A couple of days ago, we commemorated the liquidation 71 years ago of the so-called “Gypsy family camp” at Auschwitz-Birkenau. On 2 August 1944, 2 897 persons were taken to the gas chambers and exterminated. Only a few months earlier, on 16 May 1944, the detainees of the “Gypsy camp” had refused to obey the orders of the SS soldiers who had come to kill them. Knowledge about both the Roma uprising and the liquidation of the “Gypsy camp” remains limited in European societies today.
A black hole in European history that prevents full understanding of the present
Knowledge of Roma history in Europe is crucial to understanding their current situation. Although many people I have encountered have views about Roma, few know anything about their history. Most people do not know, for instance, that Roma were banned from the Holy Roman Empire in 1501 and, as of this date, could be caught and killed by any citizen. In France, Louis XIV decreed in 1666 that all Gypsy males should be sent for life to galleys without trial, that women should be sterilised and children put into poorhouses. In Spain, it was decided in 1749 to detain all Roma in an operation known as the “Great Gypsy Round-Up”. In part of what is now Romania (Wallachia and Moldova), Roma were enslaved between the 14th century and 1856. The Austro-Hungarian Empress Maria Theresia imposed a fierce assimilation policy involving the removal of children from the care of their parents.
In more recent times, Roma and Yenish children were forcibly removed from their families in Switzerland, on grounds that their parents would not be able to educate them as good citizens. Similarly, it remains largely unknown in France that Roma who had been detained in camps on French territory during the Second World War were in some cases kept in detention in miserable conditions until the end of 1946, or that Roma survivors of the Nazi concentration camps were left without any support and deprived of nationality long after 1945.
The Roma “Pharrajimos” -the Roma Holocaust- carried out during the Second World War was a culmination of these policies of exclusion, elimination and forced assimilation. About 90% of the Roma population of some countries disappeared as a result of massacres and deportations to concentration camps. However, 70 years after the end of the Second World War, memory work regarding the fate of the Roma is still incomplete. In my report on the Czech Republic (2013) for example, I recalled that a pig farm is still present on the site of the former Lety labour camp, in which Roma were detained during the Second World War and then deported to Auschwitz.
It is also deeply worrying that some mainstream politicians, in a context of growing populism in Europe, have publicly allowed themselves to condone the Roma Holocaust. In addition to trivialising some of the most horrendous human rights violations of the past, such discourse strengthens and legitimises present-day anti-Roma racism.
Keeping in mind this tragic past helps to understand why some Roma may find it difficult to trust majority societies and public institutions today. One cannot disregard the heavy legacy of past practices of forced sterilisation, removal of children and ethnic profiling in current relations between Roma communities and the police or state administrations in general.
Ignorance of the past allows for the perpetuation of human rights violations
The forced sterilisation of Romani women has long been a practice in several countries, with eugenic rhetoric around a supposed “threat of Roma population growth” providing the bedrock for this gross human rights violation. Cases are still sporadically reported in the 21st century. Sweden and Norway have recently established commissions in order to investigate past abuses, including forced sterilisation, and to promote redress and reconciliation. The Czech government presented apologies to forced sterilisation victims in 2009. However, other countries have not yet acknowledged their responsibilities, provided adequate redress to victims or sanctioned those responsible for this human rights violation.
A certain continuity from past to present can also be discerned in relation to the removal of Roma children from their families, a long-standing practice aimed at eradicating Roma culture. While various countries have recognised that this was wrong, the number of Roma children placed in state care remains disproportionately high in many others. During my visits to Romania, Bulgaria and Norway, I found that Roma children often appear to be placed in care on grounds of the socio-economic situation of their family, a practice that is at variance with the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.
Moreover, Roma have in many countries been subjected to constant ethnic profiling by the police for alleged purposes of crime prevention, protection of health and safety or migration control. Since the Second World War, the practice of recording Roma in special files has had a particularly negative undertone for the Roma. However, it has often resurfaced. In Italy, for instance, a census of Roma living in camps for so-called “nomads”, which included the taking of fingerprints, was carried out in 2008. In 2014, the keeping by the police in Southern Sweden of a file with the names of more than 4 000 Roma raised considerable alarm. Ethnic profiling has also been used to impose undue freedom of movement restrictions on Roma, as highlighted in the Issue Paper I published in 2013 on the right to leave a country. This document reports exit denials and passport confiscation practices targeting citizens of alleged Roma ethnic origin in some Western Balkan countries in order to prevent them from travelling abroad.
Long-standing practices of police control also have enduring consequences on the legal situation of Roma. During my visit to France, I expressed concerns about the fact that French Travellers were still subjected to exceptional legal arrangements and the obligation to carry an internal travel permit, as a consequence of policies dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. I welcome the ongoing process of legislative reform aimed at eliminating these travel permits and other discriminatory provisions. The persistence in several countries of statelessness among Roma communities also carries disturbing echoes of earlier bans depriving Roma of all rights.
Lastly, it is important to remember that the widespread policies of evictions, expulsions and segregation to which Roma are routinely subjected in many European countries are also a continuation of past policies aimed at getting rid of them or at keeping them under tight control. I raised these major human rights concerns in the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.
The way forward
This history of exclusion and persecution of the Roma in Europe, but also their contribution to European history and culture, must be brought to light so as to replace age-old myths and deeply-rooted prejudices with a narrative grounded on sound knowledge and understanding of the past. It is not only a matter of respect and justice, but also an essential tool to combat growing anti-Gypsyism.
Important moves have been made by policy-makers in several member states: in 2015 the Norwegian Prime Minister offered an apology to the Oslo Roma for Second World War policies; and in May 2015, the French President honoured the memory of the Roma detainees of the Struthof concentration camp situated near Strasbourg. Memorials for Roma victims of the Second World War have been erected in various places. Several German Länder have signed cooperation agreements with the Sinti and Roma community in which the Roma Holocaust is specifically mentioned. The Swiss Government offered apologies to victims who were forcibly placed as children and has recently expressed its readiness to provide them with reparation. The European Parliament adopted a resolution in April 2015 acknowledging “the historical fact of the genocide of Roma that took place during World War II” and proposed to recognise the 2nd of August as the European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day, a step already taken by some member states.
The truth and reconciliation commissions recently established in Sweden and Norway could show other countries the way forward for the recognition of historical crimes and help promote reconciliation between communities. The views of the Roma communities themselves on their own history should at long last be heard.
The Council of Europe has elaborated Factsheets on Roma history aimed at improving reflection of Roma history into the wider teaching of European history. They should be used more widely in the educational systems of member states.
The proposed establishment of a European Roma Institute could also contribute to making sure the past is not forgotten and increasing knowledge about history and culture.
As highlighted by Vaclav Havel, the late Czech President, in his 1995 speech at the ceremony of unveiling of a memorial to the Roma victims of the Lety camp, “this is not about a separate history of the Roma. This is the history of all the occupants of this territory, our shared history. It must be identified, understood, and then never forgotten.”
Council of Europe’s Recommendation on “history teaching in twenty-first century Europe”
ECRI General Policy Recommendations No. 3: Combating racism and intolerance against Roma/Gypsies and No. 13: Combating anti-Gypsyism and racism against Roma.
Right to remember: CoE Handbook for education with young people of the Roma Genocide
Trigger Warning: A Chinese Father Saved More Than 300 People at Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge
“I understand these people. I know they are tired of living here. They have had difficulties. They have no one to help them.” – Chen Si
Since the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge was first built in 1968, an estimated 2,000 people have died from suicide involving the bridge. According to data from 1995-99, in China’s first national survey in 2002, death from suicide accounted for 3.6 percent of the country’s total deaths. During that period of time, 287,000 Chinese people died from suicide every year, putting the average suicide rate at 23 per 100,000 people.
Chen Si, also known as The Angel of Nanjing, has been patrolling this bridge every Saturday for more than 20 years and has managed to save more than 300 people from death by suicide. He is a 52-year-old father from Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province of the People’s Republic of China. Following the loss of a close relative to suicide, Chen Si has taken up this cause because someone needs to.
A Long History
The relationship between mental illness and suicide is controversial in China. Those who follow traditional Chinese philosophy are not encouraged to express their feelings, nor are they encouraged to expect their environment to change to suit their needs. Therefore, intense misery and feelings of despair may go unrecognized, and suicidal symptoms are not easily detected by Chinese medical professionals. In fact, many doctors working in rural areas do not understand the symptoms of depression and often receive low salaries, which discourages more doctors from entering the mental-health field.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, China’s suicide rate in the 1990s was 20 per 100,000 people. In the 1990s, female suicides were higher than male suicides by a factor of three. While China remains one of the few countries with a higher suicide rate among women than men, recent data shows that these disparities have evened out. In 2016, suicide rates among Chinese men and women came up almost even at 9.1 per 100,000 men and 10.3 per 100,000 women. Overall, China’s suicide rate in 2016 was 9.7 per 100,000 people, which was among the lowest globally.
A 2002 survey also revealed that 88 percent of females who died from suicide used agricultural pesticides or rat poison. Although China initially eliminated highly toxic pesticides to improve the safety of its farm produce, the elimination also had a substantial impact on the reduction of deaths from suicide among women. Research shows that men tend to attempt suicide through violent means such as hanging, whereas women tend to attempt suicide with medication. Overall, most studies indicate a decline in suicide rates among all gender and regional categories in China. The studies also recommended targeted suicide prevention programs, particularly for people in rural areas.
Women’s freedom, urbanization, and decreased access to toxic pesticides are key reasons behind the decline in suicide rates. According to Jing Jun, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, “female independence has saved a lot of women.” The founding of New China in 1949 in combination with the opening-up policy in the late 1970s and the continuous growth of China’s economy has led to more equitable opportunities for women. Additionally, urbanization removed certain social constraints leading to more freedom for women. For instance, escaping an abusive partner or household may be easier in a city than in a small village.
Despite a decline in death by suicide rates in China, this is an area that we should pay more attention to. Chen Si acts as an angel, but he cannot do this work alone. He hopes that officials consider building a net across the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge to prevent deaths by suicide.
The Crisis Intervention Centre, the first of its kind in China, was established by Nanjing Brain Hospital to provide psychological advice and support to Chinese people. The Centre also has a hotline, which can be reached at 862583712977.
The Lifeline Shanghai at (400) 821 1215 is a free, confidential, and anonymous support service that is open 365 days a year from 10am-10pm GMT+8.
Facebook and other social media platforms also offer many virtual support groups for individuals experiencing hardship. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 is a 27/4, free and confidential resource to support people in distress, prevention, or in an active crisis. Users should utilize the translate function on these web pages to adjust for language barriers, if necessary.
A 10-Year-Old Girl in Kenya Learns Coding in Milwaukee–Virtually.
The pandemic and a year of virtual schooling had an unexpected benefit for a little girl in Kenya who connected with Girls Who Code at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“I use the computer for school, and I wanted to understand more about how they work,” said Elsie Maingi, who is 10 years old and lives in Nairobi.
However, computer classes in Kenya were geared to high school students and business people and were usually quite expensive, said her mother, Lilian Wangechi.
So in the fall of 2020, they turned to Google and found the free Girls Who Code program at UWM. Because of the time difference, Elsie got up at 2 a.m. for every class during that semester and the spring 2021 semester.
Encouraging young women
The national Girls Who Code program encourages young women of middle and high school age to get involved with computer sciences, according to Christine Cheng, an associate professor of computer science who launched UWM’s program in 2016.
“When we knew we were going to be online in the fall of 2020, it was a blessing in disguise because it allowed many people who were not living near UWM to attend classes,” she said, “but Elsie was the only one from a different country.”
Sammie Omranian, a graduate student and teaching assistant who manages UWM’s program, said she was amazed at Elsie’s persistence. “It was so surprising for me. I knew that she was from Kenya, but never thought about the time difference until her teacher, Anahita, told me.”
Anahita Qashqai, a graduate student who is one of the program’s teachers, also encouraged Elsie to overcome her shyness about using her English. Qashqai told her that English was also her second language since she grew up speaking Farsi. Another student piped up that her first language was Spanish. By the next class, Elsie had turned on the camera, unmuted, and was chatting away with her new friends and classmates from across the world.
“After that she felt more involved and engaged,” Omranian said. After falling a little behind for the first session because of the language concerns, Elsie quickly caught up. “Elsie was the only student who completed everything 100%,” Omranian said.
‘Awe for the amazing opportunity’
When the second class finished in the spring of 2021, Omranian sent Elsie the certificate and tote bag that all the students received. It took a few months to get to Kenya, but Elsie and her mom were so excited to get it that they sent a photo and a thank-you note.
“Today Elsie received her certificate from GWC and I can tell that it’s one of her best days,” Wangechi wrote in an email to Omranian. “I look back at the year 2020 and am at awe for the amazing opportunity my daughter got at your program. She had always wanted to understand how computers work and her dream came true.”
The UWM program was the perfect answer to their needs, she added, with the only requirements being an internet connection and the ability to go to class early in the morning.
“The program has opened a new frontier for Elsie that is boundless and she knows that her wildest dreams can come true. This is an experience as a parent that I could never have replicated,” Wangechi wrote. “We say AHSANTE (THANK YOU) to everyone who made this possible – the tutors, program coordinators and the donors.”
What is Girls Who Code?
Girls Who Code is a national program designed to encourage young women to enter computer sciences and other STEM fields.
In 1995, 37% of computer scientists were women. Today, it’s only 24%, according to Christine Cheng, an associate professor of computer science who launched UWM’s Girls Who Code program in 2016. The percentage will continue to decline if we do nothing, she told NPR station WUWM in an interview. “We know that the biggest drop-off of girls in computer science is between the ages of 13 and 17.”
UWM’s program attracts between 50 to 60 girls each semester, and offers three levels, depending on the students’ previous experience. The program is open to young women in middle and high school, though the majority are middle school age.
Graduate students in computer science and engineering are the teachers, along with some volunteers. Several young women who have competed the program have returned as volunteers, Cheng said.
While the program hasn’t had the resources to do a formal assessment of its impact, organizers do hear success stories from former students and their families. Makenzie Johnson completed the program in 2019, taking classes from the middle of her sophomore year to high school graduation.
Her mother, Tanika Davis, saw the national founder of Girls Who Code on MSNBC several years ago, but there were no chapters in Wisconsin at the time. She kept checking and eventually found UWM and Marquette had started chapters.
“Makenzie has autism and ADHD, but she was always good with computers and I knew that coding would expose her to see if that was something she was interested in and would do well in. It worked out really well,” Davis said.
Makenzie is now studying IT and software development at Milwaukee Area Technical College, with an eventual goal of becoming a graphic designer. She is also part of a program called Islands of Brilliance that helps people with developmental disabilities.
“Her mentors at Girls Who Code were great and really helped her thrive,” Davis said. “She felt like she was one of the gang. It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience with a diverse group of girls.”
Emma Maertz, a former student who is coming back as a volunteer in the program, said Girls Who Code is where she explored her love for coding and the program gave her the confidence to learn more elsewhere.
For this coming fall, Cheng and Omranian have decided to offer a combination of online and in-person classes.
Easy Strategies and Accommodations for Behavioral and Mental Health Needs in Learning Enviorments
The numerous accommodations and modifications that teachers make for students often amount to a lengthy list. These adjustments can involve altering not only instruction but also lesson materials, which tend to exhaust much of a teacher’s planning time. While circumstances, symptoms, and needs vary from student to student, there are some of the best “universal” practices that teachers can employ when a student is impacted by a medical condition, without causing a disproportional amount of stress to the teacher.
Symptom: Vision issues
Symptom: Working memory/memory processing difficulties
Symptom: Executive functioning difficulties
Symptom: Fine motor issues
Symptom: Behavioral issues
The classroom environment is filled with a countless array of personalities, abilities, and levels of motivation. Add to that the various medical considerations or chronic illnesses that students might experience and teachers no doubt feel stressed about making sure every learner receives what he or she needs in order to be academically successful. To ensure that students’ accommodations are met, every student must be provided with differentiated, personalized learning experiences to foster intrinsic motivation and appropriate levels of challenge.
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