The news broke last week that France had begun dismantling Roma settlements around the country and expelling the inhabitants. (The Roma are an ethnic group also known as Gypsies, a term which is both erroneous and offensive to many.) The expelled Roma were paid a small amount and flown to Eastern Europe, in this case Romania.
A couple of years ago, I traveled to Slovakia and Romania to visit Heifer International projects in Roma communities. Tensions between Roma and non-Roma were high even then; such sentiments only worsen during hard economic times. I don't want to venture into the politics of the French expulsion, but I did witness the transformation that can occur when we bother to meet the actual people instead of simply reacting to ethnic stereotypes or being carried away by popular sentiment.
In the Slovakian village of Drahnov, I met the Bodors, a Roma family who had received goats from Heifer. The goats, and the Bodors constant work, had allowed them to move from the squalid Roma settlement on the outskirts of the village into a proper, though still worse-for-wear, house. Even more importantly, it allowed Bartholemej Bodor, the father of the family, to stay put and imagine a future for his family in this place. From the article that originally appeared in World Ark:
"The family gathers inside, all perched on the edge of one bed, [Bartholomej] Bodor at the center. They talk about their prospects for the future. Now that Slovakia is in the European Union (it was admitted in 2004), Slovakians are free to travel to other countries in search of work, usually low-wage factory jobs. Bodor, unlike many of his Roma and non-Roma peers, chose to stay here in Drahnov, despite the lack of work.
"Bodor says he will not even consider leaving for the promise of work elsewhere. 'First of all, I have goats from the project. I would like to breed goats. I want a farm.' And after a pause, he leans forward and says, 'I have children. I do not want to leave my children and wife. I need to take care of the children.' "