Thursday, February 7, 2013


Situation of Native Americans similar to that of Czech Roma


PHOTO The building of the Hacienda CDC organization in Portland, Oregon, USA, a nonprofit organization providing housing and programs for tenants. (PHOTO: David Beňák)

David Beňák, Patrik Banga and David Tišer, three civically active Romani men from the Czech Republic, are participating in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in the United States of America. Their visit will last approximately three weeks and will include several American cities where they will meet with representatives of organizations implementing interesting projects in the area of human rights, community work, and minority rights advocacy.

News server has been publishing David Beňák's journal of the trip. Below we translate one of those installments.

Our American experience: Day 11 and 12

Our second day in Portland, Oregon continued with a visit to two institutions. The city of Portland is interesting because the third-largest group of Native Americans in the country lives there, and in the afternoon we were guests of the Native American Youth and Family Center.

The suffering of Native Americans has been enormous, and I don't only mean the fact that they were pushed out of their territories and murdered. During the 20th century their children were also taken away from them and sent to live in boarding schools. This is a nation that has suffered great pain. Moments of their history are similar to many points of Romani history.

The Native American population is rather young and consists of a family with five children on average. The current generation is experiencing similar problems to those of the Romani community: Poverty, low educational attainment, indebtedness, lack of quality housing, discrimination, etc.

The center we visited was established in 1974. Its original aim was to offer children a path to self-realization through athletics. Currently the center focuses on culture, education, housing, and economic support for the community. It employs 100 people and provides services to more than 200 people a day.

What was interesting about the center is that the people running it decided to take matters into their own hands. The community needed housing, so the center decided to purchase 400 apartments and is now building houses which it leases for reasonable rents. They wanted to improve children's education, as the success rate of children at the public high schools was only 35 %, so they established their own school, attended by approximately 100 students, where they familiarize them with Native American cultural roots in addition to the regular curriculum. Members of the community needed work, so they established a firm to employ them; moreover, they provide training. The high point of the visit was a meeting with a group of elders.

Our day in Portland ended with a visit to the Hacienda CDC organization, a nonprofit that provides housing and programs for its tenants. The target group of the organization is 70 % Latinos, 19 % Somalis, and 9 % people of other ethnicities. Once again, the management approach there involved a certain principle of resource maintenance.

Non-governmental, non-profit organization financing in the USA: Tax write-offs as a commodity

During this visit we were familiarized in detail with the system for financing non-governmental, non-profit organizations in the USA. Tax write-offs are more like a commodity there. NGOs can request tax relief, and if they are granted it by the federal government or by a specific state, they can raise money through tax-deductible donations. Governments also offer grants, but that is only one part of NGO financing.

In general in the USA - just like in other EU countries and elsewhere - what is interesting is that many NGOs are financed from private resources. This gives nonprofits independence from the state and the opportunity to actively oppose municipalities or the state itself.

During the following day we traveled to the final destination of our trip, New York City, and before we could adjust to the time difference, our program was underway. Our first meeting in New York was with the Open Society Institute. There is probably no need to describe the activities of this foundation to most of you. We discussed the foundation's current programs and other opportunities for supporting the Romani NGO and nonprofit sector.

After that we were guests of the US mission to the United Nations, where we met with representatives of a relatively new nonprofit organization, Yoy Dally. This organization is implementing a small project in Romania and intends to develop its activities further.

David Beňák,translated by Gwendolyn Albert

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