Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Our Work Is International News!!!

Our Work Is International News!!!

Who Are Gypsies, and Why Is France Deporting Them?   

Roma, on Move, Test Europe’s ‘Open Borders’

I know that there are still some of you who don’t really understand what it is that Lynn and I do.  Actually that is pretty reasonable because we don’t really talk about it in these blogs.  About a year ago, we both did one entry on our work, but that is not much.  One of the reasons is that the work arena we toil in is very large.  We are a very small insignificant part of a much larger picture.  If we focus on the small part we do, it is really hard to understand how it fits into the “big picture”.   And if we talk about the big picture, you don’t really understand how what we do fits into it.  It is kind of like seeing the vast green forests of the Appalachian Mountains from a roadside lookout without ever being able to see individual trees – let alone the branches of one tree.  

Well, international events have helped to make that very large picture a little easier to see and understand.  We first heard about the news when we were in the US for Shawn’s wedding.  Driving down from NH to Mass, there was a 15 second news clip about France sending back (deporting) thousands of ROMA to Romania and Bulgaria.  Lynn and I were surprised to hear about this European news in the states.  We were not surprised about the action!   

Both of us are 100% dedicated to working with Roma (or Gypsies as they are called – when they are not called things much worse).   We each have a vastly different perspective on this problem.  Lynn works in one of the largest Mahalas (Ghettos) in Bulgaria (or Eastern Europe).  It has 45,000 plus people in less than 2 square kilometers.  She teaches English in one elementary school which has about 500 kids in it.  Although we believe she is know in the Mahala, her sphere of influence is primarily within the school.   

I work in nine small (with less than 5,000 Bulgarian and Roma people) villages within 100Km of Plovdiv helping to provide income generation opportunities (primarily farming) to about 80 families.  Our group touches about 350 people total.  We have been developing our model for more than ten years, and we have become very successful within our limited sphere of farming families.   The funding which I helped get for my NGO this past year is a test to see if we can “franchise” our model, and put it other places in Bulgaria - - and maybe in other countries.   If we can be successful, then we can potentially impact thousands of disadvantaged Roma. 

But – right now – Lynn and I are only impacting a very small number of gypsies that are part of a vast problem throughout Eastern Europe.  This problem has spread to Western Europe since Romania and Bulgaria became members of the EU a couple of years ago.   All this brings us back to the news from France.   Deportation of European citizens who are now able to cross boarders freely should not be happening.  But one of the many results of the financial crisis is a lack of job opportunities.  The Roma went to Western Europe to find jobs.  But there are very few opportunities now.  So… they take welfare funds, or beg on the streets, or a few of them may pickpocket or rob others.  In the meantime, they build “squatters” camps in any vacant places they can find. France has decided they know how to solve this problem.   Send them back to where they came from!   I think this must be some “basic instinct” in mankind.  I believe Arizona has just passed a bill with similar intent.  But, I suppose, deportation is a much better solution than the genocides which have occurred so many times in human history. 

But just like immigration reform in the US is a complex problem, the Roma problem is even more complex.  Gypsies have been roaming throughout Europe for more than 500 years.  The hatred and bigotry has been passed down and grown from generation to generation.   Europe has developed a huge program called “Decade of Roma”.  It is a ten-year program to fix the problems.  But you can not expect to wipe out hundreds of years in in-grained learning and bias in just one decade. 

And, you can not expect the Roma to make needed changes in ten years.   The Roma cling to their culture and heritage which can be very different from the cultures in the countries they are residing.  Then, the European press (like the American press) focuses on specific events (like 11 year old girls having babies), and sensationalize it.  The rest of us then make the assumptions that “all of them are doing that!”.  And so it goes – on and on and on!    

Following are links to very good articles which do a much better job at giving you a glimpse of the bigger picture than I ever could.  One is from the New York Times, and the other from Time Magazine.  Both are considered “liberal-biased” press, but they seem to have a pretty good perspective from what I can see here with my “feet on the street”.   If you have the time, take a look at some of the other links from these articles.  And – if you really want to get a sense of things – take some extra time to read a few of the comments at the end of the articles.  During the past year,  I have found reading article comments can provide a  “unique” perspective into the emotions, bias, (and sometimes hatred) on Roma and other inflammatory issues – both in Europe and in the US.  

Lynn and I don’t have any “silver bullets” or brilliant insights to solve this problem.   We are still learning all of the aspects of the issues.  And – when we leave next August – we will probably still be learning.  But, while we continue to learn, both of us try to take small steps to have an impact on a few people.  And – who knows – maybe in another decade - or two – someone we have touched can make a substantial impact on that “big forest”. Then maybe all the trees and branches can be seen and their beauty shine through like when the autumn leaves change the drab green vistas into brilliant, vibrant pictures.  We can only hope!

Thanks for reading

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your insights on this. I had thought of you and wondering what your take on the "Roma Problem" would be. While you are probably right that the 10 year plan won't put an end to the prejudice, I can only think you are at the initial stages of what the civil rights movement was in the U.S. in the 40's & 50's. It's still a work in process, but I did recently read a somewhat encouraging report. It was a comparison of peoples degree of happiness. As comparing now to the 70's the group that had the biggest change had very little to do with a change in economic condition. It was blacks, and the reason given, was the reduction in blatant prejudice that they were/are subject to. That is, while it's far from perfect, the societal change has made their lives feel better. So it may be a few decades before your efforts will pay off, but....