Prague-based English teachers going to Kosovo to teach Romanies

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A group of English teachers here in Prague are planning to do something very useful with their summer holidays this year - they are going to Kosovo at the start of June as part of a project to teach English to local Romany people. One of the organisers is Gwendolyn Albert. Ian Willoughby spoke to her on a very sunny Old Town Square here in Prague, and began by asking her what the project entailed.

"We are going to take English as a Second Language and English as a Foreign Language teachers to Kosovo to the Romany communities that are living around Pristina and also Pec to intensively teach them English this summer in an effort to help them get employment as interpreters for local NGOs, KFOR troops, etcetera. We advertised this very late, I've been absolutely flooded with both local and international applications from people who want to go and have this experience."

Do you foresee any particular problems teaching English to people who - I expect - will have minimal education, if any education?

"Well, it's interesting you say that because I think that expectation of yours would be based on the situation for the Roma here in the Czech Republic. Actually, in the former Yugoslavia the situation was not as dire. The Kosovo Roma, their period of greatest stress and upheaval is obviously since the 1999 war there. We do have people who have actually had English before. The people we're teaching are 18 years old and older, they're all people who are intermediate. They're people really who just need to be given that extra push and they'll be employable."

So they already speak English?

"Yes, there're some who've actually gone to language training schools in Belgrade. You know what's interesting also is it's sort of a 21st century poverty existence that they have - every community, someone somehow - they may not have running water - but someone has satellite TV. They've worked it out. So there's CNN, BBC...they watch this, they have a very high passive understanding. And they're fascinated with staying in touch with world events because they were at the centre of them three years ago."

You recently spoke on Radio Prague about the concentration camp at Lety in south Bohemia, which was a camp for Romanies - what got you interested in Romany issues?

"I guess it was first the issue of the Lety concentration camp. And the Roma situation is very obviously to me sort of the civil rights question in Europe."