This photo essay pays tribute to all Roma children in Slovakia. It will consist of series of photographs depicting a Roma Boy, “Little Franek” and the Roma children whom I met in 2003 in Cierny Balog, Slovakia. The story is not only about the Roma children, it is about removing stigma, making friends and a power of photography facilitating this process.
As in all post-communist countries, the danger of national and ethnic conflicts in the Czech Republic and Slovakia is becoming increasingly evident. The Roma (also known in English as "Gypsies") form the second largest minority group in Slovakia. It is estimated that as many as 300,000 Roma live in Slovakia, thus constituting about 5 % of the population. Most of them live in settlements in rural areas in extreme poverty conditions.
In 2003, I accompanied a group of primary school children (grade 7 and 8) on an educational tour around Slovakia. As part of the program there was a soccer game planned between grade 7 and 8 which was to take place in a little village of Cierny Balog in Eastern Slovakia. When we arrived in the village and got off the bus we were immediately surrounded by a group of Roma boys from the village Roma shantytown. None of the children from the capital city of Bratislava wanted to talk to them. Moreover, one of the teachers immediately warned the kids to watch their wallets. A dozen of Roma kids stood there watching kids from the capital of Bratislava getting off the bus and heading towards to a soccer field. They were just staring at them …..Being a foreigner in this country, I found this situation bizarre. I approached the Roma boys and started to chat with them, asking for their names etc.
They were very enthusiastic and intrigued by a camera strapped around my neck. They asked me to take pictures of them as they were showing off different tricks. There was one boy that stood out from the crowd- his name was Francisek (Franek).
Franek kept twisting his arms, standing on his head, he was a little Olympian among them. He kept on showing off his acrobatic tricks, and I kept capturing every moment with my camera.
When a soccer game started, myself, my own children (Sonia and Alexander) and the Roma boys, sat together on a bench and watched the game.
While watching the game they were telling me stories about their families, their life in Cerny Belog. In a spontaneous act I asked the Roma boys to join the girls from Bratislava playing soccer on a side, so another friendly game started. We had a blast. It all finished with laughter and a shake hand. Nobody was afraid of one another any more.….When our bus was leaving the village Francisek and his friends stood by the road waving hands at us, the kids from Bratislava waved back. They were no strangers to each other anymore, they were now friends.
I hope that this photographic project will become a silent witness of those special moments as well as will shed light on the Roma situation in this part of the world. It will pay tribute to all Roma people wherever they happen to be.
All photographs for this project will be black and white, hand made using traditional darkroom techniques.