Always marginalized and discriminated, the Roma people have developed a keen sense of self-defense by creating a close-knit, interdependent community where they can help each other when in need. An organization of that kind is Radio Pata, a community radio that was born for and from the needs of the Roma people in Pata Rât. Here contributed people with soul, who helped to reduce the hopelessness of the Romas and tried to stop as much as possible the poverty that reigns in Pata Rât. And it was not easy for them, even if themselves come from this background. Two of these people are Alex Fechete, known as Pepe, and Linda Greta Zsiga, an activist for Roma rights. But you can read more details below.

What is Pata Rât?

Many of you probably haven’t heard of Pata Rât until this article. Pata Rât is a neighborhood in Cluj-Napoca, located right next to the city’s landfill. It was born, if you can say so, about 15 years ago, when the Cluj authorities evicted the Roma people who lived in the Coastei area, moving them to an unsanitary border area of the city, where it is not possible to live not even today in decent conditions. About 2,500 souls live here, in a toxic environment, a few meters from the toxic waste that comes from all over the territory of Cluj.

Thus, Radio Pata was born. As a spiritual healing for these people struck by fate, but also as a cry for help to the authorities who, although they promised that the Pata Rât would disappear and that people would get houses back in Cluj, this has not happened yet.

Radio Pata is a project initiated by the AltArt Foundation for Alternative Art in partnership with the Community Association of Roma from the Coast, the Center for the Study of Democracy Association, the General Directorate of Social Assistance and Child Protection Cluj and the BIT Teatergarasjen theater (Norway).

The community radio with a 24/7 streaming, created for the communities of Pata Rât, the area of Stephenson Street and Meșterul Manole, it wants to contribute to the inclusion of vulnerable groups in these areas through the right to information, the opportunity to assert their identity, to self – organize and demand their rights before the authorities, by accessing social services designed to help them.

In addition to the schedule and activities, Radio Pata actively contributes to the development and fundraising necessary to build a community center so indispensable to the community here. Children need a place to play that is not among the garbage, women need a meeting place, a place to socialize. A few pennies were raised and a 36 square meter container was bought, but there is still a lot of work to do.

In order for the center to be functional and not just a house, they need educators, specialized trainers, facilitators, and all of this costs money. One hour of activities costs approximately 300 lei. These people want nothing more than a better life for themselves. And Radio Pata, initiated by the AltArt Foundation, has a main purpose for this community and this is the community center called “Khetane”, which in the Roma language means “together” and which contributes to breaking the cycle of poverty and helping marginalized people to get out of this hostile environment, to have a new purpose.

In 2013, the community had another center like this, built from construction materials from demolitions. It was 25 square meters. They received donated computers, and the children did their homework there, using the internet also purchased with donated money. It wasn’t much, but to those people it was everything. Halloween parties, birthdays, even baptisms were held there. Practices were held for dance competitions. A small park with a small playground has also been set up in front. On the walls, photos of the residents of Pata Rât were placed, to make it even more familiar and to feel that the place belongs to everyone. But the beautiful dream ended after four years. The lack of financial resources led to the deterioration of the cottage, which was filled with moisture and mold, the roof broke and there was no money left to repair it.

That is why building a new community center is so important, and this is one of the most important goals of Radio Pata. From the list of items needed to equip the center are: tables, chairs, computers, various office furniture items are essential, so anyone who wants to make a donation for this purpose is welcome, even encouraged. For many years, more than 1000 children from Pata Rât have been playing on the road where garbage trucks pass, which serve the waste from the entire city of Cluj-Napoca, and the proper functioning of the Khetane community center is imperative for them. There are hundreds of mothers who have never had access to a washing machine, and hundreds of sick old people who have no access to medication or even drinking water. That’s why every donation counts.

 

Alex Fechete, the man who made his wings out of broken things and rose above those who hurt him

 

One of the “angels” who made even these small achievements possible, but so big for the people of Pata, is Alexandru Fechete, who also works at Radio Pata, as a speaker. He is also called Pepe, which is why the show he moderates is called “Pepe asks”. Alex is an activist and social worker from Cluj-Napoca. At just 38 years old, his life looks like a movie script, and not just any movie, but an Indian drama starring Raj Kapoor. Born to a minor mother, who soon divorced his father and sent him to live with his grandparents, “Pepe” did not have a very happy childhood. He was kicked out of the studio where he lived with his grandfather (who had also divorced his grandmother in the meantime), and they went to live together on the Coastei.

He had a hard time keeping up with his studies and not because he didn’t like it, but because the teachers labeled him from the first moment he said he was of Roma ethnicity. They put him in the last desk, alone, and he always got bad grades, not because he never studied but because they did not like him.

He also got beat up at school, as it was still a time when teachers were not afraid to physically show their dislike of certain students. But he didn’t give up. He continued his studies in the evening and managed to finish high school in 2012. In the meantime, his grandfather also died, and thus, Alex Fechete also ended up being evacuated from Coastei, with the final destination of Pata Rât.

This is also why Alex is fighting so hard for the rights of the people of Pata Rât, who were all unjustly evicted in the dead of winter, just before Christmas. Now he is studying for the BAC and wants to go to college, in Theology, where they also have a specialization in Social Assistance, which would fit him like a glove in his goals of helping the Roma people of Pata. He has already worked for four years as a community facilitator in the Pata 1 project, and now he is working for the Pata 2 project, in which 31 families are to be moved to the city, in several but different places, to follow various examples and can learn from other people how to have a better life.

He tries to pass this through his radio show, “Pepe asks”, where he invites people from the Pata Rât community to talk about them, about their dreams, about their plans and achievements, in the hope that they will positively influence others as well.

But this is not Alex’s first and only mass-media job, he also worked in 2014 for the British television Channel 4, where he was the narrator of three of four episodes of the documentary ”The Romanians Are Coming!”.

In the summer of that year, he agreed to be part of a reality show, where he was followed around by camera men in his attempts to find a job in London. At last he found one: at a vulcanization of an Indian man. It was hard for him, however, to be constantly followed, filmed and, on top of that, being asked questions during the filming.

But it was not in vain, because in that fall he received the proposal to be the narrator of a documentary whose main idea was the “siege” of the Romanians in the United Kingdom. “The Romanians are coming” was the name of the documentary and it was a TV project that did no honor to our people. We were described as thieves, lazy and other unflattering words. But Pepe did his job well and was amazed by the fact that he did not feel humiliated for a second, on the contrary, he then declared that he felt more discriminated in Romania than in England.

Alex Fechete has one big dream left! That of changing the history book and putting at least one page in it about the history of the Roma people in our country. He believes that it is important to know the episode of the Holocaust during the Second World War and the way the Roma people were taken to Transnistria, put to hard work without the minimum of decent living conditions.

 

Linda Zsiga: From the landfill, to the European Parliament

 

Another particularly important person for the Pata Rât community is Linda Greta Zsiga, also an activist for Roma rights. Also, she has a show on Radio Pata, called “Roma among us”, in which a series of problems facing the Roma community are discussed.

She was born in Cluj-Napoca, in a family with six children, from two parents who did not graduate from middle school. In the 10th grade, she married the man who is still by her side today, Silviu Zsiga, also a reporter at Radio Pata. Soon she realized that she could not do both household chores and learning, so she dropped out of high school, although she was a very good student. Immediately her first child is born, then her second, then two more. Linda soon became a young, housewife mother, as her husband’s income ensured a decent living for all of them. Things did not go badly until one fateful day in December in 2010, when dozens of Roma families were forcibly evicted from Coastei and taken to Pata Rât. Just like a few decades ago, when the Roma were put on a train and taken to Transnistria, with the promise of a better life.

Then she felt like her whole life had collapsed, but that’s how Linda’s fight for justice, for the Roma, for the right to equal opportunities began. They received support from many NGOs, human rights organizations to establish the “Community Association of Roma from the Coastei”. Thus, many doors were opened for her, in the City Hall, where she sat at the table with people who listened to her steps, what she wants to change, how she wants to help. But not much has changed!

Many times she cried and wanted to give up, but she didn’t! And now she is glad! She was also lucky to have an understanding husband who does the housework when she is away at trainings, at meetings for Roma rights, the first steps in activism, etc. She also reached the European Parliament where she gave speeches in English about the problems of the Roma people from Pata Rât, she was everywhere in Europe supported by Amnesty International, but although she was listened to with interest, not much has changed yet, and it is still a lot of work to do!

But Linda will continue the fight! No one deserves to live in such unhuman conditions. Activist Linda Zsiga’s dream is to end the Pata Rât, this ugly stain on the beautiful cheek, treated with quality creams, of a five-star city.

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