Positive role models
Ondavské Matiašovce is a beautiful small village in east Slovakia, the place where I was born and where I have lived until recently. I remember that, back in my day, all girls and boys would continue studying after completing elementary school. Later on, they would attend the agricultural school in Čaklov or the forestry school in Vranov nad Topľov, or study in Medzilaborce near Humenné to become glass cutters. Even a few years after communism’s collapse, everybody would continue his or her studies. We even had one girl who was an university graduate, and she was seen as a success for the whole community. She came from a better family than mine was, and I used to think that I could never achieve anything like that.
But the level of education in our community had already dropped radically ten years after the Velvet Revolution. There was no work, no money, and a fear of racism and skinheads started to creep in. Parents let children go to school just because of the mandatory attendance, but didn’t want them to continue their studies beyond a certain level anymore. They were scared to let their children study in cities, and I understood that fear.
However, the situation slowly started getting better. A number of coincidences made me enroll at the university and choose journalism as my field of study, a choice that filled me with enthusiasm and passion. The passion holds me until today. Before that, I had studied to become a costume maker, and then I graduated art school. Later on, I studied pedagogy because I wanted to teach art to secondary school students, and when I finally enrolled into university, I opted for public health and social studies, which I did not complete, unfortunately. It was so not because I did not want to or could not, but because I had to decide between continuing my education and starting my own family. Family was my choice and I to move to the Czech Republic.
I am very happy for having been able to study, and I enjoyed it very much. Of course, I am not mentioning my success because I want to show off, but because my sister told me recently that it was me who started all the positive changes in our community. Apparently, children in our village look up to me, wanting to be like me. It was also touching to hear my niece saying that it was me who gave her courage. The fact that I managed to become a journalist shows that it is really possible to reach higher for them too. My niece wants to become a nurse. And the children from Ondavské Matiašovce believe their dreams can come true, they just need to believe in themselves and work hard, and the chances will come.
I was a social worker in Ondavské Matiašovce, and working with teenagers, women and men was a truly amazing and fulfilling job for me. It was not always easy, though but social work is like this. You help people solve their problems. I was driven by the feeling that I gave back to my people what has been given to me. I was given the possibility to help others, and that, from my point of view, is the true meaning of all the skills and knowledge that we posses. I would tell children that, if they believed in themselves, everything would be possible.
Some of those who heard me are still studying. The first one who completed secondary nursing school was my eldest niece. For our Roma community, it was something unbelievable and they did not give her much hope. But she managed to graduate nonetheless, and she was actually one of the best students, and was employed at the clinic in Vranov immediately after graduation. Now all parents believe that this can happen. But the first swallow always needs to leave the nest in order to bring hope.
If Roma complete their studies or become public figures, they should own up to their identity, because the courage of one can change the lives of many.
I am thrilled that these changes have been happening in my village. Children nowadays believe that education is important and that studying is entertaining and amazing! What more could I wish for after my efforts? But the thanks should not come to me. It is the children who deserve them, for their intelligence, will and ambition. If they hadn’t accepted the idea that education is important, my every word and effort would have been useless.
Everybody has a chance. Everybody can do it. They just need to have their self-confidence back after years of discrimination and prejudice.