Margaret Swink

Margaret Swink (Dzeno Association, Czech Republic): Originally from Michigan, Margaret received her B.A. in international relations from Michigan State in 2000. Seeking a warmer climate, she joined the Peace Corps and spent the next two years teaching English and building a library in Cameroon. At the time of her fellowship, Margaret was finishing her first year of her Master’s program in International Relations at Yale University with a concentration in comparative foreign policy and human rights.

Looking toward the Future

12 Aug

My last day at Dzeno and my last blog. Altogether, it’s been a fantastic summer, despite the frustrations and challenges of living in another culture. I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to work on the Roma issue, and with such talented and committed people. Working at Dzeno has been an incredible experience for me: it’s allowed me to learn so much about the Roma, the European human rights system, and about human rights advocacy in general.

At the beginning of the summer, I questioned how much I could achieve in 10 weeks. At the end of my time here, I’m rather proud of what I have accomplished: a report for the UN that’s ready to go to the printer, 64 original articles posted on the website, and three finished grant proposals. I feel like my presence here really did have an impact and that I was able to contribute my own ideas to help make Dzeno the best it can be.

Sadly, I know also that my work is unsustainable. When I leave, Dzeno will have a hard time maintaining the same standard of English that I use, and they will be short one very needed staff person. More than that, though, it will take more than one organization to accomplish the goals that Dzeno has set out: to protect and promote Roma rights in the Czech Republic and abroad. If equal rights for Roma are to be achieved, it will have to be because the entire society agrees. This is more than the work of one generation.

I was reminded of this yesterday, when the office went down to visit a children’s camp for disadvantaged Roma youth put together by our partner organization, Romodrom. The camp takes 32 disadvantaged children, ages three to 15, to the country for four weeks, both to keep them off the streets during their summer vacation, and to provide them with positive adult Roma role models. The camp also gives the children the chance to get out of the city, commune with nature, learn to swim, and just to be kids for a while. The day we were there, the kids were involved in face painting, and performed a small play for us: the story of Achilles and Hector. These kids badly need such a positive experience, over half are orphans, and others come from terribly impoverished homes, and have few opportunities to play and relax like normal kids.

Programs like Romodrom’s are such a needed investment if the fight for Roma rights is to be successful. These children are the faces of the future for the Roma rights movement. They will be the leaders of the next generation. That’s why it’s so tragic to hear stories of Roma children being excluded from normal schools, or sent to ‘special’ schools for the mentally disabled: depriving these children of education, of stable childhoods, and of equal opportunities is just another way for the majority populations to keep the Roma impoverished forever.

No matter what we do from the outside, eventually it’s the Roma who must help themselves. Dzeno is one of the first generation of Roma organizations ever to operate on the world stage; advocating for their own rights. If the Roma are going to be equal in Europe, we have to make sure that this fight continues, and that the next generation is equipped with the tools to carry the banner, and eventually, to win.

Posted By Margaret Swink

Posted Aug 12th, 2005

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