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> Badrans: A Century of Tradition and Innovation
> Dr. Naseeb Shaheen, historian
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> Fr. Gaudentius Orfali of Nazareth
> Amoun Sleem, community organizer
> Nasri Fernando Dueri, musician
> Fayeq [Mike} Nasser
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> Laith Bazari, DJ
> Augustine Lama, composer
> Talal Nasereddin, CEO
By Daphne Marshall
Amoun Sleem is a proud community organizer and a leader within the Gypsy community of Jerusalem. After greeting us at the steps of the Gypsy Community Centre in Shuafat, Amoun leads us through a flowering garden to the centre’s front room - a colourful gift shop that displays hand-embroidered pillows, handmade quilts, and traditionally designed jewellery. Beyond the gift shop, we come to a small office and two classrooms. These are bustling with activity. In one classroom, a group of ten adults and children are listening attentively to the teacher who is guiding a ten-year-old boy as he begins to learn to play the piano. In another classroom, which is lined with four computers, eight children are studying English with the help of a volunteer.
This centre grew out of the efforts of one dedicated woman. Amoun Sleem left her job at a nearby hotel - she has a diploma in hotel management from Notre Dame Center - to devote her time to the community in which she grew up.
“From a young age, I believed that I was able to lead and that I had been chosen to lead the Gypsies,” says Sleem. Since 1999, when she established Domari, the Jerusalem Organization for the Advancement of Gypsies, Sleem has been devoting time to raising consciousness about her little-known community and advancing its political, social, and cultural standing.
Approximately 5,000 Gypsies live in Palestine - 2,000 of them live in Jerusalem, mainly inside Bab el-Asbat. Gypsies have lived in the Middle East since the Middle Ages. The Dom, as they call themselves in their ancient language, trace their origins to northern India. The Dom left India in several migratory waves between the third and the tenth centuries and spread out to the Middle East and Europe. Amoun Sleem is proud of her ancient culture but is aware that advancing her people will only be achieved through modern education.
Amoun Sleem and her eight brothers and sisters were raised by their father after the mother died in childbirth when Amoun was seven. As is customary in the community, the father never remarried out of respect for his late wife. Dedicating himself to his family, Abu Shaker shied away from community leadership. “He worked hard and made sure that we got a good education,” says Sleem. “He taught us that education is the most important thing in life. He is my first and most important role model.” Her second guide in life is Zarife, her older sister. “I remember watching her studying at night by candlelight when she was a student.” Zarife became the first Gypsy woman to complete post-secondary-school studies. Today she is a nurse.
When asked about being a woman leader, Sleem replies: “I am lucky. My father is a respected and influential member of the community, and my family supports me completely.” Looking straight ahead with beautiful black eyes that are full of determination, she adds: “A woman leader is more careful but also more creative. She will never break the rules but rather will make small changes that really matter.” With such determination it is obvious that she will make her dream come true: seeing the Domari, the Gypsies of Jerusalem, become a respected and proud people.
Compiled by Daphne Marshall
For more information on the Domari, visit www.domari.org, call 02-532-4510, or watch for the soon-to-be-published book, The Gypsy Women in Jerusalem..
Source: This Week in Palestine