Every April events surrounding the Roma community become prominent and this emerging group becomes slightly more accepted and visible in the eyes of the Albanian public. It may have started with the 8th of April, the International Roma Day, but now it has expanded into a full week and month of activities and media reports that manage to shed a positive light into the public perception about this marginalized group.
This April (2013) saw a series of well-coordinated efforts and events during the Week for Promoting Roma Values between 8 and 12 of April. Backed by central and local government structures, and international and local organizations, including Swiss Cooperation, the week brought a unique mix of activities that included conferences, fairs, a public march, plays, shows, photo exhibitions and video documentaries.
One of the events was the production and performance of Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Misérables’ by a group of young Roma students who initiated the idea and carried it over to a successful performance at the University of Arts. The ‘Help for Children’ Foundation, an Albanian NGO supported by Swiss Cooperation, coordinated the design and implementation of the play and provided logistical and financial support to the students’ group.
“We worked hard for a full month coordinating and ensuring that the show would be a success”, says Shpresa Spahiu, Director of ‘Help for Children’. The Foundation arranged for rehearsals, secured costumes from the National Theater, and organized the publicity around the event.
The show took place on the 11th of April at the University of Arts, in front of a full house. An audience of over 300 people including representatives of the EU, embassies, international and local organizations, and Roma community, applauded the young students performing the classic play with the confidence of professional actors. For two hours the Roma youngsters delivered an emotionally-laden performance that won the admiration of the public, as well as raving reviews in Shekulli newspaper and the national TVSh, the public broadcaster.
“Simple Roma students performing as professionals is not something we easily accept in our culture”, says Shpresa Spahiu. “Who would have thought that they would be so excellent on stage and perform so well?” adds the NGO Director. According to Ms. Spahiu, the main value of this show was the effect it made on those present and the acceptance it enabled. “If you saw the performance, you suddenly felt closeness to this community and their values become your values. The life of a country is enriched the more we accept the values of different communities, and this is what the show achieved”, concludes Ms. Spahiu.
It was the first time Roma values are promoted in an integrated and coordinated event such as this one. The same spirit accompanied the celebration of the diversity week in the districts of Korça, Elbasan and Berat.