Northern Ireland

Roma choir sings for Belfast schools to 'bridge the divide'

The Čhavorenge Choir
Image caption The Čhavorenge Choir travelled to Northern Ireland with the Czech Philharmonic orchestra

When words fail, music speaks.

That was very much what a young choir from the Czech Republic found when they met a group of schoolchildren from Belfast on Thursday.

The Čhavorenge Choir is made up of of young people from the Roma tradition from across the Czech Republic .

They travelled to Northern Ireland with the Czech Philharmonic orchestra and carried out musical workshops with Catholic and Protestant primary school children.

The children from across Belfast gathered together with The Čhavorenge Choir to learn traditional Roma music and dance.

Image caption The Čhavorenge Choir was founded as part of a wider project aimed at promoting the Romani culture.

Jonathan Simmance, who plays in the Ulster Orchestra, also manages community outreach and helped organise the workshops.

He explained that the cross-community, international element of the event was key.

"Music is such a universal language, if you can find common ground of any kind it will always bridge a divide", he said.

"You can always learn from other people and find solutions to problems be they political, social, financial."

'Music is the strongest power'

The Čhavorenge Choir was founded as part of a wider project aimed at promoting the Romani culture.

Ida Kelarová founded the 100-member choir of young Roma singers to give young people "the opportunity to work on themselves".

"These kids are from the slums from the ghettos, music is the strongest power that we have to change the world," she said.

"It's very important for the younger generation to meet the Roma culture, to see that they are not aliens, that they are smart children.

"The whole morning was full of joy and love and the kids found a connection together.

"We can show these Northern Irish children that we are beautiful people. We have lots of power in our heart, so don't close the heart".

Image caption Three Belfast primary schools were invited to attend the workshop

Three primary schools were invited to attend the workshop - Malvern Primary, Wheatfield and Good Shepherd.

Damien O'Neill, the principal at Good Shepherd, was delighted for his pupils to have the opportunity.

"If you are looking for mutual respect in action, this is a perfect example of it," he said.

"The children that live in this area do not have access to children from other faith communities. I've seen some very engaging conversations go on here.

"I think it's a very important step for our children from both communities to see each other in such a positive light and express themselves in such a beautiful way, as they did here".

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