In the spirit of Philanthropy Week, we look to one of CEU's philanthropic partners, Bader Philanthropies, Inc, whose mission to improve people's quality of life aligns with the University's goals of supporting education among Roma. Their relationship with CEU demonstrates values of impact and transformation at the heart of Philanthropy Week.
Bader Philanthropies is a funder of CEU's Roma programs, which include the Roma Graduate Preparation Program (RGPP), providing early engagement, online courses, and wrap around support to help open new doors for aspiring Roma students. Bader Philanthropies focus on the Bridge to RGPP offers a path for young Roma from the Czech Republic to attain the English proficiency and academic perspectives needed to gain entry to the RGPP program at CEU or other English-language university programs across the globe.
Launched in 2004, RGPP remains the only initiative of its kind dedicated to preparing Roma students from across Europe for undergraduate, graduate or professional studies in English-language universities worldwide. This ten-month interdisciplinary preparatory program is rooted in English-language and academic skills preparation while grounded in addressing inequities and promoting human rights.
"It's a beacon for which people can strive. When there is a program serving Roma who have had the perseverance to get an education, one that prepares them for higher academic studies and teaches more skills than they've acquired to date - this is a tremendous opportunity," comments Yechiel Bar-Chaim regarding CEU's RGPP. Bar-Chaim is an independent consultant for Bader Philanthropies, appointed by the late Alfred Bader. Among his focus areas are programs impacting Roma in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
"One thing that was very important to Alfred Bader was to reward excellence and to give support to talented people from groups which are customarily denied opportunities," notes Bar-Chaim of the Jewish chemist and philanthropist who was born in Vienna and fled the Nazis. Bader, having been transported to Canada, eventually found his way to study science at Queen's University and Harvard before working for PPG in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the philanthropy is based.
Robert Tobon, Program Officer of Bader Philanthropies, further highlights how the funder's work fits hand-in-hand with CEU's efforts: "We're supporting students who have a lot of potential but could use some additional structure and preparation to help them make the most of the educational experience, and then ideally return to the Czech Republic to become leaders in their communities."
While completing the preparatory program along with an academic program of studies takes time, Bader Philanthropies has been able to increase the visibility for these opportunities via Czech college campuses, high school tracks and education programs, guiding motivated Roma students into supportive trajectories. "The degree to which family and peers also share the student's dream of attaining this education is another factor in successful outcomes," Tobon adds regarding the broader ecology that supports students. He additionally highlights that Bader Philanthropies "wants to help people develop and grow, so they can then be the next leaders and help others overcome challenges, reaching the deeper role that they can play in their society."
Acknowledging that graduate-level education can put Roma at the table in government, business and the professional world, Bar-Chaim asserts the importance of moving away from top-down philanthropy, whether it's from private sources or government programs. "I think with the multinational group of Roma, a sense of solidarity is important. In addition to individual development, there is a sense of collective ambition shared by others in the program," he highlights.
CEU student Mikulas Lakatos acknowledges such a connection as a result of RGPP: "One of the biggest assets is the opportunity to meet amazing and talented young Roma from all around Europe. While it's great to share the best practices and knowledge, the attitude of the whole program beyond subject-based specialization brings the added value of community building, interaction, and connection across Roma."
Lakatos worked as a nurse practitioner in Slovakia before completing RGPP as part of an 11-student cohort. "As a nurse, I learned how dire the health situation is for Roma - the life expectancy is much shorter in Roma communities - anywhere between ten and twenty years, which is catastrophic," reflects Lakatos regarding his motivation to address healthcare challenges. He also notes the lack of minority-sensitive and transcultural communication skills among healthcare professionals in the clinical setting, which contributes to a stratified experience for patients seeking care.
At CEU, Lakatos took tutoring classes in public policy and looks forward to working on issues pertaining to Roma as well as improving the legislative shortcomings in providing and receiving healthcare services. Next year he will return to Slovakia to begin a master's program specializing in healthcare development, while serving as a minority health consultant for the government.
"For me, RGPP was an amazing opportunity to obtain a base of knowledge in policy-making. I learned new techniques, tools, and approaches for how we can assess healthcare situations affecting Roma," says Lakatos. "I learned how do data collection and analysis, as well as how to seek international sources, best practices, theories, and key concepts that can be used for policy development."
CEU student Nikola Ludlova additionally reflects on her path to CEU, which opened through RGPP, and continued as she earned an MA in history. Ludlova is now in the fifth year of her PhD. Studies, writing her dissertation on "Roma as the Object of Science in postwar Czechoslovakia, 1945–1989".
"The RGPP helped me to develop necessary academic skills and provided me with support and guidance for admission process. I have gained important hands-on experience with academic and student life at CEU and was trained for studying in a different educational system," Ludlova comments. She adds, "This was a huge advantage which determined my choice to acquire my postgraduate education at CEU, and made my admission interview a more comfortable experience."
Ludlova notes that her interests related to Roma are manifold - professional, political and personal in nature. "As my public engagement is concerned, I have been associated with Roma LGBTQ advocacy workers in the Czech Republic and in art projects dealing with the issues of politics of body, construction of self by Roma subjects, politics of memory, and the like," Ludlova highlights regarding projects that deploy art as an instrument of political intervention.
Jakub Haluska, a recipient of the Dr. Elemer Hantos Scholarship, completed highschool in the Czech Republic prior to studying in CEU's BA program focused on philosophy, politics, and economics. He is "I'm interested in ethical dilemmas. Having a broad view of ethical systems, which I learned at CEU, is one part of philosophy that attracts me. With economics, I am concerned with horizontal inequality which is transmitted from families to children in a vicious cycle," Haluska says of his studies.
The Czech student would like to see more Roma representation both in academia and government, and believes that increasing education among marginalized groups can lead to shifts. "I'd like to express my gratitude to CEU for their involvement in Roma integration in academia. Having this education helps Roma make new projects to integrate our communities across Europe."
As social justice efforts toward greater equity and racial reckoning accelerate, CEU is engaged with these challenges along with a dedication to reducing the financial barriers for promising students from challenging backgrounds. With this commitment to open education for communities and groups who, because of poverty, discriminations, or forced exile, have been denied the chance to learn, CEU and Bader Philanthropies demonstrate the power of what can happen when the University and its philanthropic partners come together.
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