Roma kids given rare taste of life at summer camp

10-09-2003

Children are back in school after the summer break, and for most of them the holidays are but a distant dream. One group of Roma children, however, will remember this summer with particular fondness. Thanks to a non-profit organisation called Romodrom, they spent several weeks in the countryside at a summer camp - which for some of them was their first summer holiday ever. Mark Wiedorn, an American photographer working for Romodrom, spent the summer with them, and talked about the kids and the camp with Radio Prague's David Vaughan.

Mark WiedornMark Wiedorn "We had about 26 children, aged between six and thirteen. Most of them were from what would be considered less than good circumstances, from poor families, some from broken homes. It turned out to be a great experience. It was really nice to see that some of these kids, who were really quiet for the first couple of days, really closed in, after three or four days in the sun, swimming, running around, they gradually opened up and became happier, they smiled more. It was nice to see."

Tell me about some of the things that were going on at the camp.

"I think for many of the kids it actually was a real holiday. It was almost luxurious for them, because some of these kids come from families of ten. They live in a one-bedroom apartment, they all sleep in the same room basically, and they don't have their own beds. In the camp they each had their own bed - we had between four and six kids in each cabin, and they were responsible for cleaning the cabin. It's funny - one of the big hits of the camp was American breakfast cereal. People working at the American embassy donated maybe 50 boxes of cereal to the camp. The kids had seen American breakfast cereal on TV, but had never really experienced it, and it was a big hit every morning to go get cereal and milk...Breakfast would usually be followed by the kids brushing their teeth, having a shower, and then the day's activities. Typically in the morning it would be swimming. Part of the theme of the camp was what we called an Indian summer camp, where each little team of kids gave themselves different names: the Black Devils, the Wild Ones etc, and they built little camps in the woods, with the adult supervisors. It was a lot of fun. Sometimes we had sports in the afternoons. We did a couple of excursions, once to the local castle in a town called Rabi. So there was quite a range of things."

I gather there were difficulties getting the camp set up, partly because the people who own these camps were concerned when they heard that a large group of Romany children were coming to stay. They were worried that the children would destroy the camps?

"Yes, we found that a couple of times, once people found out that it was thirty Roma children, typically from bad circumstances. Given the clichés and stereotypes here that there would be problems with stealing, or that the kids would be wild. But, you know, they're normal kids - they are wild! Kids should be wild; that's part of the fun of being at summer camp. Finally we found a place where the owner was very nice and very kind about that, and said it was no problem. And the camp was actually open to the public at the same time, there were other people there. It worked out fine in the end. But it was a little difficult, given I think what are stereotypes here in the Czech Republic about Roma and Roma children."

To find out more about Romodrom, see http://www.romodrom.org/

10-09-2003