Stories Exchange Education Project

14 December 2000New York
THE STORIES EXCHANGE EDUCATION PROJECT
The Stories Exchange Project has completed its second phase, and we are ready to bring the work to more people of all ages and different ethnic backgrounds in the Czech Republic, throughout Europe, and around the world. But especially to young people: to students in primary and secondary schools throughout the Czech Republic.
I. What We Have Done So Far
Over the course of the last year between twenty and thirty-five Romany and Czech participants have been collecting stories from Roma and Czechs in Brno, Ostrava, Usti nad Labem, and in and around Prague. We have put the stories that we have collected on the World Wide Web in both Czech and English here at
www.stories-exchange.org
[Click on "Video" to see sequences from a video documentary of the first phase of the Project, which ran in Prague and Western Bohemia from 1993 through 1995.]
In addition, during 2000 we have told our stories in public events in many places in this country and elsewhere. In Usti nad Labem, for instance, in a cafe-tent in the main square.
In London at the Czech Embassy and the Selby Centre, where immigrants and refugees from throughout Africa, Asia and Central and South America are making new homes.
In Terezin, where young Jews are learning to know and tell the world about the systematic murder of their grandmothers and grandfathers – and where we could speak with special urgency about the fact that there is still no similar memorial at Lety, where hundreds of Roma died in a Nazi internment camp administered by Czechs.
In Vienna at the Czech Centre, after joining the Czech Ambassador in placing stones on the grave of Leopold Hilsner, a Jew who was imprisoned for half his life a hundred years ago for a murder of a Christian child which he did not commit.
In Prague at the Roxy Centre where the European Union Cafe 9 program is linking the nine European Cities of Culture 2000.
Our stories are about everyday experience: about learning, working, being a citizen, meeting people of other ethnic backgrounds and developing our own identities. But they also respond to Romany traditions and larger historical developments, such as the Holocaust, that continue to have a strong impact on everyone living in the Czech Republic and in Europe.
On a second Web -page in Czech and English (http://pribehy.ecn.cz) we are asking people throughout the Czech Republic and the world to give us their suggestions about projects generated by the stories that we have collected: an Internet-based international Romany Holocaust memorial; a conference and video link between Prague and London in June 2001 about new roles for Roma in an enlarged Europe; a studio in Brno for the preservation and dissemination of Romany music and culture in Central Europe.
Many of the stories will be collected in books in Czech and English which will be distributed in the Czech Republic and throughout the world.
And we are producing a second documentary video of the Stories Exchange Project for European and global television broadcast the project. The program will begin with the workshops, discussions and performances which we organized in Terezin in September and will follow Romany and Czech storytellers and musicians back to their work in local communities.
II. What Our Stories Do
Our stories have changed many aspects of the lives of people who have come into contact with them. Some have changed their views about the societies in which they live. Others have changed their work and their plans for the future.
The stories that we have collected offer inside views of the way Roma and Czechs think about themselves and each other, and how they meet – and do not meet – each other. Each of our stories is an opportunity for a listener or a reader to step into another person’s shoes. But each story also invites us to think about how we wear our own shoes and where they are taking us.
Some of the stories allow us to experience, if only for a few minutes, the frustration of people facing walls which are only visible to them becausethey are only there for them.
Other stories tell us how all of us build walls between ourselves and other people, because we are afraid of people who are different: people we don’t know.
Still other stories tell us how we can begin to break through our walls of fear — both by knowing that we have built them and by getting to know who is on the other side.
In London, for instance, we told the story of a young Czech woman in Usti nad Labem who came to realize that she too had walls in her head. “At the party I felt very strange, ” she says. “There were just three other white people there. It was the first time I was in such a large Romany group, the first time I was a minority. I had always thought of myself as a very tolerant person. But suddenly with so many gypsies around me, prejudices and fears surfaced that I thought I didn’t have. I discovered that I too had walls in my head. But when I started to talk with Roms and got to know them better, things changed. And I realized that the real issues don’t fit into newspaper articles.”
We are more and more convinced, however, that the schools are where the real issues fit – and can be positively, constructively addressed.
III. What We Want to Do in Schools
As you can see in the “Learning” chapter of “Stories and Responses”on this page, many of our stories are about Roma facing – and overcoming – barrier after barrier in trying to get a good education for themselves and their children. But other stories are about barriers which Roma put up between their children and opportunities which do exist because they are afraid that the kids will not be accepted by Czechs.
These, we feel, are issues and experiences that should be explored in Czech schools, in open discussions and cooperation among Czech and Romany parents, administrators, teachers, assistant teachers and, above all, students.
And we feel that students – beginning with students in middle schools and high schools, but eventually including elementary schools – should have three opportunities:
 – to get to know the stories and other information here at www.stories-exchange.org;
 – to collect their own stories from Roma and Czechs, from their families, neighbors, from local businessmen and -women, from teachers, from members of community organizations;
 – to present the stories that they collect on the Internet as well as in public gatherings in their schools and communities.
We will also begin to ask two further questions:
How can classrooms throughout the Czech Republic and eventually outside the country be linked so that students can exchange stories and responses to each others’ stories?
How can the discussion forum Web- page, http://pribehy.ecn.cz be best used in schools to facilitate both on-line and live discussions of the issues raised by the stories?
And we will encourage Romany and Czech students and teachers to invite guest speakers, including successful members of minority communities and civic- minded local business leaders and politicians, to participate in both on-line and live discussions.
NOTE:
In addition to stories, this site, www.stories-exchange.org, has many other materials which can facilitate the development of new projects. These are available under “Methods,” ‘History,” “Workshops,” “Interviews” as well as “Video.”
IV. How Students Will Benefit
Under the supervision of the Prague- and Brno-based coordinators of the Stories Exchange Education Project, local coordinators in each participating city or town, and teachers and assistant teachers, Romany and Czech students themselves will be responsible for organizing storytelling and discussion sessions. They will thus gain valuable experience of computer and Internet technology, management and public relations, and inter-ethnic cooperation.
In addition, by having the option of switching easily between Czech and English in communicating with people within the country and elsewhere about issues that are central to their lives, Romany and Czech students will be motivated to advance their efforts to learn English, the international language, and to explore international educational and career opportunities that are increasingly open to citizens in nations applying for membership in the European Union.
These four fields of study and professional activity – computer literacy, international communication, public management, and majority-minority dialogue – are not often associated. We in the Stories Exchange Education Project, however, believe that they can be associated in ways that can generate innovative and pragmatic alternatives to the mutual lack of understanding between cultures that continues to threaten the future of young people in Central and Eastern Europe.
V. What You Can Do
We have already expressed our commitment to this belief in the presentations included in “New Roles for Roma in an Integrated Europe,” one of the sessions which we organized in Terezin in September and are working with the Czech Foreign Ministry and the EastWest Institute, Prague to elaborate in June 2001.
And we have opened this discussion to you at http://pribehy.ecn.cz.
But we also hope that you will help us give these explorations concrete and practical expression in the schools programs which we are now initiating.
VI. Who and Where We are
John W. Erwin PhD Director The Stories Exchange Project c/o The Fund for New Performance/Video175 West 73rd StreetNew York, New York 10023USAtel: (001) 212 501 9740email: fnpv@praguelink.org
Tomas KnaiblCoordinator for Brno and OstravaThe Stories Exchange Education Projectc/o DROM (Romany Social and Cultural Center)Bratislavska 41602 00 Brnotel: 0608 613 075email: tknaibl@hotmail.com
Gabriela SetunskaCoordinator for Prague and Usti nad LabemThe Stories Exchange Education Projecttel: (02) 31 20269mobile: 0607 266862email gabinasetunska@hotmail.com

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