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A photography workshop gives Roma and Serbian children a snapshot of diversity

© UNICEF 2013/Serbia/Pirozzi
"I didn't realize photography could be so powerful," said Kristijan Memisevic, 18, who photographed a Roma boy outside his home as part of a photography workshop in Pirot, Serbia.

By Ruth Ansah Ayisi

PIROT, Serbia, 25 October 2013 – Branislav Jasarevic is kneeling down to the height of a group of young children dressed in worn-out clothes as they stand in the doorway of their small home. “The family has no conditions for proper living,” Branislav says. The deep dimples that usually light up his face vanish as he is clearly moved by what he sees. The home has no running water or electricity.

Branislav, 14, is a photographer. His hometown of Pirot, one of the one of the largest municipalities in southeast Serbia, is surrounded by spectacular mountains, but Branislav focuses instead on the dire poverty of a Roma family living in his neighbourhood.

Entering the family’s home, Branislav adjusts the curtains to allow light to cut through one of the two sparsely furnished rooms that accommodate the parents and their five children. He looks like he has been taking photographs for years, but he has only just learned to use a camera.

© UNICEF 2013/Serbia/Pirozzi
Mila Ćiric (left) and Irena Vučic, both 14, take photographs in a Roma community in Pirot, Serbia. They were among 19 participants in the photography workshop, organized by UNICEF with support from Sony.

As simple as possible

Branislav is trying out the tips that he has learned from his teacher, Giacomo Pirozzi, during a five-day workshop organized by UNICEF. Following Pirozzi’s advice, Branislav interviews the family so that he can write captions for his photographs.

“The photo needs to be as simple as possible, so that it touches your heart,” Pirozzi tells the participants, who range in age from 11 to 18. They are all are from Roma and Serbian backgrounds, and 14 of the 19 participants are girls.

On the first day of the workshop, Pirozzi shows the children photographs that he has taken all over the world. He asks the children’s views on the images, which highlight cultural diversity as well as difficult issues, 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. “I didn’t realize photography could be so powerful,” he says.

The right to communicate

Pirozzi has conducted more than 30 child photography workshops around the world. This one is part of a UNICEF project called EYE SEE, carried out in partnership with Sony, and it’s the first held in Europe.

© UNICEF 2013/Serbia/Memisevic
The workshop gave participants the opportunity to express themselves and to show examples of cultural diversity through photography. Kristijan photographed the neighbours of a fellow workshop participant.

Jadranka Milanovic, UNICEF communication officer in Serbia, says, “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 Roma are one of Serbia’s most marginalized groups, with almost 50 per cent living in poverty, mostly 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,” says UNICEF Serbia Area Representative Judita Reichenberg. “The results so far are favourable: 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.“

No good to discriminate

The children’s photographs from the workshop will be exhibited first in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, and then in seven municipalities in south and east Serbia, including Pirot, where UNICEF is modelling community centres in Roma communities, in cooperation with local authorities and civil society. The community centres are meant 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.

© UNICEF 2013/Serbia/Nencic
Kristina Nencic, 14, photographed Andjela, 4, in a Roma settlement. "Her family is poor, and she comes to [this community centre] every day to learn something new and meet her friends,” Kristina said.

In the Pirot community centre, where some 150 children and youth from both the Serbian and the Roma communities enjoy a range of activities, 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 will tackle issues such as discrimination through role play and debate.

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,” she says. “Now I am doing very well at school.”

When asked about their experience in school, some of the Roma children at the workshop say that they sometimes get bullied or teased.

“I am a Roma child,” Branislav says with pride. “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 with a broad smile, “I have just fallen in love with photography!”



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