Czech Human Rights Minister Congratulates over 30 Recipients of Roma Education Fund Scholarships

More than 30 Roma university students have received their scholarships for the 2015-2016 academic year from the Roma Education Fund’s Scholarship Program. College students of all ages, coming from all over Czech Republic, had the opportunity to assemble at Hrzánský Palace in Prague and engage with fellow students and alumni, as well as representatives of Roma civil society in the Czech Republic who deal with Roma issues during a half-day debate on education, Roma identity and the portrayal of Roma in the Czech media.

On Friday, December 11, the annual forum to celebrate the awarding of scholarships to Romani college students took place in Prague. For the 2015/2016 academic year, 34 students received scholarships from the Budapest-based Roma Education Fund (REF).

Among the panelists who addressed the students were Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier, David Beňák of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs, and former legislator and current psychologist Monika Mihaličková. The master of ceremonies was Czech Television moderator Richard Samko.

"We are no better than the Romani people who do not have this opportunity, we are not exceptional. Anyone from the community can be like me and you - all it takes is getting a chance, an opportunity," REF representative Beáta Oláhová told the gathering.

"I would like to tell the students to stay the course. College studies are primarily about staying the course - for that reason, in my opinion, college graduates are valued on the labor market, because the degree testifies to the fact that when someone begins something, he or she will carry it through to the end. It is terribly important to believe in yourself, not to be ashamed of what you don't yet know how to do, and not to be afraid to make mistakes, because mistakes are how people learn," said Yveta Kenety, who coordinates the scholarship program in the Czech Republic for the ROMEA organization.

Among this year's successful scholarship recipients who attended the gathering was Jana Hejkrlíková, a student of contemporary history. "My immediate plan is to pass my state examinations. Then I would like to become a doctoral student," she told news server

Hejkrlíková's favorite subject is Tibet during the Maoist era and she has been participating in the scholarship program since she began her Bachelor's studies. Then in the technical field, for example, there is scholarship recipient Štěpán Mišurec, a student of architecture and urbanism at the Technical University in Liberec.

"Currently I am involved in a project for a resort on Black Mountain in the Krkonoše. There is a devastated facility up there that belonged to the Sokol organization. My project this semester is to design a new building to replace it," Mišurec said.

Magda Gáborová, a student at the Medical School in Ústí nad Labem, is specializing in ergotherapy, and as a rehabilitation worker has decided to complete her education as a mature student. "I have a beautiful feeling from today's meeting, mainly when I see our Romani students here, the interest they are taking in education, it's motivating. I frequently tell our people, mainly the young ones - 'Go study, make something of yourselves'. I am drawing on these examples of Romani college students in different fields here at this meeting and then I will tell the youth I know something about them," she explained to news server

The day included two seminars held during the afternoon; at the first, Romani identity was discussed and students debated with Lukáš Daněk, the Czech Republic's champion skateboarder, with former scholarship recipient Denisa Horváthová, and with a teacher at the High School for Hotel Industry Services and Pedagogy in Litoměřice, Lukáš Kováč, another former scholarship recipient whose students also catered the meeting. "Currently I don't have the feeling that anyone considers me to be anything other than a standard teacher. If there are some sort of stereotypical convictions being held about me, then that's happening behind my back, and even if they were negative stereotypes I'd still ignore them, I don't think anything of it. You, too, must do that and carry on, because if that brings you down, if it breaks you, you will not develop further," Kováč told the students.

During the second seminar there was a discussion of the media reporting in the Czech Republic about Romani people that is neither objective nor truthful. A political scientist from South Bohemian University, Salim Murad, and Romani media workers all contributed their experiences and opinions to the seminar, including Patrik Banga and Richard Samko of Czech Television and Tomáš Bystrý and Iveta Demeterová of Czech Radio.

A total of 57 students in Bachelors and Masters programs applied for REF scholarships for the 2015/2016 academic year. The National Selection Commission, together with REF representatives, evaluated who met the criteria and awarded the scholarship this year to 34 students total.

Applicants had to prove not just that they had achieved good academic results, but that they are motivated to study and willing to aid others inside their communities. The fields of study favored by Romani scholarship applicants continue to be those of education and social work, but economics, law, medicine and technical fields are also favored.

A gallery of the event can be found here.

Note: this article was reprinted with permission of Romea o.p.s. and originally appeared here.