Sandra Zepp is an activist from the Gens du Voyage community in Belgium. As a member of the Centre de Mediation des Roms (CMRGV) and co-founder of Les Filles du Vent (The Girls of the Wind), Sandra is a prominent voice in the promoting of Roma rights and is herself a proud Roma woman.
Gens du Voyage (Travelling People) is a term used for Roma, Sinti and Kale (Gitanos) groups who are citizens of Western European countries. They are traditionally travelling communities and have mostly distinct claims from the Roma from Eastern Europe, who are sedentary. Problems in Belgium, for instance, stem from the non-recognition of caravans as homes. Urban planning rules also fail to address the needs of the Gens du Voyage and reinforce the stigma they suffer from the rest of society.
We met Sandra for the first time at a conference in Brussels during the EU’s Belgian presidency in 2010, where she presented her moving schooling project to us from inside a caravan that she and her colleagues at the CMRGV had driven into the conference premises. She was introduced to Romedia by her boss, Ahmed Ahkim, of CMRGV, a great friend of the Romedia Foundation and an outstanding activist for the Roma in Belgium.
Happily, Romedia and Sandra’s paths crossed again in Granada in October, at the Council of Europe’s Conference of Roma Women, where she and her sister got acquainted with their fellow Romani women activists from all over the world.
The Filles du Vent (visit their website here) is a group of female Gens du Voyage from Mons in western Belgium who started meeting within the framework of a project in 2004-2005.
In 2009, the group started to work actively, focusing on two main objectives:
1. To open up debate about the situation of female Gens du Voyage in Wallonia. This debate is supported by the Centre de Médiation des Gens du Voyage et des Roms en Wallonie (for more info, visit: http://www.cmgv.be/) and in the framework of a variety of meetings, roundtable discussions and workshops;
2. To keep alive the dynamics of the group’s training. Les Filles du Vent have found training to be a particularly rewarding activity, teaching skills in arts and crafts (painting, floral art, theater, calligraphy, jewellery creation, etc.) and distributing certificates for successfully completed courses.
Another product of CMRGV’s excellent work was the “Des Roms Debout” (Roma Standing) exhibition which was the result of a marriage between the artistic approach of photographer Virginie Nguyen Hoang and the civil commitment of the Centre de Médiation des Gens du Voyage et des Roms en Wallonie (Mediation Center of Traveller and Roma in Wallonia). Details of the event can be found by clicking the link below:
The photographer followed Roma in Brussels and captured moments of their lives. She gives us a humane and courageous vision of a “dehumanized” and “voiceless” people.
If you would like to cooperate with Sandra or find out more about her work in Belgium, you contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
This interview is the first in a series made with the women at the Conference from across the world as India, Columbia, Macedonia, Spain, France and the UK were among the countries represented. Keep reading the blog to hear their insightful opinions on the situation in their own countries and what it means to them to be a Roma woman.