Marina Kadisheva, IDP from Donbas teaches children and adults in the Roma school

Tetyana Kohutych for, photos by Serhiy Hudak  12 December 2016 18:53  353140188 0141571
Marina Kadisheva, IDP from Donbas teaches children and adults in the Roma school

On December 23, Uzhgorod secondary school №14, better known as the Roma school - the oldest in Europe - will celebrate the 90th anniversary. It was a successful experiment for socialization of Roma conducted in the Czechoslovak period; then the first school for Roma was opened in the area of their compact settlement. Also for experiment, it was built by the Roma, that is, the students' parents built the educational institution for their children. Thus, the experiment was successful: Roma started going to school. Later, experiments continued in Uzhgorod: in the Soviet era, Roma forms were established in city schools, but Roma children would not go there. Here, at school in the vicinity of their quarter, the attendance is much better. Although there are many issues too. To learn more about the life of the Europe's oldest Roma school, with the consent of the director Oksana Legeza, we visited it on a weekday, in afternoon. 

"There have been more favorable offers, but I do not want to leave this place"

Recently, this Roma school has been very popular. The director jokingly complains: the press visit us every day. Recently, the form for adult Roma was opened in the school where they can learn under a special program and take the exams to complete the course of primary and then secondary school.

- 20 people signed up for these courses, ten came to the first lesson, and just about 5 people attend lessons more or less regularly - teacher Marina Kadisheva says. She teaches adult Roma the elementary school curriculum. She also teaches primary school children, including those, whose parents go to evening classes.

Mrs Marina herself has a very interesting story. She is an IDP from Donetsk, came to Uzhgorod hree years ago, when the war began. Her son graduated from grade 11 here, now he is studying in UzhNU. Marina Kadisheva has the title of senior teacher, higher category, but upon arrival in Transcarpathia, the Department of Education offered only a position in the Roma school - there were no other vacancies.

- I was not hesitating, because I needed a job, although I had had no prior experience with Roma children - the teacher says. - There are Roma in Donetsk too, but children go to regular city schools, and I had never worked with such students. I knew that it would not be easy, but I agreed. And now I have been working here for three years, recently there have been more favorable offers, but I do not intend to leave this school, - Mrs Marina says.

"Children are very sincere, and also they understand life"

I asked what she likes about Roma children so much.

- They are really special children, I like that they are very sincere, I would even say, more emotional than Ukrainians - Marina Kadisheva says. - Also they understand the value of things. Unlike the Ukrainian children, who usually rely on their parents, Roma children are used to household work.

- Once I was reading them in class an Andersen's story "Daisy." Its plot reminded me of my own life - my whole family remained there in Donbas, I am cut off from home, the war goes on. It really touched a raw nerve, and I started crying in class at some point. Children immediately went so quiet, looked at me, and I told them about my situation. There was a moment of silence and then one boy raised his hand and asked: "Mrs Marina, do you have a home?" They immediately projected the situation, that when a person loses native land, they lose home, work, money. They understood me and were almost willing to invite me stay with them. They then drew pictures for me: with houses, cars. I am keeping these pictures to take them back to Donetsk as something most precious.

"Children cannot keep their mouths shut, they are always talking; apparently, they have nobody to talk to at home"

The teacher says that children often ask for help, they lack parental affection, attention, they look for it in teachers.

- They cannot keep their mouths shut, because they always want to tell something - perhaps because they have nobody to talk to at home.

Mrs Marina and her colleagues from school often visit the camp - to talk with the parents about their children's attendance. They explain them why it is important to go to school and receive secondary education. These conversations, however, are not always effective.

- I often tell my girls that they are not obliged to get married and have children, I tell them that they should finish school and get a profession - then they will have a chance for a better life. They believe, their eyes beam, but... Well, we'll see - Mrs Marina says. 

"A janitor became a first-grader, that's how it is!"

After the lessons for children are over, at 16.30, adult Roma come to Mrs Marina's classes. Those are just five women and one man. They receive education under the curriculum for elementary school at the special courses that were recently opened in this school.

This experiment started with the great desire of the Roma community activists, the teacher explains.

- It was catalyzed by one of my students, Daryna - Mrs Marina says. - She is a local activist from the Roma community. She did not finish the school because of a typical story - she got married and had children. She has some knowledge, but no document of education. She says that due to lack of knowledge she often has problems when receiving documents, she actually helps other women in the camp to apply for passports, birth certificates, documents of title, benefits. Because everywhere you have to write an application, fill out a declaration - and to do that, one must at least know how to read and write. Not all of them know. I saw that when the parents of my students came to write applications for enrollment of their children to the first grade - and I wrote applications for almost all of them, - Mrs Marina says.

At the courses, adult Roma are taught according to the method of teaching the Ukrainian language to foreign students. Currently, the adult first-graders are completing primary school courses, then there will be exams, and then accelerated high school course. And then, they can even take external independent testing.

By the way, one of the adult Roma schoolgirls - Nelia - plans to take it next year. The woman has two children, who also go to this school.

- She has a motivation - to pass the test and enter the university. She wants to study sociology at the Uzhgorod National University, and then help her people from the camp as a social worker. This woman is quite progressive, she wants changes - and not just for herself. I really want her to succeed.

But the most striking is the motivation of the oldest student at the courses for adults.

- This is Julieta, our janitor - Mrs Marina says. - She has been working here for years, cleaning the classrooms, and then she decided that she needs to study herself. She says she lacks knowledge to write and speak properly. That's how it is! 

"When parents understand the importance of education, children are willing to go to school"

Currently, the students of the courses have first successes - there is some progress in grammar, the teacher says. But, the overall picture will be clear only after the test. The important indicator is how many people from the group will want to continue the courses, to obtain documents of education in the future.

One positive effect of this educational experiment in Uzhgorod Roma school, that we can see now, is that the children of the parents, who attend the courses, show better performance and attendance.

- When parents understand that education is necessary for children, when they need not to be convinced that their children have to go to school, then the children understand it too. It's important to have more such parents among Roma. Then there will be progress.

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