Students From Western Slovakia Visited Roma Settlements

Hearty, edifying and inspiring were three days at the beginning of October for the students of United School at Mokrohájska Street in Bratislava and for five Roma students and their teachers from Primary School in Plavecký Štvrtok. Both groups were invited to visit our localities as part of the project Community On Its Way to Prosperity.

United School at Mokrohájska Street provides education to physically challenged young students and is extraordinary in its integrated approach and outstanding achievements. Many of their former students have become lawyers, teachers or engineers. Students from Plavecký Štvrtok attend the ninth grade of Primary School, in which they are deciding their future path.

The aim of the educational event was to raise the awareness of the life in marginalized Roma communities among the students and find ways to mutual understanding and tolerance.

The first stop was the Community Centre in Rankovce, after which the guests took a walk in the former spa park in Herľany.  After dinner, visitors from Bratislava and Spišský Štvrtok, together with students visiting our Community Centre in Rankovce, went so see the performance of Theater Portal called The Proud Princess.

On the second day, the guests were joined by the girls attending the Community Centre in Košice-Šaca and its leader Jarka. Common creative activities involving making rubber band bracelets and decorating jewel boxes served as excellent icebreakers during which the children could get to know each other.

The next part of the program was something completely different – it was a visit of a Roma settlement, where people live in very harsh conditions. Astonishment could be read from people´s faces, but also sadness and sympathy with the settlement inhabitants and their living conditions. Much more cheerful was the visit of the city of Košice, where we took a tour of the historic center and later made an excursion to the technical entertainment center Steel Park, where more than fifty exhibits from metallurgy, physics, chemistry and geology can be found. After a short break and refreshment, the group moved to Steel Arena to see a hockey match of the Champions League. At the end of a hard but very enriching day, we had a dinner at a pizzeria.

On the last, third, day we visited the Community Centre in Moldava nad Bodvou. The initial concerns disappeared the moment the Community Centre Leader Irma and volunteer Igor greeted us. The fear of the unknown was replaced with a sincere interest in everyday life and problems of the people in the settlement. The discussion was lively and Irma with Igor openly answered all questions.

For the entire time of the visit, music played by the band Chalani z chatrče sounded from the Community Centre. Besides guitars, the musicians had prepared also keyboards. Boys from Plavecký Štvrtok knew the instrument was prepared for them and joined in without hesitation. The language of music proved to be truly universal; the musicians from Moldava and Plavecký Štvrtok sounded great together in spite of the fact they saw each other for the first time. The portable office of the Community Centre was soon full of visitors to whom Irma introduced the variety of activities that are filling this small space day by day. “This is the space for the people to develop their talents“, says Irma. At the time of the visit, the youngest children were just in the middle of their pre-school preparation. For a while they stopped to recite the poems that Irma and her assistant Margitka had taught them.

A couple of songs played together, a common lunch and a group photo taken signaled the three-day trip was drawing to a close. The exchange has brought a different perspective for the guests from Bratislava and Plavecký Štvrtok. We were all reminded of the importance of the values of understanding and tolerance.