The ethnic Czech villages of the Romanian Banat – today home to around 2,000 inhabitants – are a unique cultural phenomenon. They are located in the mountains above the Danube Gorge and are surrounded by populations of Serb and Romanian origin. The villages’ years of isolation have helped to preserve the inhabitants’ Czech language, customs, and traditional farming methods and animal husbandry. However, Romania is one of the poorest countries in Europe – a fact that is reflected in the quality of life of this expatriate community and contributes to economic migration that threatens the villages’ existence in this modern globalized era.
Since 2000, People in Need has been helping the Czech ethnic community in the Banat as part of a long-term project financed by the Czech government. In the early years, investments went primarily towards improving neglected infrastructure – building or repairing roads, water mains and schools in the villages (including the repair of all roads leading into Czech villages, the construction of a new school in Svatá Helena/Sfânta Elena, repairs to the school in Eibentál/Eibenthal, the creation of computer labs at the schools, and the construction of water mains in Bígr/Bigăr and Rovensko/Ravensca). Since 2004, aid has been focused on creating employment opportunities in the villages, with the aim of creating job opportunities in Czech villages comparable to those that Romanian Czechs would have in the Czech Republic, while preserving the cultural values and customs of the Banat community to the maximum possible extent.
All of People in Need’s activities in the Banat are focused on dealing with the problem of the Czech community emigrating from Romania to the Czech Republic. Young people in particular are leaving their native villages, but they have unrealistic expectations of life in the Czech Republic. Most of them have no more than a basic education and thus find it difficult to succeed in the labour market. The creation of job opportunities in the villages themselves provides young people with an acceptable alternative to emigration.
For more information on the Czech villages of the Romanian Banat, including tourist information, visit www.banat.cz.