Meet Loredana Mihaly
Loredana Mihaly is a Roma activist who has spent almost three decades working in poor Roma communities where she deployed a wide range of activities to empower those communities. In 2009 she established Young Roma Association in Maramures county, a dedicated grassroot NGO that develops tailored programs for Roma communities affected by poverty and other critical social issues.
The revelatory moment
Starting with her early childhood, when her mother died, Loredana became very aware of the major discriminatory actions that were targeting her school colleagues and friends. Although she was just a child, she realized she was lucky to have a united family, even their daily life was not only honey and milk and she felt she has a moral duty towards the less favoured ones. With high efforts she managed to help her father and her seven brothers back home, but she continued her studies, as she knew that education was her only safety net.
The first victory
Loredana recalls that one of the most significant moments in her life is that soon after high-school graduation she was contacted by her former primary school. Her former teachers wanted her to teach Romani language for their students. For the next 12 years, Loredana immersed herself within the rough realities of a segregated school where she did her best to inspire her Roma students not to quit school and to take pride in their identity.
Another personal and professional victory was when she succeeded to transfer the management of her community organization to the beneficiaries of the first programs of the organization. She takes great pride when she looks how yesterday’s young Roma that she mentored are now very good academics and professionals, completely dedicated to improving Roma living conditions and identity.
The bumps in the road
Loredana Mihaly has dedicated a huge amount of energy and time advocating for years in front of local authorities and schools that Roma children must have access to education. For years she has struggled to tear down the prejudices and the resistance of the relevant local actors when asked to accept Roma students enrolment. After all this hustle, all schools (starting from kindergarten to high schools) in Baia Mare are now enrolling Roma students. With 80% attendance rate, all those kids that were initially rejected from schools have proved that all stereotypes about them were simply malicious.
Extremism explained to a 5-year-old
Discrimination is very difficult to be explained, but it can be shown. In one of her programs she is using an adaptation of Jane Elliot’s experiment, “Blue eyes, brown eyes”. In her little experiment Loredana will give cookies only to the blue-eyed students, as the others will be ignored. Although it is a frustrating experiment, its only purpose is to demonstrate how toxic is the differentiated treatment based on some characteristics that no one could control or determine.
Some thoughts for undecided activists
Human rights are universal, and everyone should be aware of that. You don’t necessarily have to become a militant, a full-time activist. Sometimes just knowing and respecting all human rights is the most civil thing to do.
Adequate responses in uncomfortable situations
Loredana recommends that activists that promote and protect human rights should always be capable to confront ideas and rational or legal arguments. Bad perceptions and negative stereotypes are difficult to deconstruct, and it is a very long process to change people’s attitudes. Activists should challenge and not feed the prejudices and they can do that only by using alternative narratives and factual reasoning.