By Jay LaMonica
SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 6 August 2010 – Eldina Ismailij, 11, loves to dance. The wild rhythms of Roma dancing set her free. Last year, she won a dance competition and her picture was in the newspaper. She blushes when asked about her accomplishment, and her mother, Dzemila Bostandzija, beams with pride. The best thing about winning, said Eldina, was the prize cake.
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Eldina and her family of nine live in the ground floor apartment of a three-storey building on a hillside in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Eldina attends Džemaludin Cauševic Primary School in the Svarkino Selo area, a long tram ride from her home.
She says it can be scary sometimes in late winter afternoons, when she has to travel in the dark. On those days, Eldina calls her father to meet her at the tram stop.
While there are schools closer to Eldina’s home, she prefers this one. The school, which was rebuilt with support from UNICEF and the Danish Government after the war in the region ended, has made a special effort to reach out to Roma families such as Eldina’s.
The Roma are a minority group with their own language and customs living across Central and Eastern Europe. Members of the Roma community frequently suffer from severe discrimination in Bosnia and surrounding countries.
“It has been difficult exactly because many Roma do not go to school, they have no education or skills, and then the only thing they can do is to go around and collect garbage,” said Eldina’s mother. “Not many Roma children are going to school, and that is why they have less opportunities.”
Safe learning environment
Many schools in Bosnia still reflect the ethnic tensions that triggered the 43-month siege of Sarajevo in the mid-1990s. During that time, schools were destroyed and classes were held in basements and shelters. Today, some Bosnian schools house ‘two schools under one roof,’ with separate curricula for different ethnic groups.
Džemaludin Cauševic Primary School is exceptional as a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural institution open to all students.
One of Eldina’s favorite classes is Bosnian language. But she is also fiercely proud of her own heritage. Her school holds regular classes in Roma language and culture that students of many different backgrounds can attend.
“I go to Roma language classes because I want to learn my language,” she said. “When I go somewhere one day and meet Roma people who do not speak Bosnian, then I will be able to talk to them.”