Maria lonescu: ERRC Legal Scholarship Recipient

In October 1996 Maria lonescu became the fast recipient of an ERRC scholarship to study law. We therefore asked her to introduce herself in the pages of Roma Rights and describe hergoals and aspirations.

My name is Maria Ionescu and I was born in Odobeşti, Vrancea County, Romania.

I come from a divided Roma family: my parents divorced when I was six months old. My father left our family with all my brothers. The financial background of my family meant that I could not enjoy the normal life of a student. To earn a decent living for my mother and myself, I worked in a wool factory in Focsani, Vrancea County for 15 years. I became involved in Roma issues as a result of the problems I myself faced.

After the revolution in 1989, I made one of the most important decisions of my life: that I would devote my life to dealing with Roma issues. I therefore applied and was accepted to the University of Law and Administration which is how I came to live in Bucharest.

With the help of my brother, I was hired as a program co-ordinator at the Aven Amentza („Come With Us" Foundation for the Cultural Emancipation of Roma, established by Vasile Ionescu. With Aven Amentza, I embarked upon a one-month regional tour in Moldova with the Department of National Minorities of the Romania Government. This tour featured round-table discussion with Roma, local authorities, and other associations and decision-making bodies.

The experience I gained from this tour proved very useful when I came to work later on a number of projects with the Bucharest-based Roma NGO Rromani CRISS. Fog example, as program co-ordinator for the Rromani CRISS project, „Confidence-Building Measures between Roma the Majority Population, and Local Authorities", sponsored by the Council of Europe, I was responsible for organising round-table discussions in places where ethnic tension has been a problem. During the project, we were able to identify the potential sources and nature of ethnic tensions, and we tried to elaborate various techniques to alleviate these tensions. We began projects to set up schools, to „create" and train Romani leaders in Roma communities, etc. My role was to advise Roma, as well as to gather information about incidents involving ethnic conflict, for the lawyers hired by Rromani CRISS.

In addition to the project mentioned above, I have been involved in several other projects undertaken by Rromani CRISS Together with Jennifer Tanaka, I was the co-ordinator and leader of the first of a series of seminars entitled „Roma Community Leaders", sponsored by the Autonómia Alapítvány in Budapest. I was also involved in the „Community Development Project" sponsored by CEBEMO in Holland and administered by the Spolu International Foundation and Rromani CRISS. I have also participated in conferences on judicial issues, such as those organised by the ERRC and by APADO in Braşov. The experience I gained in each of these projects has proven useful in each subsequent step in my life.

This is a very hard year for me: I still have three difficult exams to pass before I graduate. Next year I would like to work on the issue of the gold abusively confiscated from - Roma by the communists. In this, as in all of the projects I undertake in the future, I will strive to be faithful to my people and to become an attorney who builds a career on principles.

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