Children in one of the apartments at Lunik IX watching Pope Francis´ speech to the Roma community from a window during his visit to Slovakia. [14.09.2021]
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Kids of Lunik IX

"Kids of Lunik IX" is a series of photographs of children and teenagers living at Lunik IX – a district in Kosice, the biggest city of eastern Slovakia, almost entirely inhabited by Roma people. Among few thousand (3,500 - 6,000) inhabitants live more than 1,000 children. They live in unworthy conditions, sometimes with a dozen or so family members, nestling in twenty square meters. Although there are no walls around the housing estate on the outskirts of Kosice, almost no one from the outside visits this place mainly from the fear and stereotypes that are in the minds about the Roma people. And although perhaps some of these stereotypes coincide with the truth, children deserve attention, interest and help, because they are not guilty of anything and should have equal chances in the start in adulthood. Although there is a school where children attend, it has a low level and is a difficult training ground for teachers who often do not stay there long. More able children try to move to schools in the city, but some of them can not deal with a certain type of stigmatization and the rules prevailing there. They are seated separately, teachers do not have time to alignment their level, which they have taken from school at Lunik IX with the level prevailing there, and they do not cope with the pressure of the foreign environment. That is why a large part returns to Lunik IX with some relief – they return to their own people, where they are not considered misfits and where they feel at ease, because they know the principles of this world, or actually their lack. Father Pavol, a Salesian working on the estate, told me a story of a talented teenager. Due to the fact that he was distinguished by intelligence, he got a promotion to school in the city. After some time, however, father Pavol saw this young man back at Lunik IX, who was digging in a garbage container and smiling. He said that those rules do not suit him and he prefers to live on Lunik. However, there are also Roma youth who manage to finish school outside of Lunik, and then  also study. And it seems to me that these children should at least have the opportunity to leave this place and see if they want another life. The kids of Lunik IX are assisted by fathers and nuns, as well as volunteers working with these children. Teachers who are willing to work in such a difficult environment are also invaluable help. Children living at Lunik IX live like in the ghetto, but often do not see it like that, playing with joy and smiling. From conversations with them it can be concluded that they know they live in ugly and small flats, that people outside Lunik IX probably have much better conditions, but usually do not have time to dwell on it, sharing their time between school and the work they are asked by parents (like bringing water, because there is no running water on the estate, exchanging empty gas bottles or in the summer washing their own clothes in a nearby stream), classes in the church and playing in the yard. They are just as beautiful children as any other. The Roma are by far the most long-term discriminated against minority in the EU. Eighty percent of Roma in the EU still live below the poverty line in their country. Every third Rom lives in a building without running water, and every tenth in a building without electricity. Every fourth Roma child and every third Roma child live in a household where they experienced hunger at least once in the previous month. [European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2017]
author

Damian Lemański

free photographer
Born in 1985, he is a Polish-based photographer documenting life around him. He is mainly interested in man and his place in today's world. In 2008 Damian finished the European Academy of Photography in Warsaw - a school of Izabela Jaroszewska PhD. He has participated in workshops led by Kadir van Lohuizen, Pep Bonet, Tanya Habjouqa, Espen Rasmussen, Stefano De Luigi, Michael Ackerman, Lorenzo Castore, Tomasz Tomaszewski. Vagabond & dreamer. From November 2011 until May 2012 Damian traveled across South America. From this solitary expedition he made a film called "181". In October 2015 Damian longed for the dust of the road and went on another journey. This time, the vagabond took his bicycle and cycled from Poland to Senegal. During this trip, together with the Foundation "Hear Africa", he was collecting money for the education of deaf girl, Makane Dieng. From this expedition Damian made a film "Restaurant" which had a premiere in February 2018. In early 2019, he flew to the Greek island of Lesbos, home to Europe's largest refugee camp, because he wanted to get to know the people so many fear without knowing them at all. In October 2019, he visited Senegal again - this time to document the activities of the Polish Medical Mission. He took the opportunity to meet once again with Makane - the girl he supported 3.5 years earlier - and to organize a fundraiser for her further education. In recent times he left his heart at Lunik IX, a Roma settlement in Košice, Slovakia, among the children living there. To not die, from time to time he is visiting this place. Everyday he tries to love.