ABC hosted the ‘Empowering Roma in Education’ Conference on 24th February 2021

This conference marked the end of the ‘Breathe’ project which was a collaboration between the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre in Ireland, Musicantia in Ireland and KISA in Cyprus. The ‘Breathe’ project was both a research and advocacy piece of work that ran for over two years and was designed to target and tackle bullying and discrimination of Roma children in schools in Europe. It was funded by the EU Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme and the Department of Education in Ireland.

The day contained a range of guest speakers with different backgrounds but all working to improve the lives of members of the Roma community. Attendees were welcomed by the Executive Dean of the Institute of Education Professor Anne Looney who set the tone of the day. She articulated that there was not only a need for empowerment for our Roma children in education but also agency and transformation. This was followed by input from our Roma partners Musicantia/Manoush and our two research assistants Isabela Ciulin and Emanuel Pruteanu who spoke about what the Breathe project has meant to them.

Our first live speaker of the morning was Bianca Paun. Bianca is a member of the Roma community who has a degree and Masters in Law from Maynooth University. Her talk was inspirational as it touched on the struggles her and her family faced in moving to Ireland to pursue a better life for her and her brothers and sisters. Bianca spoke about the importance of teachers instilling belief in their students “My experience in primary school and throughout my life since then have been shaped by one person. This was a primary school teacher who believed in me and advised me when I needed it. She used to buy me books to help me learn English, among other languages, and encouraged me to read as much as possible so that my vocabulary could improve.”

A selection of attendees at the conference.

In the afternoon we heard from Anna Orsos from the European Centre for Roma Rights, Professor Colin Clark from the University of West Scotland, PaveePoint and The Ombudsman for Children. These presentations were entirely diverse but thought provoking in their own way. They ranged in topic from segregation of Roma children in schools in Hungary to problems with terminology around empowerment, to a children’s rights based approach to education. It was an extremely interesting intellectual discussion!

The UNESCO Chair in Tackling Bullying in Schools and Cyberspace Professor James O’Higgins Norman closed the day for us by thanking and stressing the importance of our partners and working together. We had excellent music from Musicantia/Manoush throughout.