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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Roma children in Sarajevo receive a special guest at school

© UNICEF Bosnia/Senad Gubelic
Vanessa receives a drawing from Dejan in the Roma preparatory grade.

SARAJEVO, Bosnia, 13 May 2004—When the school bell rang at Djemaludin Causavic elementary in Sarajevo this morning, there was a new and illustrious student in attendance.

UNICEF’s Special Representative for the Performing Arts, Vanessa Redgrave, was on hand for classes and a tour of this very special school.

Ms. Redgrave is in Sarajevo with UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, attending a three day conference entitled Making Europe and Central Asia fit for children. Delegates from more than 50 countries are discussing the many issues affecting nearly 300-million children across this vast region, which stretches from the Atlantic coast of Ireland to the Pacific outreaches of the Russian Federation. When UNICEF helped open the school three years ago, it became the first of its kind anywhere in Bosnia, by opening its doors to Roma children. Eight came. Today, there are eighty Roma students.

This is a model school, where Roma children – too often excluded and discriminated against – are welcomed and encouraged to attend. This is a school where the rights of all children to an education are practiced, promoted and provided without prejudice.

Initial, but significant steps, in a country where 64 per cent of Roma children still do not go to primary school. Classes like this are now offered in five areas of Bosnia; Sarajevo, Visoko, Kakanj, Turbe and Prijedor.

Ms. Redgrave encourages the children’s dreams

In the arts class, Ms. Redgrave met 16-year old, Mirsat, who told her about his three dreams in life.

“I hope to finish my education,” he said. “I also hope I will get a job when I finish school. And I hope that other Roma kids, like me, also get to go to school, to have a better life.”

Speaking of her tour, Ms. Redgrave said, “It has been a wonderful visit. The new programmes are terrific because here are children, all kinds of children, learning together, drawing, acting, reading, and…dreaming. I feel like my own dreams have come true, by being here and seeing how education for all children, can become something real for all children.”

Thirteen year old Ferdiana didn’t attend school until the age of 10. Now, at 13, she is described by the headmistress as a prize winning student, who is skipping grades thanks to the catch-up classes she takes after her primary school lessons are done.

“What would you like to be when you grow up?” asked Ms. Redgrave.

With no hesitation, Ferdiana said, “A teacher.”

Ms. Redgrave applauded Ferdiana for her courage and determination, and spoke of the importance of education as an instrument for peace and participation.
Investing in children means investing in peace

Internationally renowned for her career as an actress Ms. Redgrave shared the stage of a preschool class with nearly 20 children aged five to seven years of age. And later watched, as they put on a play that used theatre as a way of teaching mathematics.

Ms. Redgrave’s UNICEF career began because she wanted to do something for children in war. Having suffered through WWII as a child, she says she understands the impact that kind of horror has on the life, dreams and spirit of a child.

In a city steeped in more than 800 years of history, whose young people remember only too well what happens when adults forget their obligations to children, her voice and message have a special resonance.

“Investing in children means investing in peace,” she said. “ It means investing in a future free of war. It is an idea I have dedicated my life to.”



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