The Advocacy Project Peace Fellowship sprang into my life in one beautiful, stunning moment of synchronous convergence. There is a bit of magic in all this madness. But first things first.
For my entire professional life after college, I have been an educator, working primarily with immigrant and refugee populations in my US home state of Oregon. My focus, as an immigrant myself, has been on empowering immigrant communities by teaching language and relevant, practical employment-related skills as well as history, literature and creative expression through writing and drama.
For some time now, however, I have been longing to have a broader, yet more tangible impact in the areas of racial and social justice–locally in the city of Portland and in my country of birth, the Czech Republic, which I left at the age of thirteen.
Even though I moved away from the Czech Republic as a child, I have kept a solid connection with my family, a large part of which still lives there, and with my culture. The issue that I have felt the strongest about in my original home country has always been that of discrimination against the Roma people. Why?
I am white. I have not had any close friends from the Roma community. I have never been to the home of a Roma family. But still, my heart breaks when I hear the racist comments and slurs that many Czechs, including my friends, relatives and politicians, utter. I shutter with fear when I read personal accounts of racially-motivated violence. I am dismayed and angry at the discrepancies between the conditions of most white people and those of the Roma people in Czech society. The results of a long history of institutional racism are, in many cases, blatant: inequities in education, employment, housing, health care–in short, in every sector of society.
This needs to change.
So, here is where a bit of magic comes in. Wanting to forge a deeper connection and to find a way to make a difference, I wrote up a mission statement for myself and found images–post cards, book covers, photographs– that represented the kind of work I envisioned immersing myself in to help advocate for the Roma community “back home.” I created a sort of a visual collage of these, which I displayed in my room, thereby declaring my intention to the world. This after years of keeping abreast of and occasionally blogging about the issues and the political climate in the Czech Republic.
Next, I typed in a few related key words into Google, and voile: the AP Summer Peace Fellowship with Dzeno Association in Prague popped up on top of the search list. The deadline for application was the following week. The fellowship description fit perfectly with the kind of work I was hoping for: working in conjunction with a community-based, minority-run press agency to create content to raise awareness about Roma rights issues internationally.
So, here I am, with my sleeves pulled up, ready and thrilled to do the work.
The adventure begins.
Posted By Tereza Bottman
Posted May 26th, 2010