was Kalderash; sadly, he died of cancer at age 46 when Elena was only six. Her mother held the family together. "My mother is a strong, independent woman. She is my role model." Elena's older brothers are all now working in Aberdeen, Scotland. The youngest is a chef. The two older boys are handymen. "What most influenced me to finish my education was my desire to break out of the poverty I experienced as a child." Elena's husband, Cristian works with the Swiss Embassy. They have one son, Eric who is going on two years old.
"I always liked school. I attended elementary and secondary school in Severin and then studied social work at university in Timisoara. My dream was to become a doctor. However, I needed to work while I was at university and couldn't devote the years needed for a medical degree.
Before I had my son, I was a Consultant with the Romanian Social Development Fund through the auspices of the World Bank. Now that he is a toddler, I am planning to return to university and take a Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on social policy. As a Ph.D. student I would receive a stipend so that I would not have to work while I was studying. "Why social policy? In Romania there are many segregated schools for Roma. Home schools are designated based on residence and since many Roma live in segregated settlements, students are channeled into segregated schools. Even if schools are integrated, there are often segregated classes for Roma students who are identified as having "special needs." There is little bilingual education and students who enter school speaking Romanes rather than Romanian are at a considerable disadvantage. Treatment of Roma in the public health care system is problematic. There is a profound need for Roma doctors and nurses throughout the country. "
My personal goals are related to my family. Being treated fairly in my marriage allows me to grow as a human being. I hope that Eric has the opportunity to grow up in a multicultural society. I don't trust the Romanian educational system to do the best for my son. We are already doing Montessori lessons with him. Luckily Eric is light skinned so he may not suffer as much discrimination as a darker skinned Romani child.
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
"My greatest accomplishment is optimism. I believe it is essential to live in the present. Fully experiencing the space one inhabits opens the mind to improvisation."
Mandin Mădălin was born in Bucharest in 1983. His father is Roma from a Lautari family, while his mother is Romanian. Mandin has one brother who is a chef in Bucharest and a six-week-old nephew, Patrick. At a high school for the performing arts in Bucharest, Mandin's Romanian Language Arts teacher encouraged him to attend university and train as an actor. He attended the National University of Drama and Film in Bucharest, graduating in 2006. Immediately, he found roles in theatre productions throughout Romania.
In 2009, Mandin traveled to London where he performed with a Romanian improv theatre troupe. He also attended many improv performances while in the UK, and returned to Romania determined to create his own troupe. Mandin credits British Canadian, Keith Johnstone, the legendary 'father of improv', for sparking his imagination to the power of spontaneity.
He toured Romania with A Stormy Night, a play performed entirely in the Romani language. The project was a non-profit endeavor to acquaint Roma communities with theatre in their own language. In Moldova, Mandin encountered audiences who had never seen theatre and had no idea how to react. The Romani theatre project failed after two years due to a lack of media support and lack of funding. The theatre company was partially funded by the NGO Romano Kher, but the funding allocated did not cover travel expenses for the entire cast and crew.
In 2012, Mandin came to the National Theatre in Bucharest. He appeared as a wizard in Wind in the Willows. His current performances include: Hotel Europa — migration and human trafficking; The Tempest Fortuna — the fickle nature of fate; and Eden — an Irish play about various challenges faced by a married couple. He is in rehearsal for Medea, My Mother.
Mandin Mădălin has appeared on numerous TV talk shows discussing the need for connections among ethnic groups. To this end he worked with Ciprian Necula in framing the Pakivalo Festival, which brings together members of the majority and minority communities.
A grant from UNICEF, has given Mandin the opportunity to work with Roma children at risk of dropping out of school. "I teach about twenty children the importance of improv theatre to their lives. They learn how to use invisible props, to use their space, to develop a character, to play with words and context to create their own reality. My students are learning to be introspective. This is a wheel of experience and creativity."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Florin Nasture is president of the Roma Cultural Centre O Del Amenca. He is married and has two children, a four-year-old boy and a girl of six. His wife, Tania, is a pastry chef.
Born in the town of Feteşti, Romania on the Borcea branch of the Danube River, Florin grew up in a Roma family of three. One younger sister still lives in Feteşti; the other is a kindergarten teacher in Bucharest. Florin lived in Feteşti until the age of twenty-one when he left to fulfill his year long military service.
Florin became interested in the Baptist denomination of Protestantism in high school. He was attracted by its inclusiveness and focus on personal responsibility. He entered Bucharest University in 1998 with a double major in Theology and Philology. Through his role as a Sunday school teacher, Florin encouraged young people to view society from a Christian perspective. He noted that the Roma children would replace Romani words with Romanian words while giving presentations even though they knew the word in Romanes. Students would add Romanes case endings to Romanian vocabulary. Florin determined that the children were ashamed to speak Romanes in front of non-Roma peers. During his sophomore year of university Florin contacted Romani CRISS, a human rights NGO. Florin became a trainee in the Intrinsic programme. Nicolae Gheorghe, founder of Romani CRISS, encouraged Florin to promote Roma culture and language as a means to building self-esteem and identity. Florin elaborated a proposal aimed at promoting Roma culture, including the Romani language for the next generation. Florin invited elders to speak of Romanipen and brought a Romani choir to the church. He also staged theater productions in the Romani language. Within a year the Sunday school students were speaking Romanes in public and demonstrating pride in their Roma ethnicity.
In 2001 Florin left Romania as a participant in a leadership and project management programme organized in five European countries by the Pakiv European Roma Fund. After completing the training, Florin became Romanian coordinator of Pakiv in 2002. Pakiv, an organization founded by Nicolae Gheorghe, is a Romani word implying loyalty, honesty, and fiduciary responsibility. Pakiv was originally built on these values so important to Roma people everywhere. Florin resigned from Pakiv in 2004 amid a power struggle among the leadership.
In 2005, Florin was accepted into the Roma Access Program at CEU. In 2006, he returned to Romania and became Romanian facilitator of the Roma Education Funds from 2006-2010. Concurrently, he finished an MA in Strategic Management and Social Development at the University of Bucharest, and in 2008, a second MA through the auspices of the OSF at the Metropolitan University of London in Social Development Practice. In 2014, Florin completed his Ph.D. in political science at the University of Bucharest.
Florin attempted to establish a Romanian REF with its own structural funds and a budget of 13 million Euros. He worked with Cristian Mihilache to set up after school programmes in fifty schools with over two thousand children involved. The EU cited the programme as Best Practice. REF provided a loan, but it was not sufficient to cover all expenses. The Romanian Ministry of Education was late in providing reimbursements. As a result, REF withdrew their support.
Florin has learned several strategic lessons from his experience with NGOs. "Many organizations arrive with promises for the short term and leave the community in worse shape than it was when they arrived. That is why I believe in empowerment: Be Active! Be Responsible! Be Involved! Look to the long term. View communities as partners, not clients. Invest in structural change not surface improvements."
The Roma Cultural Center O Del Amenca was founded by Romani CRISS in 2001 and originally received funding from the Open Society Foundation. Currently it is in partnership with the Mathias Association to provide early childhood educational services. Funding comes from EEA grants and the Norwegian Funds. "I am invested in producing measurable change in towns like Jilava, Sineşti and my home town, Feteşti, by working with grass roots organizations and local communities. To the greatest extent possible, I would like to do this without reliance on outside funding."
"My dream? To see my two children grow up at peace with their identity as Christians and Roma."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Mr. Ciprian Necula is a State Secretary in the Ministry of European Union Funds representing the Romanian Government at the national level. He is responsible for all human capital projects in Romania including scholarships, grants, and fellowships. At first, Mr. Necula only administered funds allocated to Roma and other vulnerable populations. His current position encompasses allocation of funds intended for all Romanian citizens.
In 2015, former Romanian Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, gave a speech concerning poverty in Romania. "I realized that the Prime Minister did not understand the full extent of the problem. He did not seem to be aware that children without birth certificates could not attend school and that Roma children were the minority group most likely to be affected by this regulation." Ciprian Necula pointed out the contradiction to the Prime Minister, and Mr. Ponta responded by offering him a position as State Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Necula refused. He was next offered a Ministry of Labour position, but again refused. He felt he could not work with the Minister of Labour because she denied the existence of racism in Romania. His role as State Secretary in charge of EU funds has reaffirmed Ciprian's commitment to Roma activism by allowing him to become more of a power broker on a national scale.
"The Roma have always been defined by the majority community as 'the other'." As a child, living in an apartment block in Central Bucharest, Ciprian remembers his mother warning him that he might be called a 'Gypsy' at school. Although his mother and father separated when he was three, Ciprian's aunt, uncle and grandparents all lived in the same block. His grandfather, Ivanciu, was a blacksmith during communist times. The communists promoted him because of his skills and moved the family from the town of Călăraşi to Bucharest. His grandfather transferred his skills to fixing cars, and taught Ciprian basic mechanics.
Although the district was gang infested, Ciprian Necula considers himself lucky to have grown up in Bucharest in post communist times with access to culture, music, social life and education. "I especially remember when bananas appeared for the first time in Romania." At thirteen, Ciprian applied to a vocational school intending to train as a car mechanic or a policeman. However his mother played a trick on him. He actually took the proficiency test for high school. He attended a prestigious polytechnic high school as one of only two Roma students at the school. One lunch break, Ciprian saw some Romanian boys shoplifting. He realized that if he had agreed to accompany them, he would have been blamed for the crime because he was Roma.
The school counselor advised Ciprian to attend university. His aunt supported this move. Ciprian began in the college of social work, but found it not to his liking and switched to political science at the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration.
In the 1990s, after the Romanian Revolution, discriminatory acts toward Roma became increasingly frequent. Under communism, overt racism against minorities was punished, but prejudice was always just under the surface. Ciprian Necula was deeply affected by the racism he saw all around him. At eighteen he joined a Roma political party and took part in a series of creative protests in front of the Austrian Embassy. The protestors recreated a Roma slave market on the exact spot where an actual slave market had existed two hundred years earlier.
In 1998, Ciprian met Nicolae Gheorghe, the founder of the NGO Romani CRISS. Nicolae became his mentor at Romani CRISS. Ciprian wrote for the journal Romani Lil and through a network of journalists was able to promote the work of Romani CRISS. From 2003 to 2007, Ciprian worked with the NGO The Media Monitoring Agency. He started a department to work on anti-discrimination initiatives. One of the most successful was a programme on National TV, Identities. Ciprian Necula worked in conjunction with Necolae Gheorghe on a number of campaigns to stamp out Anti Roma discrimination in former communist block countries.
In 2008, Ciprian Necula became a consultant with the Romanian Government's SPER Stop Prejudice against Roma intiative. This campaign looked good on paper, but produced little real change. Mr. Necula has put forward the idea of the NGO Roma Butik as a way to show case Romani culture and crafts. However he believes that the NGO model is not the most effective means to address the overall income gap between majority and Roma minority communities in Romania.
"Discrimination is context specific." Ciprian Necula's dissertation for his 2014 Ph.D. in sociology is entitled Ethnicity and Economic Strategies toward Roma during Communism. Of great interest to Mr. Necula are the differences and yet common threads that link pre-1989 Romania with the present day. During communist times there was both a formal and an informal economy. Communist authorities tolerated Roma involvement in the informal economy as long as they settled and became part of the proletariat. The communists did not tolerate nomadic Roma. Informers in Roma communities would report nomads or semi-nomads in exchange for protection and influence. Nowadays, there is a common belief among Romanians that Romania is a post racist nation. Yet anti Roma prejudice persists; Ciprian's own daughter has experienced it at school. The criteria for discrimination may have changed, but the attitude that Roma are lazy and undisciplined in engrained.
"Our goals for the twenty-first century require our selecting potential models to best represent the Roma as a transnational people as Nicolae Gheorghe envisioned. Immediate needs are grass root items: ID cards, birth certificates, titles and deeds to property. Above all, Roma participation in all aspects of society, fully engaged citizens. There are eight hundred million Euros earmarked for the Romanian Roma in EU funds, with funding decisions that will be in effect for the next seven years."
Ciprian Necula, as State Secretary, has the capability to design and fund programmes based on observable need, "to transform this institution into an effective agent for change". Ciprian Necula is a trailblazer. A champion of unwavering commitment to sustainable outcomes. A role model for all Romanians.
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Larisa Posirca is currently an assistant manager at Romani CRISS. She has been involved in projects such as A Good Start, an early childhood education incentive for the Roma community of Glina, and Netrangers , a project which enlists teenagers in the effort to combat hate speech. Both initiatives were funded through EEA grants.
Larisa and her sister, Alina, were raised in Bucharest by their mother, an elementary school teacher. Larisa received a BA in communication and public relations from the National University of Political and Administrative Studies, Bucharest in 2008. She earned her first MA in social economy from West University, Timişoara in 2012 and her second MA in public procurement, concessions, and partnership between private and public sectors, from the Law University of Bucharest in 2015.
Prior to Romani CRISS, Larisa worked two years for a PR firm Best Learn Consulting Romania as a public relations specialist. From 2009-2010, Larisa was a PR Coordinator with the Roma women's association, For Our Children. She created and managed PR for their project, "Equality through difference: Roma women's access to the labour market," funded with European Social Funds.
Larisa contributed to the March 2016 RomaRising Romania project as a coordinator and interpreter.
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
The artist, Eugen Raportoru, is the youngest son of eight siblings, born and raised in Bucharest during the communist period. His mother is Roma, of Lautari background; his father was a Romanian of Greek origin. His maternal grand parents were Serbian Roma, who worked in the silver mines. "From them, I believe, I gained my appreciation of beauty, and the skill to create 'diamonds out of dross'." Eugen met his wife when he was eighteen. At first his mother was not in favour of the relationship, but Eugen won her over and has now been married for thirty-six years. "My paintings are my children."
Eugen Raportoru met his art mentor, Corneliu Baba while still in his early teens. Initially condemned by the Soviets as a 'formalist' painter, by the 1970s Baba had made his peace with the communist authorities and was a professor at the Institute for Fine Arts in Bucharest. Eugen first saw his work exhibited at the National Museum. "I knocked on his office door at the institute and said, -Maestro, I have seen your paintings, but you have not seen mine." Eugen attended the Nicolae Tonitza Visual Arts High School in Bucharest, but it took him a long time to graduate. The high school expelled him. "At the time I didn't understand why. I spoke Romanian and did not admit to being Roma." Nonetheless he was the only student of Roma background amidst Romanian students from upper middle class families. When Eugen was expelled, Corneliu Baba abandoned him because Baba could not afford to lose communist protection.
For many years Raportoru was a 'Sunday painter.' He held down several jobs, and treated art as a hobby. Then in 2002, at age forty, he decided to rebuild his life. "I gave up my jobs, entered the National University for the Arts, and determined to forge a career as an artist." For several years he almost starved. After graduating in 2006, Eugen devoted himself fulltime to his art.
"Painting means colour — it doesn't matter what the subject — colour is key." Eugen made a promise to himself to explore the chromatic scale in order to transmit the emotions he feels as he paints. He sees himself as an abstract expressionist in the mode of the American painter, Jackson Pollock. "A lot of people have suggested themes for my art. I am stubborn. I enjoy painting the urban landscape. Cityscapes interest me most." Raportoru paints in oil, pen and ink, watercolours — pouring into each work emotional energy and gestural intensity. "I don't like to complete a work, to have a perfect painting; I always leave room for adaptation and improvisation."
At first, Raportoru confesses, he felt like an amateur. After finishing his studies in his forties, he felt that he was, at last, launching his professional career. Ten years later, Eugen Raportoru has exhibited at Simeza Art Gallery and the Romanian Parliament. The Romanian government financed an initiative through the National Centre for Roma Culture to create a photo album of his artwork. He considers this to be national recognition of his talent. Recently, Eugen Raportoru's art was featured in the Revista de Arte: Issue number 19, 2016.
"And yet," says Mr. Raportoru, "I always feel that my latest work is the best. That is what keeps me painting."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Iulius Rostas grew up in Bistriţa in Northern Transylvania, Romania. His mother's family was from a formerly German village whose Jewish inhabitants were exterminated during WWII. His father's family are Roma from North Western Romania who had connections with the Hapsburg Empire but are Romanian, not Hungarian. The family was poor when Iulius was a boy; both his mother and father had been married before, yet they united around their children.
Iulius graduated from one of the best high schools in Romania with a focus on math and physics. Iulius was admitted to Babeş-Bolyai University of Cluj in 1992 and achieved a BA in political science. "My friends at university, both Roma and non-Roma, were an exceptional group. Some were already involved in national politics at a young age." After graduation, he moved to Bucharest where he began work in the Department for the Protection of National Minorities. In 1997, Iulius was selected to head up a national office in Roma Affairs. He also edited a political science journal writing articles on school desegregation issues.
In 2000, Iulius came to Budapest to do an MA in Human Rights at Central European University (CEU). He stayed on in Budapest working first as an International Advocacy Coordinator for the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and then as the Deputy Director of Roma Initiatives with the Open Society Institute (OSI). He is currently Chair of Romani Studies at CEU. He lives in Budapest with his wife and daughter.
"Perhaps my most important contribution to date, is the text I edited in 2012, Ten Years After: A History of Roma School Desegregation in Central and Eastern Europe. This work details attempts at school desegregation in Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. A key point of contention is the legal definition of school segregation in Romania and elsewhere. The book documents efforts to end school segregation in these countries and the means by which claims were researched and brought to national and international attention. Major human rights activists were interviewed for the publication including: Rumyan Russinov-Bulgaria, Gwendolyn Albert-Czech Republic, Victória Mohácsi-Hungary, Costel Bercus-Romania, and Klára Orgovánova-Slovakia.
In Central and Eastern Europe majority Roma schools are not funded by national educational systems at the same level as mainstream schools. There are few opportunities for Roma students to study in their home language, Romanes. In some countries, Hungary in particular, Roma are deemed special students not able to integrate. "There is a societal attitude that the purpose of schooling for Roma children is to get rid of their 'Gypsyness.'" With reason then do Roma parents in Central and Eastern Europe "worry that their children will be bullied if they attend school."
"The position of chair of Romani studies comes with high expectations. CEU does not view Romani Studies as an isolated discipline. It is my intention to build a body of knowledge about and by Roma. I aim to prepare a stratum of highly educated Roma able to lead national and international institutions to promote social change throughout society, not simply for the Roma community. The Roma in society initiative will produce high quality articles and books by scholars engaged in innovative research.
One example is an applied study of Roma mobility throughout Europe. CEU summer school programmes, workshops, journal and book talks will bring new perspectives to modern social theories such as post colonial studies and inter-sectionality as they apply to the Roma. It is my hope to bring a balanced discourse to the field of Romani studies.
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
"As a child, I used to put on shows for myself and my family. I once told a classmate that my dream was to become an actor and he said, 'Oh, but you have so many other talents.' Now I don't discuss my dreams until I have realized them."
Sorin Aurel Sandu was born in Bucharest to a working class family of four. His mother worked in a textile factory and his father was a welder. "My father was my first mentor; he taught by example. He died when he was only forty-five. When I have a difficult decision to make, I ask myself what my father would have done in that instance."
Sorin met his wife while working at Romani CRISS investigating a case of Roma in Moldova who had been harassed and beaten by local authorities. "She is the center of my world." They have a twelve-year-old daughter and a three and a half year old son. His wife speaks Romanes as her mother tongue and the children are being raised speaking both Romanian and Romanes.
Sorin Sandu graduated from the polytechnic university of Bucharest with a degree in physics and math, "but that was never my passion." Sorin decided to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming an actor. He applied to the National University of Drama and Cinema "Ion Luca Caragiale." He had to pass both an individual try out and a written exam in Romanian literature. "What helped me get in was a story I wrote about the child of the sun. A simple story, but brimming with detail." Sorin's professor later told him that his exposition brought every image to life. An early mentor was the actor, Stefan Bănica Jr. who helped get his career started.
"I am an actor. I like to sing but I'm not a professional singer. I like to write, but cannot say that I am a poet. I'd like to be a poet but I am not. A poet is a creator; a bridge between worlds-between our material world and the spiritual world / the dream world."
Sorin's current production, BLOPII is playing at the prestigious Tudor Vianu Giurgiu Theatre in Bucharest. He describes the piece as "synonymous with innocence, youth, and joy." Sorin also hosts a nationally televised weekly TV show I was also born in Romania, with co-host Zita Moldavan. This weekend magazine features Roma and Non-Roma from all walks of life, contributors to the Roma community at a local, national or international level.
In 2010, Sorin appeared in a Romani language production of "A Stormy Night" co-starring Zita Moldavan at the Theatre Masca. "What I must do is to build Romani language theatre here in Romania. This would give voice to the profundity of the Roma soul. We need written work; tangible products; a chance to express who we are in the context of the world's cultural dialogue."
Sorin also plans to publish a book of his poetry in Romanes. "I am lucky to have been born a Roma in this time period because I feel the ancient verses in my veins and the multitude of extended Roma families across our global community speaking through me from the time we left God's country up to now. "
"Accomplishment for an actor is creating a sense of joy. That is my role."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
"Last night I tried something new; I asked my sound person to record my voice and then created a small piece of performance art as a visual overlay. You can lie with your words, but not with your art."
Actor, Alina Şerban, cites innovative Polish theatre director, Jerzy Grotowsky, as a key influence in constructing her one-woman theatre. Grotowsky's Poor Theatre model strips theatre productions down to their essence. Alina's latest project, Untold Stories (Poveşti Nespuse), aims to reclaim the diversity of Roma history and culture. "When the only perspective available is that of the majority culture, when Roma are never given the opportunity to speak for themselves..."
When Alina was eight, the Şerban family lost their home in the Dristor neighbourhood of Bucharest. Her teenage years were spent with her father's relatives in the middle class neighborhood of Tei, Bucharest. At seventeen, Alina was placed in the Romanian child support system; she declared herself an emancipated minor. Rather than going to live with another set of relatives, Alina decided to go out on her own. Alina Şerban graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England.
"...the tendency to define people of colour rather than allowing them to speak for themselves — Who knows the rules for being Roma? Does going to university make you not a real Roma?"
Untold Stories presents traditional Roma stories and fairytales. The project is backed by Norwegian Funds, EEA grants, the Romani Botiq and the Romanian government. The stories have been performed at the Romanian Cultural Institute supported by the Tara Arts Council and other venues throughout Romania. In March of 2016, Alina performed Untold Stories in London. The website www.poveŞtinespuse.eu features video presentations of Untold Stories and another Alina Şerban production, The Great Shame, an account Roma slavery in Romania. Performance of The Great Shame took place in Bucharest on April 8th, The International Day of the Roma.
"My idea is to use Untold Stories as a text for educational materials promoting the theme that it's not cool to be racist." The video Seara de Basme Rome, (An Evening of Romani Folktales) was filmed at an elementary school in Bucharest. Alina invited a Roma elder, Auntie Veta, as storyteller. Although recounted in Romanian, Auntie Veta conveys the intrigue and humour of the stories with facial expressions and gestures that make the tales accessible to all. One notes the rapt attention of the children in the audience, "some children had read the stories and asked that particular passages be dedicated to them."
"The complexities and nuances of defining and redefining who we are as human beings — that is what most interests me."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Corina Stanciu is a second year resident in Oncology. She studied medicine at Carol Davila Medical University, the highest rated medical training facility in Romania. Corina entered the programme as a regular student that is, not on a Roma scholarship. In 2012, Corina was selected as student of the year in medicine. " I chose oncology because of the prevalence of cancer in Romania. Lung cancer is the chief killer of both men and women. Cancer treatment is expensive and public hospitals not well funded, prevention is not emphasized. Cigarettes carry warning labels about the health risks of smoking, yet laws are not in place to ban smoking in public spaces. Likewise screening for treatable cancers is not occurring early enough. "
Corina's family comes from the city of Ploieşti about 60 km north of Bucharest. Her father's family is Roma. Her grandfather played accordion with a Roma band. Her father was able to finish university and become a uranium engineer with a national agency during communist times. After the fall of the communist regime, discrimination began again. "Under communism Roma were not recognized as Roma; they were just one more social class. This is how we became invisible to ourselves, not just to society." Corina's mother is a maintenance worker in a medical facility. Corina's younger sister, who works in the IT field, refuses to acknowledge her Roma identity.
"I would say that the bad experiences I had with the Romanian health care system as a child impelled me to pursue this career. "I was hospitalized with an infectious disease at about age six. I saw Roma children tied to their beds. Their families may not have been able to visit because of a lack of resources; they were completely alone."
"During my clinical rotations I have heard discriminatory remarks made by physicians, educated professionals. This is completely unacceptable. Lack of equal access to health care is tantamount to an attack on specific ethnic groups. Change can only happen step by step, through colleagues, through acting as a role model. "
Corina has had hands on experience in several countries. In 2011, she was part of an ERASMUS Mundus fellowship in Guadalajara, Mexico. In 2012, she spent six months with the Roma Mission in Marseille through the auspices of Médecins du Monde. "This was the most powerful experience of my training. I saw Roma existing in pitiful situations-children playing with a rat the size of a cat. The police followed the doctors to discover the location of Roma settlements. A campaign organized by a French human rights organization to vaccinate Roma children failed because Roma parents believed it was an attempt by French authorities to kill their children."
"My most important accomplishment to date is that I am a doctor. When I get up to go to work in the morning, I am going to the hospital and that means so much to me. I am proud to be part of the Roma Medical Health Care Programme sponsored by the Roma Education Fund. My long-term goal is to become a world-renowned oncologist. This is a medical specialty with some of the greatest challenges because you are frequently treating the terminally ill. I wish to bring a holistic, team-based approach to the practice of oncology in Romania. I am not a Roma activist; I'm a doctor. I can best motivate both Roma and non-Roma by exemplifying the model of a Roma professional. "I am a Roma doctor and proud of it."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Carmen State is a Romanian National TV (TVR 1) journalist. She works on a number of nationally televised shows including several directed to the national minority communities.
Carmen was born in a village near Bucharest. After her father died when she was eleven, Carmen and her three younger brothers had to sell beer on the streets in order to meet their daily needs. "I wanted very badly to have another life. I wanted to go to school; however, my mother wanted me to stay home to help out with the boys." Carmen's determination has brought the resources she needs to help her brothers succeed. Carmen was able to complete high school only by working during the day and attending classes at night. "I found out that I was Roma at school. A classmate and I were having an argument and he called me 'Gypsy'." Back then I didn't understand the implications of being a 'Gypsy'."
In 1990, just after the Romanian revolution, Carmen met Nicolae Gheorghe, one of the founders of Romani CRISS. He asked Carmen what she could contribute to the nascent Roma activist movement. Carmen replied that she could teach the Roma to read and write academic Romanian. Gheorghe then asked if she could speak Romanes. Carmen explained that her mother had never spoken Romanes to her. Gheorghe instructed her to learn Romanes, learn to type and come back in a year. A year later Carmen came back speaking Romanes. Vasile Ionescu, founder of the magazine, Aven Amentza, asked her to translate a bilingual text (French-Romanes) into Romanian, a task she performed with ease.
In 1993, Carmen attended an international festival in Poland dedicated to the Roma community. Roma from every nation in Europe present, speaking a multitude of languages; their only common language was their maternal tongue, Romanes. Romanian National TV approached Carmen for help. They needed to translate from Romanes into Romanian. For the duration of the festival, Carmen State conducted interviews with attendees and interpreted for presenters.
In 1994, Romanian television advertised a position for a reporter who spoke Romanes. Carmen State passed the reporter exam, was hired and began work with a TV news crew interviewing people and reporting on issues and events of the day.
Carmen enjoys working for National TV. "At first I didn't know what to do with my hands, but gradually I became comfortable being in front of a camera." Nonetheless, the pervasive discrimination against the Roma minority is oppressive. Recently Carmen went shopping for perfume with a colleague. Her colleague suggested she buy a particular scent because, "It is floral and everyone knows Gypsy women like to smell like flowers; that's why they become flower sellers." The colleague seemed entirely unaware of the offensiveness of this remark. Carmen believes she must speak out against both conscious and unconscious expressions of prejudice.
"I have an opportunity to help the Roma community directly through my job and through my personal commitment." Carmen has demonstrated her commitment by welcoming a foster child into her home, "He is a Roma boy, very smart. I intend to raise my godson as a Roma who recognizes his cultural heritage and is proud to acknowledge it."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
"I have relatives who were transported to a concentration camp in Transnistria by the Nazi aligned regime of General Ion Antonescu. My aunt's husband was born on the way back to Romania from Transnistria. When they returned home, they had nothing."
"My grandparents were both speakers of Romanes. My grandfather played accordion and worked at the fire station and my grandmother was a housewife. Although both could read and write, there was no opportunity for them to continue their schooling."
"My father grew up in a small town south of Bucharest and my mother was raised in Braila. She attended a mixed ethnic school and three of her brothers attended high school. My grandparents introduced my parents to each other. They had an arranged marriage, but they loved each other. My older brother and I were born in Braila."
"The whole family moved to Bucharest after my brother began studying for a degree in administration. I attended high school in Bucharest and then studied law at university. My husband, Tudor, worked with the Ministry of European Funds, as advisor to the state secretary who is the National Roma Contact Point with the European Commission."
"I don't consider myself special. We are a Roma family who has had the opportunity to benefit from higher education. There are many such families but they receive scant attention by the press."
Oana decided to pursue a career as a human rights activist when she was in high school. Oana started to volunteer with NGOs at age sixteen. She worked with Save the Children Foundation and was a member of the debate team. "In any argument, I made sure my point of view was heard." Her English teacher, also of Roma background, encouraged Oana to be proud of her Roma identity. When a non-Roma teacher did not acknowledge April 8 (International Day of the Roma) because "there are no Roma in this class," Oana replied, "I am Roma." The teacher, somewhat chagrined, acknowledged the holiday.
After high school, Oana volunteered with Ovidiu Rom, the educational NGO founded by American Leslie Hawke. She then began working with Romani Criss, the only NGO in Romania litigating cases of abuse against Romani rights.
Oana attended Central European University in 2013. At CEU, Oana built on her field experience to establish a theoretical framework. "CEU confirmed my decision to devote my life to the support of human rights."
Oana worked with Romani Criss (The Romani Center for Social Intervention and Studies) until the end of 2015 . An example of the type of case Oana helped investigate comes from 2006, when police were accused of shooting 37 Roma with rubber bullets. The European Court of Human Rights determined in 2015 that the Romanian government had violated human rights legislation by turning a blind eye to police brutality. This is just one of over 50 such cases documented by CRISS although not all were brought before the court. Human rights violations against Roma are also perpetrated by the medical system, social service agencies, and the educational establishment.
Recently, Oana joined the European Court of Human Rights, as a case-processing lawyer: "Even if I don't work directly with the Roma communities anymore, working for the Strasbourg Court is staying as close as possible to defending human rights, which is my life passion. "
Oana's long-term goals revolve around family. "When I have a child, I want my son or daughter to be comfortable with who and what they are; not just their ethnic background, but the totality of their being."
Narrative by Mary Evelyn Porter
Simona was born and raised in the village of Petris near Bistriţa in Northern Transylvania where her parents still live. Her father is a retired carpenter and her mother a housewife. Simona and her siblings attended an integrated school and lived in a mixed neighbourhood. Only one brother remains in Romania. He is a horse trader, (geambaşi) the traditional occupation of her mother's father's family. Her other two brothers and her sister are working abroad temporarily while their families remain in Romania. "Grandfather Torotcoi was deported from Romania to Hungary during the period of German occupation in the 1940s. Roma men and women were deported from our area, but no Romanians. He was sent to a forced labour camp in the autumn. He escaped and returned to Romania in mid-winter, starving. He had been living on frozen grapes."
Simona's high grades in elementary school earned her a place at Andrei Mureşanu high school in Bistriţa, one of the best high schools in Romania. Simona participated in an affirmative action programme there for Roma high school students. She was accepted at the North University of Baia Mare (Romania) where she completed a BA in Philology- Language and Literature/ Specializing in Romanian Language and Literature with a minor in English Language and Literature.
"What a joy it was to meet other Roma students." In 2009, Simona and her fellow Roma university students formed an NGO, 'Young Roma Maramureş'. She had the opportunity to help students with their homework, provide tutoring, as well as organizing short training sessions on public speaking, essay writing, etc. "We also started going into communities, and informing Roma youngsters about affirmative action initiatives designed to increase access for Roma students to high school and university. Such outreach was crucial. I became more and more interested in the topic of Roma education and youth participation in higher education."
Simona initially learned about CEU through social media. Then she made contact with a Romanian Roma student at CEU, Crina Morteanu, who encouraged Simona to apply. Simona's parents were hesitant at first. They did not want her to live so far from home, but they saw the benefit of this opportunity to attend a major international university and agreed. "Initially, I was part of the Roma Access Program (2011-2012) and attended classes in public policy. I was then admitted to the master's program in Public Policy, where I conducted research on Roma students' participation in affirmative action initiatives for higher education and the factors which contributed to their success." Simona then had an opportunity to intern for the Roma Education Fund and co-authored an article on Roma students' choice of field of study and consequent employment prospects. Lately, she has been involved with the ERGO network focusing on a research project which identifies best practices for Roma youth employment in five countries.
Since 2010, Simona has been involved with Initiatives for Change. "I was invited to a seminar, the Peace Circle with attendees from all over the world. I overheard a Romanian woman commenting to an Afghan delegate: 'Romania is an interesting country but there are so many Roma here.' I had not been emphasizing my Roma identity until I heard that racist remark." My role, I realized, is to work to change the image of Roma in Romanian society. In 2016, I traveled to India with Initiatives for Change, another step in rediscovering my identity. "
Simona is now working on her dissertation for a Ph.D. in the School of Political Science, Public Policy, and International Relations with an emphasis on Social Inclusion in European Institutions of Higher Education. Simona has authored several publications discussing the current state of education in Romania particularly as it relates to access by Roma students to integrated schooling.
Simona has also had the opportunity to refine her skills as an educator at the national level in Romania. "Last year I had an internship in the Office of the President of Romania. While there, I had a chance to examine the role of government in education. I looked at various avenues for modifying the Romanian education system. A key lesson I learned is that change happens when there is strong and consistent advocacy for an issue. Many proposals for reform of the education system come in to the President, but during my Internship only one was brought forward on behalf of Roma students. To bring about integration of Roma in Romanian public schools, it is crucial that spokespersons present their concerns at a national level. Roma leaders may need specific input from NGOs to frame their concerns as clear and effective statements of need and proposals for remediation."
"Once I have fulfilled my immediate goal of attaining a Ph.D. from CEU, my intention is to apply to the Ministry of Education in Romania. I would like to return to Romania eventually. Despite the current distance between us, my family and I share everything. I see myself moving back home, settling down and building a life there."