We all come from God

Eva RidajováJuly 2000Nové Strasecí
I attend distance studies at the Secondary Social and Legal School of the Evangelical Academy in Prague. I have finished my third year. The program runs for five years.
In 1977, with the assistance of the Rajko Djuric Foundation, George Soros, and the Open Society Fund in Prague, this school opened the very first class for Romany people. Adult Romanies attend this class, and their average age is about thirty-seven. Some are the breadwinners of their families.
One day the class elected me to represent them as a member of the school board. I was to present several requests at the school staff meeting, including one for a term of study abroad. The teachers responded by saying that the students should provide for their own foreign study.
About three days after the staff meeting, I had a call from Professor Zuzana Havrdová, then director of the Kopra Association. She said: "I have an offer for you: you could go together with three members of Kopra to a conference of community workers in Holland. It would be a unique opportunity to establish some foreign contacts.” I did not hesitate, saying that if there were no problems, I would certainly like to go. I talked it over with my husband. After discussing all the pros and cons with me, he said to me: “You must go. It’s worth it. You are capable, you can manage. If you fail, it will do you no harm.” I was glad he said that. I realized I could not go there without his support and understanding.
I talked about it at school as well. Some classmates advised me not to go. They said it would not be worth it, that I would be tired and so on. On the other hand, others encouraged me: “You should go and not to give up. You will speak on our behalf.” quite That convinced me: I considered it my mission and I did not want to disappoint them.
I began preparing. I asked my classmates to help me draft a speech. Not that I would not be able to do it myself, but I wanted it to be our common work. Each had an idea, which I later presented at the conference. After all this preparation, I waited impatiently.
The four of us women arrived there at about six p.m. after a twelve-hour journey by car: there had been no problems on the way. We checked into our hotel in Arnhem, Holland, and were welcomed and given instructions for the program on Friday. When we went to bed, I couldn’t go to sleep. My mind was on my speech. I was feeling nervous, and wanted it to be over.
As the hour for my presentation approached, my nerves got worse! But at last it was time. Magda, my English interpreter, said: “Let’s go! Be brave and show them. It’ll be fine.” We sat down at the front table. I looked around and saw two hundred people all looking at me; I drew a deep breath and started speaking. At the very beginning I apologised for being so nervous because it was my very first public speech. The audience immediately started clapping. It was so good; I could feel they were with me. My fears started to diminish, and eventually they had disappeared. When I was talking about the forty years of totalitarianism and ESN schools, I had a feeling that everyone there sympathized with the injustice that had been done to the Romany people.
In conclusion I recalled a Romany proverb: “Manusale, kamas jekh avres, sem savore samle – Devlestar.” – “People, we all come from God, so let’s love one another!” As soon as Magda interpreted that, I knew I had captured their hearts. Long applause followed. I was overwhelmed, my mind was full of various thoughts, and I wished that my class could be with me to experience the wonderful atmosphere. It was a marvelous experience.
I had been worried about whether any discussion would take place, because I had been allotted twenty minutes for discussion. There was a shower of questions about Czech Roma. Of course they had questions about racism and discrimination, but they also wanted to know whether the preliminary school year which was introduced recently made any sense, and what chances the young Roma would have after completing an ESN school or elementary school. They were surprised to learn we have Romany books and authors. There were many questions, but I believe I answered well.
After it was over many people came to me to thank me in person. They liked it and found it very interesting. Some Russian ladies even gave me a gift for my three daughters. It was all quite demanding, first the nerves, then the joy.
Some people wanted to talk about the Romany people after dinner. I was glad that spontaneous entertainment started and we were able to break away because all the interpreting made Magda’s tongue sore. People were singing and dancing. One Dutch man was playing the concertina. Later they came over to me: “Eva, a Gypsy song!”, they were shouting and clapping. I turned red, but my friends gave me a push: “Eva, sing a song. We’ll help you, otherwise you’d offend them. It’s a big day for you and it’s an honour that they want a Gypsy song.” What could I do? I started singing. People joined in and wanted to hear more.
It was an unforgettable night. I made several foreign contacts that night.
Later I again found it difficult to fall asleep. I had the whole day before my eyes. But when sleep finally came, I was overwhelmed with happiness.

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