I’m not a merchant: I’m a student!

Hana KozurikováBýchory11 July 2000
In order to finish my third year at the School of Social Work in Prague, I had to work as an intern. The student social worker was supposed to accomplish two things: to learn a lot, and to perform a community service she could be proud of. I had always wanted to offer my services to the children’s facility in Bychory, near where I lived.
I met with the director, worked out the details, and was all set to go. My job was to mediate between Romany parents and Facility employees. That seemed simple enough. As a Rom myself, I was certain that Romany parents, as opposed to non-Roma, would want their child to grow up at home. Surely they wouldn’t in any way participate in placing their child in a youth facility.
Was I ever wrong!
Milan is a twelve-year old with three older siblings, parents and other relatives. He is a Rom. As I found out during my visit, his family lives in a large village house with a big back yard, barely twelve miles from the Youth Facility. I was shocked to learn that in the three years Milan has spent in the Facility, he has never had a visit from home.
I investigated the situation for a long time before I found out what had happened.
Milan’s mother brought her son to the Social Work Department at the County Seat in Kolín one day and announced to the social workers that she could no longer cope with her son and from then on refused to take care of him. Her reasons were absolutely trivial and aren’t worth getting into. The bottom line was that Milan did not return home with his mother that day but was sent for psychological testing. The experts at the clinic reached the conclusion that Milan was immature for his age, and mentally unstable.
But aren’t we all? I was shocked by what I had learned. And that wasn’t all! The Children’s Foster Home where Milan lives now is at a loss because Milan’s family still doesn’t want him at home. I decided that I had to see the situation for myself. I spoke to Milan’s mother-and I could hardly believe my own eyes and ears. At first she tried to convince me that the "swine” from the Social Work Department had taken her son away from her. But finally she admitted the truth. It destroyed all my ideals about what a Romany family and what a Romany mother is. For the longest time I lived with the belief that a child is the object of pride for a Romany family, and its greatest treasure.
Maybe in the beginning Milan’s mother didn’t want to get rid of him. Maybe she just wanted to punish her husband who left her for another woman or to punish herself. But the whole story reminded me of the plot of a war novel in which a mother was marched into a concentration camp with a young child in her arms and an older one next to her. The SS man told her to give one up and she knew that child would be killed. She sacrificed the child she carried in her arms in order to get rid of her heavy burden. Milan’s mother also sacrificed her younger child. But who knows why?
The interesting part is that Milan’s parents are together again now, but they don’t want to take Milan back. They say they have big financial problems: they can’t make ends meet for themselves and their three children, and they don’t want a fourth. God! What is the world coming to these days? This mother attempted to strike a bargain with me: She would take her child back if I would made sure that the welfare department would give her more money. But I’m not a merchant: I’m a student!
I graduated, but the internship misfired. It’s true that I learned something but I couldn’t help anyone and came away with nothing to be proud of.
Sometimes when I can’t sleep at night, I think about Milan and the mother from the war novel. Her story had a tragic ending. I pray for Milan. His story is still going on.

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