On February 13th from 8:10am-8:55am, the students from the service learning group Amnesty International are hosting an event in the atrium to start conversations on a controversial topic: the Roma population in Romania.

There will be a guest speaker, Mr. Alexandru Zamfir Manea, who is a Roma professor in Phonology at the University of Bucharest.

“Mr. Manea and other professors are looking to address the issue of Roma awareness to high schools around Bucharest,” says the event’s organizer, Kyia K. “The goal of the presentation is to humanize the Roma in the minds of the students and to provide some knowledge about the history of the Roma.”

This issue goes back hundreds of years. As AISB Romanian Teacher Laura Coraci explains, “Until 150 years ago, the gypsy people–originally from India– were slaves in Romania.” She says that they were bought and sold; they have a history of abuse. Things got better during communist times, as the gypsy communities were rehabilitated and offered education, but things kind of fell apart after the revolution.

“When a population is enslaved for a long while…until they find their way, they really don’t know what to do,” Coraci continues. “They weren’t able to do their traditions–their nomadic life or crafts, singing, dancing, working with metals. They were left with nothing.”

Many members of the community left the country after the 1989 revolution, but others found themselves in dilapidated housing, without a way to make a steady income. Dire circumstances have created situations where the Romani people have often been portrayed in a negative light in the media.

“The subject of the Roma community isn’t really taboo, but rather it’s controversial,” says Amnesty member Darab A. “There are many people who just ignore the topic because they don’t like Roma people, but no one really talks about why. The main point of this presentation is to show people that you shouldn’t just believe public opinion and should get to know people before you assume things based on just their background.”

This event is just the first of many steps needed to challenge our perceptions and preconceived notions of the Roma community. Look out for posters and future guest speakers, including Member of the European Parliament Damian Drăghici, who is of Romani origin. He will be visiting AISB on March 6th as part of Romanian Week celebrations. Stay tuned for more details.