Roma and Serbian children share their realities through a camera lens
Serbia: Roma and Serbian children share their realities through a camera lens (By Ruth Ansah Ayisi)
Fourteen-year-old Branislav Jasarevic does not choose to photograph the spectacular mountains surrounding his town, but instead focuses on the dire poverty of a Roma family living in his neighbourhood.
They live in Pirot, one of the largest municipalities in south-east Serbia. Branislav squats down to the height of the young children who dressed in worn-out clothes stand in the doorway of their small home. “The family has no conditions for proper living,” says Branislav, the deep dimples that light up his face vanish as he is clearly moved by what he sees. There is no running water or electricity in the home.
Entering their home, Branislav adjusts the curtains to allow light to cut through one of the two sparsely-furnished rooms which have to accommodate the parents and their five children.He looks like he has been taking photographs for years, but Branislav has not had a camera before and is just putting into practice tips that international photographer Giacomo Pirozzi offers during a five-day workshop in May , organised by UNICEF and supported by Sony.
“The photo needs to be as simple as possible so that it touches your heart,” Pirozzi told the participants, aged 11-18 years, who are from Roma and Serbian backgrounds. Fourteen of the 19 participants are girls .
The children have divided themselves into four groups and chose themes they want to cover. Following Pirozzi’s advice, Branislav interviews the family so that he can write captions for his photographs.
On the first day of the workshop, as he imparted the tips, Pirozzi showed the children photographs that he took all over the world. He asked the children’s views on the images that highlight cultural diversity as well as challenges, including war, HIV/AIDS and hunger. “By showing them these images, they can also appreciate other people’s experiences,” says Pirozzi. Kristijan Memisevic, one of the participants, agrees saying “I didn’t realise photography could be so powerful.”
Pirozzi has facilitated over 30 child photography workshops around the world; this one is part of a UNICEF project EYE SEE carried out in partnership with Sony, the first held in Europe. Jadranka Milanovic, UNICEF communication officer in Serbia, points out that the workshop "gives a diverse group of children, including Roma who are amongst the most vulnerable and excluded, a chance to exercise their right to communicate and participate in the development of an intercultural society”.
The children’s photographs was exhibited first in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, and then will travel to seven municipalities in south and east Serbia, including in Pirot, where UNICEF, in cooperation with local authorities and civil society, is modelling community centres in deprived Roma communities, to be a point of support and to provide innovative services to children, adolescents and their families. All centres have identified education as a priority focus of their programmes.
The Roma are one of Serbia’s most marginalised groups with almost 50 per cent of them living in poverty, most in informal settlements. Although in 2009 the government put in place an inclusive education policy, school completion is still low at just 63 per cent of primary age children in Roma settlements.
“To facilitate inclusion of Roma children and adolescents, UNICEF in Serbia focuses on identifying and analysing the barriers for inclusion and on developing methods to overcome them. The results so far are favorable: a higher level of inclusion of Roma children has been achieved, which the child photo workshop well demonstrated through the participation of both Roma and non-Roma children,“ says UNICEF Serbia Area Representative Judita Reichenberg.
Some 150 children and youth from both the Serbian and the Roma community enjoy a range of activities in the Pirot community centre. There are plans to start a photography club after the workshop, using the cameras donated by Sony. They also plan to have open theatre sessions, which through role play and debate tackle topical issues such as discrimination.
Zorana Djordjevic, 13, a participant at the workshop, has benefitted from educational support at the community centre. “I used to go every evening to the centre to get help with my homework. Now I am doing very well at school,” she says.When asked about their experience in school, some of the Roma children at the workshop say that they sometimes get bullied or teased. Branislav says with pride, “I am a Roma child. I am too popular for people to discriminate against me, but I know Roma children who do suffer. Our photos can make people realise it is no good to discriminate.” He pauses and then adds, smiling broadly, “I have just fallen in love with photography.”