By Carla Pickering
Young Romanian Gypsies, or Roma, living in the UK have helped make a film about their lives to dispel some of the myths surrounding their culture.
Costel (front) interviewed other young Roma and his family
Sex, teenage marriage and persecution in Romania are some of the subjects touched on in the 30-minute film.
Produced by The Children's Society, it shows several young Roma interviewing their families and each other.
Together with a report, the video is designed to give teachers and other professionals an insight into the Roma.
Costel, 12, who moved to Nottingham in 2002, was involved in the video project. He said: "It's about trying to help the Roma by not having the same problems as we did in Romania.
"Things were very different back there and there were problems with the police. We were also bullied and beaten in school and called names just because we were Roma."
"That's Who I am: Experiences of young Romanian Roma in London," was launched at the headquarters of Network Rail offices in London on 20 September.
The video and report were produced after consulting 31 young Roma people, aged between 10 and 23, from towns all over Romania, as well as experts and professionals working with the Roma.
Funded by the Railway Children, a charity working for runaways and abandoned children who live on or around the world's railway stations, the report concludes that schooling is vital to help Roma children integrate into UK society.
Project worker for The Children's Society and author of the report, Heather Ureche, said: "The most important single factor in the life of a young Roma is early, permanent and continuous inclusion in school."
The study leading to the report and video was established in 2003, in response to a growing number of young Romanian Roma living on the street and being picked up by the police.
The Children's Society strategy director, Penny Dean, said: "We realised that we had little knowledge about the Roma culture and there appeared to be a similar need for information in the professional sector.
"The aim of the report and video is to disseminate learning, knowledge and increased awareness to promote better services and outcomes for the Roma children."
Many of Europe's 10 to 12 million Roma live in central or eastern Europe, making them the biggest ethnic minority in the region.
While there are laws in place to support them, discrimination, leading to poverty, hunger and a lack of medical treatment, is the main reason given by young Roma for leaving Romania.
In this country, seven in 10 do not have access to running water, according to data released by the United Nations Development Programme in February 2005.
The participants were awarded with certificates for their contribution
The summary of The Children's Society report states: "With persecution and racism in their homeland on the increase there are consequently a greater number of asylum seekers in the UK, triggering a growth of anti-Roma feeling within sections of the community."
It goes on to say that a lack of understanding of Roma culture, including teenage marriages, large families and a different way of dressing, is more of a problem than overt racism.
It also states that the Roma suffer three fold-prejudice in the UK. Firstly because they are Gypsies, secondly because they are often asylum seekers or refugees and thirdly because they are Romanian.
In February 2005, leaders from central and eastern European countries, including Romania, launched what is being described as the first international effort to improve living conditions for the Roma.
The project, called the "Decade of Roma Inclusion," aims to improve Roma education, housing, employment and health care.
In 2007, Romania is set to become a member of the European Union, giving Romanian nationals leave to live and work throughout Europe.
Entry depends on the pace of reform which includes securing rights for the Roma.
The European Commission report tracking the country's preparation for membership will be published in November.
Entry into the EU will mean Roma people living in Europe will no longer be classed as asylum seekers or refugees.
Like the Children's Society, the children involved in filming and editing the video hope this will lead to a better standard of life for the Roma.
If you would like a copy of the video on CD Rom, please contact Heather Ureche from The Children Society on 020 7 639 1466 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org