We all worked together

Location: Stories Exchange Project Workshop #1
EastWest Institute
Eva BajgerovaLocal Coordinator, Usti nad Labem
My eight-year old son Martin attends a selective school which accepts pupils of our district upon an entrance examination.
Children begin to attend this school when they are eight. You would think that at this age children are equal and wouldn’t worry about who is a Gypsy and who is not.
But there was trouble. My son and a girl sitting next to him began to argue about a pencil: they even fought over it – as children do. The girl began to cry, and said she was going to tell her Daddy that a Gypsy boy sat beside her in the classroom.
She did, and her father came to the school and complained about his child sitting next to "some Gypsy.” Then he asked the teacher to separate his daughter and the boy. So the teacher separated them.
From that moment on, Martin did not want to go to school. I had no idea why: I did not know what was going on. And Martin was not able to tell me why he had lost interest in attending school. So I had to go directly to the teacher and ask her what happened, why my child did not want to go to school any more. She told me about the problem.
I did not understand why the teacher had separated the children. But she said: “I had to do it. We have children of prominent parents here. You understand, don’t you?”
I did not understand. I did not want my child to be psychologically damaged, and wanted to take him out of the school. But I also asked the teacher if she thought he was not able to keep up with the other children. She assured me repeatedly that Martin is intelligent and a good pupil.
So I began to look for a solution: it was impossible to let Martin suffer any longer.
At a parent-teacher meeting I introduced myself to all the other parents so that they could see who I was and how I looked. I wanted them to realize they had a Romany child in the class, and that it would be good to create pleasant conditions for all the children. Then we all worked together to improve the situation. For instance, the teacher had the children play various round games.
I am happy to say that Martin is in the eighth grade of this school now. He is an honor student. His classmates visit our home, and Martin goes to see his friends at their homes. So everything worked out: we succeeded.
But the first step was difficult.
John ShattuckU. S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic
I want to point to that moment that you just described, Eva, a very courageous act on your part to — if I understand it, to have addressed all the parents and changed their attitude, at least in the moment, toward your son.
Stories have a lot of parts, but there’s always a center, and that was the center of your story as I heard it. It took an act of courage on your part, and on his part. You seized the moment and you did something about it. I want to salute that.
John ErwinProject Director
One of the criticisms that we’ve heard about Romani parents is that they don’t care about their kids being educated. This is a cliché, it’s almost a Czech tradition at this point to say, “oh sure, they need special schools because they have special problems. One of the problems is that the parents don’t want them to be in school: they don’t think that learning is important.” We know how absurd that is. But you made it clear in a positive way, Eva.
Your story reminds me of another. One of the participants in the first phase of the Stories Exchange Project, Ilona Ferkova, was the coordinator of a kindergarten in Rokycany. She is now applying for asylum in the United Kingdom, so that for her there’s an unhappy aspect to the story. But she was successful here with the kindergarten: the success was enormous, and it was involving Czech as well as Rom kids. It started as a Romani kindergarten but it became so interesting that Czech parents began to send their kids.
Ilona told about conversations between Rom parents and Rom kids and between Czech parents and Czech kids – not only between the two groups. They went to a summer camp together, and they shared experiences: the kids told stories aboutwhat went on in school and the parents responded. And even within the family there was a very different relationship because stories were told and looked at in detail. The Stories Exchange Project begins at home too – as it did in your case, Eva.

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