Review of Activities 2000-2001 (Part Two)

E. Workshop IV: 10-11 April 2000
Participants reviewed their recent work, both within the Project and in other local community development projects.
One Romany participant from Usti nad Labem told about a dramatic change in his relationship with his father which came about because of his becoming known in his community for gathering stories in the Stories Exchange Project [See in Stories and Responses: Working "I can't get rid of him."]
With the assistance of Tomas Zizka, Director of Studio Citadela, participants then developed alternative performing versions of a story collected by a Czech member of the Project who works in Usti nad Labem for People in Need, a national Czech NGO. Participants considered the story particularly crucial, and engaged in a lengthy discussion about it after the comparative presentations.
[see Stories and Responses: Learning "She played first violin"]
The story is about cooperation between a Czech and a Romany participant in the Stories Exchange Project in persuading a Romany family to transfer a child from a so-called “special school”: one of the many schools throughout the Czech Republic for children with learning difficulties to which Romany children are assigned if they do not pass an examination which emphasizes skills in Czech language and culture.
The story also focuses on Maticni Street in Usti nad Labem, where in 1999 Czech residents built a wall between themselves and their Romany neighbors. The wall was only removed after extensive media coverage and international protests.
F. Workshop V : 19-20 June 2000
One session on the first day was devoted to an intensive review of a presentation of stories in Brno organized at Drom, a Romany social and cultural center, by the local project coordinator and the local project team.
The frank discussion of organizational difficulties helped generate new stragegies both for organizing similar events in Usti nad Labem in August and for shaping all Project activities throughout the final three months of this phase of the Project.
For example, the discussion helped us develop a new emphasis on collecting – and organizing public discussions of – stories about Project participants’ work in local community development initiatives: stories that could lead to the development of local adaptations of the Project throughout the Czech Republic
[See Stories and Responses: Working
"If we had a real table, real food…";
"These people just don't understand";
"They don't want to participate";
"This person I will talk with, that person I won't";
"You have to get up in the morning and go back and go on working with them."]
The second day of the workshop took place at Studio Citadela in Prague.
In the morning participants prepared alternative performances of a story by an Usti participant who is also an employee of a local Romany non-governmental organization about a professional crisis faced by the Local Coordinator of the Stories Exchange Project in Usti who is also one of the Romany Advisers who work in district offices of the Czech government.
[See Stories and Responses: Being a Citizen "Why people try to make decisions about other people's lives."]
The afternoon focused on development and discussion of alternative performances of a story of the Romany Holocaust told by the father of one of the participants from Ostrava
[See Stories and Responses: The Holocaust "Even though our house had been destroyed."]
Along with a 17 June site-visit to Lety, the Czech-staffed Nazi concentration camp for Roma, by the Project Director and National Project Coordinator and Cenek Ruzicka, Director of the Romany Holocaust Association of Bohemia, the discussion of these contrasting renderings of a sensitive story informed planning for Romany-Jewish cooperation in the September Stories Exchange Project workshops in Terezin.
G. New Stories
In addition to the increasing concentration on practical experience and decision-making in the participants’ work in community development projects and response to such national – and European – issues as the Romany Holocaust, participants produced many new stories which helped us focus on developing concrete responses to local problems.
Jan Horvath, a participant now living near Ostrava and an internationally recognized Romany poet, submitted a story which looks at police brutality to Roms in the context of the Czech Republic’s application for membership in the European Union
[See Stories and Responses: Being a Citizen "And we want to get into Europe?"]
In another story [see Stories and Responses: Learning "Problems should be resolved where they occur"] Horvath documented his application of his experience as a journalist to unfair treatment of his son in a new school.
Balancing these responses to abuse were two other new stories by Horvath, one on a successful effort by Roms to organize a cultural event that generated positive responses from the white majority [see Stories and responses: Meeting Others "We showed the whites that we were also human"] and another about an inter-racial friendship [see Stories and Responses: Meeting Others "Nothing can stand in the way."]
Katerina Holubova of Brno submitted a story [see Stories and Responses: Being a Citizen "But why should the others be denied entry?"] about another Romany cultural organizer taking a journalist to record a relatively minor but demoralizing human rights abuse that is standard practice throughout the Czech Republic – and is cited by a seventeen year-old Romany girl recorded by Jan Horvath’s son as one motivation for the continuing exodus of young Roma from the country, which in most cases reults in denial of entry on another, more serious, level [see Stories and Responses: Meeting Others "Are you surprised that some of us emigrate?"]
H. New Strategies
1. Prague story-collection teams
In June two new six-member teams of story-gatherers were formed in Prague, under the supervision of a new assistant to the National Project Coordinator, Sylva Lipkova.
The new teams were made up of Czechs and Roms in their twenties and thirties who live in and around Prague. Among the Roms were a law student, a businesswoman, a photographer and video-maker, a teaching assistant in a basic school and a tutor who was studying to be a teacher of German. Among the Czechs were a radio editor, a law student, a student of psychology, a teacher of Czech for foreigners, and two translators.
Stories which began to come in from the new group suggested that the distinctive imagination and energy we sought and found in these newcomers would continue to help engage diverse publics in using the Web- page and taking part in events and programs planned for September and later.
[See, for example, in Stories and Responses: Learning "She didn't give a damn about education" by David Svarc]
Three of the new participants also organized a story-gathering expedition to Slovakia, from which the majority of Roms in the Czech Republic have come and with which they continue to have close family ties. The trip to Slovakia was to include consultation and recording of interviews with participants in a project that monitors Romany living conditions in rural areas organized by the Slovak NGO infoRoma. 2. Formation of a local community development team
Working with a volunteer development consultant, Daniel Campbell of Memphis, Tennessee, the Project Director and the National Project Coordinator began to work with local Stories Exchange Project teams in Brno and Usti nad Labem to implement suggestions made at the 19-20 June workshop.
The three-member team began to focus the Brno and Usti groups on stories about their work in community development projects and to involve them as active participants in the development of proposals for the future development of the project to the Czech Donors Forum, the European Union and other potential funders.
3. Consultation with European partners In conjunction with preparations for the presentations in the United Kingdom and the development of a UK adaptation of the Stories Exchange Project, consultants from community development projects were invited to take part in later Stories Exchange Project.
London-based consultants included representatives of the Haringey Community Arts Programme, the Centre for Creative Communities, Creative Exchange, and the London Arts Board.
Patron, a new European magazine featuring articles by and about the homeless which began in London and has a circulation of 30,000 in the United Kingdom, agreed to publish stories from the Project, along with contact information.
4. European Cultural Capital 2000 program
Another Web-page Cafe 9 (www.cafe9.net) was connecting Prague and eight other members of the European Commission’s European Cultural Capital 2000 program (Brussels, Avignon, Helsinki, Bologna etc.) and organizing Internet cafes in the nine cities open to citizen initiatives. CafĂ© 9 invited the Project to organize a storytelling session at the Prague venue.
[See Performances: Prague, October 2000]