When non-Roma intervene in child-rearing…

Emílie HoráckováMimonJuly 2000
The Dunka family lived in Mimon. Mrs. Dunka was an unassuming woman. She was tiny, skinny and looked older than she was. She was the type of Romany woman who stuck to the Romany way of life no matter how many times she moved from place to place.
Her husband was skinny too, maybe because he suffered from tuberculosis.
They had five children, four boys and one girl.
They lived the Romany life: poor but happy. Together they overcame all obstacles, and learned to accept all the gifts and losses that life had brought them. After a long illness the husband died, and Mrs. Dunka was all alone with her five children.
People collected money for her husband’s burial. Here in Mimon it’s customary for all the Romany people to attend a funeral, even if they didn’t know the deceased. It’s their way of showing respect and sympathy for a woman left alone with her children.
The Roma say that it’s better to have a bad husband than to be alone. Usually one finds this out only after the partner is gone.
From then on, Mrs. Dunka’s life was never the same. She had a hard time coping without her husband’s support, and she started to drink. Her interest in her children faded, and she began to sink to the bottom. Her children stopped attending school, and her problems got bigger. Finally the government stepped in and took the children from her.
Everyone has different standards. It can take very little to sustain a family of people who don’t care about having material goods and luxuries. Yet social agencies decide that the children are not getting enough. So they send them to a children’s home. They separate them from their families, thinking re-education is the best solution.
That’s true to a point, but it has its negative aspects for the development of the children. They begin to lose their identity – and Czech society still does not easily accept them. You might call the Dunka children’s new environment lovely and adequate in every way. But they missed something.
The oldest boy kept running away to see his mother. When he wouldn’t find her at home, he would run to the cemetery to his father’s grave and cry. And he kept asking about his mother and his people.
To a Romany child such a forced change is a big shock. Even though his needs are met, the child remains insecure: seemingly he has everything, but he lacks something very important. A beautiful environment cannot be a substitute for a mother’s tenderness and feeling of safety.
Their mother went back to Slovakia. There was nothing to keep her in this country anymore, and she couldn’t live alone. So she left her little house.
The children are growing up. They have been living in the home for seven years now. All the siblings are in Dubá-Destná. The oldest boy, Marian, played in the movie "Marián.”
I have visited the children in the home and saw how beautiful they were. But you could tell that two things were missing: their spontaneity – and their parents.
The director was very kind and showed me all around the home, telling me how he felt. He was very proud that one of their children is an actor. For his part in the movie Marian had earned 50, 000 crowns, which has been put into his account.
But he remains with his siblings, and neither he nor the institution knows anything about the mother’s whereabouts. She never visits her children and does not send support money for them.
The sad part is that many children are institutionalized because their parents face many kinds of problems. The intervention of non-Roma into child- rearing and keeping a certain standard has been good. We are grateful for that. But it’s not always the best thing for the kids.
I left the home with mixed feelings. Even though the children were given proper conditions, good food, are kept clean, and get an education (or re-education?!), I couldn’t help myself, and started to cry during my interview with the principal.
I couldn’t stop. I felt sad to the bottom of my heart.
Some of us get very hard lessons from life from very early.

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