I've been spending time with several gypsy communities in Romania over the last couple of weeks. Initially, the reason why I did it was because I was getting sick of seeing the same Roma stereotypes in the international media over and over again. I was just curious to see how they feel and think about the world around them, especially since in many media reports on Roma integration issues, their voice is not present. After a while, I realized that most of the times I was with them I had the feeling that I was in some sort of surreal dream, broken down in a puzzle of photographs or words which somehow made sense in reality. This made me dig even deeper.
Last week I met the Roma community in Frumusani, a village 25 km away from the capital Bucharest. Agentia Impreuna, a foundation that supports the integration and development of the Roma community, and UNICEF launched there a traditional gypsy music album. The lyrics call the Roma people to oppose begging, support their children going to school and also oppose getting their children married at early ages (traditional Roma families marry their children when they turn 12-13 years old.) During the live performance, some Roma parents were clapping their hands every now and then, when they were hearing some sensitive lyrics, which made me believe they were at least getting the messages.
The idea of using Gypsy traditional music as a tool to educate the Roma communities seemed to be an efficient one. This is where authorities are failing to integrate the Roma community -- they don't pick the right tools. They are approaching these problems in a very technocratic way, whereas for this community, they should focus more on a cultural approach, which comes only after you get in touch with the Roma people and understand their perspective. As I said in this article for The Economist some time ago, if authorities and policy makers don't give the Roma a voice before elaborating integration strategies, Europe will continue to be haunted by Romania's biggest societal problem for the foreseeable future.
That is such a shame. These beautiful gypsy children I spoke to have dreams and hopes that are not worth dying because of the murders, thieves or begging made by their older ones.