The Roma

This is the story as it ran in the magazine my class produced. The layout of the magazine is different, but this order, in my opinion, best represents the layout. I know there are problems, I would have liked to shoot more, but overall I am happy with it in the end.

During the summer of 2010, the French government began a campaign, which consisted of the dismantling of Roma campsites, as well as the deporta- tion of Roma residents. Groups from NGOs to the European Union have criti- cized the actions of France. EU commission has threatened legal action against France for the expulsion of the Roma from their homes. Many of the 1,000 or more Roma expelled from France have been sent to Romania.

As paved roads wind into dirt streets, the town of Baneasa slowly loses the feeling of a mod- ern town as it stretches into countryside. Here, unpaved streets are filled with hand-pulled carts and horses. Baneasa, which lies 100km south west of the Black Sea city of Constanta, Romania, is home to the Roma community of Carpini.

The Roma, commonly known as Gypsies, live alongside the rest of the Romanian popula- tion, and yet their lives seem to directly contrast the lifestyles of other Romanians. Romania, which has one of the largest populations of Roma in Europe, has recently been at the center of a discussion over how the country should help improve the socio-economic status of the Roma people. The vast majority of Roma in Romania, estimated at 80 percent according to a report compiled by Roma Civic Alliance of Romania, live in poverty.

Entering Carpini, the difference between the town at large and this community is immedi- ately apparent. The majority of the homes are old and decrepit — many do not have electricity or running water. The roofs are old and do not always keep out the elements, and water still leaks through roofs from previous days’ rain.

The result of living in poverty for centuries has led to problems for Roma in areas such as education, employment, housing and health care, said Nicu Ion a member of Roma ACCESS. ACCESS is an NGO that works with Roma communities in and around Constanta. Ion himself is Roma.

Poor housing quality can lead to the growth and spread of disease, while a lack of education prevents people from finding better, more lucrative jobs. These low-paying jobs often prevent access to acceptable housing and health care.

As a result, a noticeable lack of men can bee seen in Carpini. Although some still live within the town, many have left for western European countries such as France, Germany and Spain in order to look for work. One woman complains about the roads, saying that despite having asked the mayor numerous times to make improvements, but have received no help.

For Roma living in these small communities, far from the larger cities, jobs are scarce. Mr. Ion said that this lack of jobs has driven many from their small towns to the countries of Western Europe.

“I’m not saying Roma don’t go beg on the street, but that is a small percent- age,” said Mr. Ion. “If you are Roma you face a lot of discrimination in trying to get a job.”

In a suburb of Constanta, the Bolmandir family lives among other Roma- nian families. The family is a musical one; the three brothers perform in a band and make their living this way. In some ways, the family is a traditional Roma one; however, unlike many Roma they have not isolated themselves from the rest of Romania’s population, but rather they participate in the larg- er community.

Felicia Bolmandir works in the family’s kitchen all day, preparing large dishes comprised largely of beef and pork. Even as the family sits down to eat, she continues to cook while encouraging everyone else to eat. The family all eats from a single plate, sharing everything that is set out. The men sit and smoke cigarettes, talking around the table.

Despite the family’s better economic conditions, they still face discrimination because of their ethnicity. Although they make a living from performing, the band has been refused jobs because they are Roma, Daniel Bollandir said.

Some efforts have been made by the Romanian government to help the impoverished Roma. Government programs in health care and job training have been created, and these programs work in communities to provide access to basic essential needs.

One of the more effective policies enacted in order to help Roma is the creation of health mediators. Individual Roma, hired by the state, act as liaisons between the national health services and Roma communities.

Since many Roma cannot read, the mediators help Roma with documents such as birth certificates. This service is important because illiteracy often causes many names to be misspelled on official documents, said Georgeseu Låcråmioara, a health media- tor.

As well as helping with births, Låcråmioara and other mediators work to convince Roma living in small isolated communities to come to hospitals for childbirth and medical help. “I speak magic to the family,” Låcråmioara said, in reference to talking with the families about traveling to hospitals.

Job training programs have also been developed in order to help train Roma to work. Yet in a sagging economy where jobs are difficult to come by, these programs have seen little success, Ion said.

Ion feels that to solve the problem one must attack all causes of poverty, not just one or two. He and his organization Roma ACCESS work to fight one of these problems. They work with education.

Due to the societal emphasis within Roma communities to learn a trade, as well as a lack of resources which makes afford- ing basic supplies difficult, many Roma children do not attend school. Organizations, both Romanian and international, work to provide Roma children with basic school supplies necessary for them to attend and succeed at school.

The programs developed to help improve the socio-economic conditions of the Roma people both by the government and private groups have had successes; however, public perception both in Romania and Europe as a whole still remains quite negative.

“The Roma are used by the politicians as scapegoats,” said Iulian Stoian, Public Poli- cies and Advocacy Senior Adviser for Roma Civic Alliance of Romania.

The incident in France over the summer was not the first time Roma have been ex- pelled from a country. Across Europe Roma camps have been dismantled, and oftentimes the people are sent to countries such as Ro- mania, Bulgaria and Serbia.

“It’s not about improving their image, it’s about improving the lives of the Roma,” said Ion. “That’s the key.”

That was the end of the story as written and the photos used in the magazine. Below is the photo used for the cover.


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