Dafina Savic grew up in Montreal’s Little Italy neighbourhood.
She knows the area well and can often be found working out of one of her favourite cafes.
Savic admits she is often mistaken for Italian, but she’s actually part of a much smaller, lesser-known Roma community.
“We have a language, a culture, a history that people are unaware of,” she told Global News.
The 27-year-old has spent her adult life working to build awareness and fight for human rights of Roma people, but it all began at the tender age of 10.
“When I had arguments with my parents, I would pull out my human rights declaration and say ‘I have the right to respond.’ They weren’t happy with that,” she said.
Savic went on to graduate from McGill University, starting Roma people human rights group, Romanipe, which translates as Roma identity.
The organization fights for fair treatment of Roma immigration and refugee claims, as well as fight discrimination and secure rights for Roma refugees in Canada.
The goal: to empower and mobilize Roma people to embrace their identity.
“We have to convince people that Roma are a people,” she said.
“‘Gypsy’ doesn’t mean ‘to steal’ and it’s not people who are nomads and bohemians.”
Now, she is being honoured with the Sheila and Victor Goldboom Awards, which celebrates Quebecers doing remarkable things for the English community.
Savic also works with school boards to help immigrants settle into their new lives.
Earlier this year, she collaborated with the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre to raise awareness of the Roma genocide during the Second World War.
“I’m amazed that she’s actually able to have the Holocaust Centre here recognize the genocide as separate and distinct form, yet part of the process of the Nazi ideology, which was to murder anybody who was different,” explained Naomi Kramer, president of the Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention Foundation.
In her spare time, Savic organizes events and speaks out against what she calls institutionalized racism against minorities.
“I almost feel like it’s a duty as someone who had privilege of education to use that education to do something,” she told Global News.
That sense of moral responsibility is what keeps Savic going.
She explained her goal is to one day reverse the negative stereotypes of her community through education.