She wanted to help, though she needed help herself

Author: Emilie Horackova
Location: Prague
This is the story of my daughter, whose nickname is Cíca.
She was born in Prague in an ordinary Romany family. Her childhood was almost carefree, although she was ill.
She started elementary school with symptoms of epilepsy, a permanent physical handicap, and a speech impediment. Her first days at school were traumatic. She had to put up with ridicule and contempt, both because she was handicapped and because she was Romany. Although she had looked forward to becoming a first-grader, she soon developed a strong aversion to school – and fear. She continued going to school only because we, her parents, said: "If you don’t go, they may put us in prison.”
She was the only Romany girl in the class, defenceless and undefended. She was full of apprehension about what might happen to her. There were only ten to fifteen Romany pupils in that primary school. Most barely finished first grade and were sent to special schools.
It wasn’t surprising that this little girl had troubles, whether with the Czech language or the company of children who did not give her the slightest feeling that she was their peer. They followed the instructions of their parents who had the same attitude: the attitude of the whole society. They were clearly unwilling to accept her, and even hurt her: they cut her hair, her dress etc. Nobody spoke to her, and she had to sit at a desk by herself.The school staff wanted to send her to a special school during her first year. But we did not agree, insisting that she be given another chance. “If she fails to finish first grade, she will repeat it,” we said.
It turned out well. Cíca just passed in Czech and was allowed to continue. We had to speak to both the teacher and the headmaster frequently. And it became obvious that other children often attacked and ridiculed her.
The years that followed were sad and difficult for Cíca-and for us. She had to assert herself, and overcome many obstacles. Seeing a speech therapist helped. But the other children’s behavior made her feel inferior. She didn’t have much self-confidence and had to make a big effort. The children would not accept her and even her teacher had the prejudice of the majority.
I am not saying anything new. I just want to tell you what this one child experienced.
She struggled to change the other students’ and the teacher’s opinion of her. She wanted to be a part of the class. And her grades improved year by year. She finished the seventh grade with honors, an A in English, B in Czech. She also became very popular with her schoolmates. This was immense progress-and it was quite astonishing that a Romany girl achieved such a position in the class.
But her joy and pride later turned to disappointment when she applied to secondary school. Namely at the time of applying for secondary school. The teacher responsible for the applications said to her: “It’s pointless for you to try to get somewhere and take up space. Once you have completed primary school you will be starting a family anyway!”
Our conviction was proved again: no matter what you do, you’re only a Rom. We knew what kind of society we live in, and we knew there are people here who can be hard and mean. But we wanted to fight anyway.
Cíca sent in two applications and was admitted to both schools.
Because there were many more clashes between skinheads and Roma in Prague, she started in a private secondary school in Ceská Lípa. My husband and I paid the tuition. Cica was the only Romany student at the school and could feel her schoolmates’ aversion. On top of that, one of them was a skinhead.
It was not only the students: teachers also disliked her. Her German teacher failed her without offering the slightest help. Being a native German speaker, he demanded that everybody mastered the language in the first year.
The situation was complex: Cíca could neither complete nor repeat the first year of school. Her teacher and another professor respected her wide range of knowledge and would say: “What a pity.” But they didn’t do anything about it.
This all made her reluctant to continue studying. She stayed home and lost her enthusiasm about getting education. She anticipated further battles and disappointments, and spent two years in despair with no motivation.
Then when a training course for Romany assistants began, she was again encouraged. The course was designed for Roma only and the syllabus seemed right. Cíca wanted to help, though she needed help herself.
And I wanted to set an example for her and took a course to complete my own secondary education. Cíca recovered from her bad mood and went for it: she still wanted to show that she was different and to disprove the popular view of the Roma was still there. And she longed for education.
She completed a course in social studies and became qualified to work as an intermediary between Roma and the white majority.
But when she looked for a job, nobody would employ her. The job search was another test for her. After more than six months she found a vacancy.
I took part in the interview: imagining what could happen, Cíca was scared.
And she was right. The senior tutor tried to tell her why she wasn’t good enough, why she didn’t belong there etc. The director was on Cíca´s side, though. He needed assistants, and the senior tutor had to give in. She got a one-year contract.
But she had growing pains in the job. It was very hard for us to see all her suffering and not be able to help.
What came next were mistrust and threats from the senior tutor. Cíca was told that she was still on probation. If she did not prove competent, she would be sacked on the spot. This threat was repeated every day. The senior tutor and the staff were bothered by her being so young – and they were not used to working with Roma.Cica had to make a great deal of effort to hold out under such pressure. She summoned all her strength and lost weight. We worried about her a lot at that time, but she wanted to hold out. She did not want white people to think again that things were going the way they wanted them to.
While working in this position, she is taking a distance course at the Evangelic Academy to become a social worker for ethnic minorities. She has finished the first year and has four more years to go. She qualified for a month-long stay in Pilsen, where she will improve her English. Next year she wants to take part in a competition for an internship at a university.
Despite all her bad experience, this twenty-year-old girl has not lost her interest in getting education. She has not given up. She wants to prove to herself as well as to the others, to this society and specific individuals whom she had come across that all Roma are not what everybody thinks they are.
This young girl is still single and childless, and feels pessimistic from time to time – but she keeps smiling.
You would not think at first sight that she is handicapped but she cannot deny her race (some “experts” still think it is a handicap to be Romany). She keeps struggling and proving that all those who have failed to support her and discouraged her were not right.
Cíca has got her work contract extended for another year, and has a chance to show what sort of a person she is.
Her colleagues have accepted her. They respect her. The mistrust has disappeared-even though the prejudice is still there.
Roma must be given an equal chance so that they can show their better nature. And they must be helped to hold out. It is very difficult not to have a helping hand.
Let’s judge individuals, not the whole group. Let everybody base their views on real experience with individuals.

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