May 6th - 10th 2010
Report by Peter Zvagulis (Prague)
As a part of the SICRIE Grundtvig project, a group of us from the Czech SICRIE team based at IBTS attended the workshop in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Teams from other partner countries Bulgaria, Lithuania and, of course, from the host location Northern Ireland were all present.The participants discussed their experiences of reaching out to disadvantaged minorities and of helping them to integrate in the wider society.
The Lithuanian team shared their experience with old people and other marginalized people in the Lithuanian countryside. By documenting their life stories through photography and interviews the team tried to show the human dignity of the ostracized individuals and families, thus sensitizing the wider society to their plight.
The Bulgarian team related their experience in working with the Roma community of their country. The Roma live in segregated ghetto-like conditions and face discrimination in education, social opportunities and political rights. Because of the anti-Roma prejudice in the Bulgarian society the members of this marginalized community are considered to be unfit for proper education and unsuitable for employment. This creates a vicious cycle and makes Roma youth vulnerable to alcohol and drug abuse, and paving a way to the criminal world. The Bulgarian SICRIE group, which includes members or the Roma community, explore how individuals from the Roma community can be helped to obtain proper education and spread the message of hope among the youth. It also is working on making the wider society aware of the erroneous nature of anti-Roma prejudice.
The Prague team leader Dr. Parush Parushev introduced the three SICRIE projects in the Czech Republic:
Peter Zvagulis shared the experience of work with the refugees from Burma and cooperation with an NGO based in Prague. The refugees are of Chin ethnic minority and come from rural areas, devastated by famine and fleeing the persecutions of the military regime of Burma. Most of them have very little schooling and no professional or social skills for their new life in the Czech Republic. Their religious tradition (they are Baptists) is the only thing that connects them to the European context. As Baptists and as people with cultural adaptation experience SICRIE team members in Prauge were able to provide spiritual support and encouragement. The NGO has welcomed the idea of raising the awareness of the general public about the integration difficulties of the refugees from Burma and the reasons why they were forced to flee their country. Another group of refugees of about 40 people are expected to arrive this summer.
Vladimir Parushev shared the experiences of contributing to the Teen Challenge program. He noticed that Roma children seem to better display their learning talents when allowed and prompted to express their thoughts in emotional and creative ways. As a former professional puppet theater director he is designing a special educational project to stimulate the creative potential of the children and teaching them the basic artistic skills. The first pilot activities have shown that this activity helps to raise children’s sense of personal self-worth and open them for learning other subjects.
While every presentation was very thought-provoking, the presentation of the Belfast group had the advantage of the home environment. Every participant could appreciate the long and often frustrating peacemaking efforts in Northern Ireland and the legacy of the intra-communal tensions, which is still present in people’s memories. It was a great experience to sit in one room with the representatives of the Protestant and Catholic communities, walk with them along the Berlin-wall-like “peaceline,” and to experience the severity of the Nordic like climate, and the hospitality and warmth of the people.
Despite fighting, and winning, a major election for the UK Westminister Parliament the day before, Naomi Long, Lord Mayor of Belfast, hosted a reception for all the participants of the workshop. Addressing the SICRIE participants she quoted Psalm 116: “How I can repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?” It seems to well correspond also to the spirit of the SICRIE which is reaching out to those ostracized by prejudice. The Lord Mayor presented a replica of the Belfast coat-of-arms to the participating teams.
The next SICRIE workshop meeting will be in October in Bulgaria.