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Fatima Bergendahl

Stockholm, 27.09.2015

"Every woman has to decide alone by herself if she wants to work outside the house. It’s not like five hundred years ago, now we are in the 2000s. Here everybody can go to school, not just stay at our towns, cook for our family, and be with the kids. If we want our kids to have better future, me as a mother I think that every woman should go to school."

Violeta Naydenova, Confession

Anything Is Possible If You Want It Enough

 

“School was like hell for me, but this had nothing to do with reading, writing or doing my homework. Not at all. There was another reason, a reason I will never forget because I was only 10 years old when I started to experience it.”

I grew up in a small Roma neighborhood. We used to step on small stones in order to enter the house as the ground was muddy, especially when it rained. It was a small house but I never felt that anything was missing. Often we had a piece of bread covered with oil and sugar as a snack that was the “marmalade” for us during communism in Bulgaria. I had a happy life full of friends, adventures and joy. The only thing I did not like was going to school. School was like hell for me, but this had nothing to do with reading, writing or doing my homework. Not at all. There was another reason, a reason I will never forget because I was only 10 years old when I started to experience it. But let me tell you a bit more before I tell the story of that 10-year-old girl.

Our neighborhood’s segregated Roma school was only 10 meters from my house, but my mom noticed that children did not receive a good quality education there. So every morning, she took me to a public school in the city, far from my neighborhood. This made her life difficult but she never stopped taking me to school every morning and bringing me home after classes.

 

So how did it happen that I hated going to school? I was the only Roma girl in my class since the other Roma children were in the segregated school in the Roma neighborhood. However, not long after the Roma pupils finished at the Roma school, which lasted until 4th grade, they had to continue their education at public schools in the city. Some of them came to my school. These were the kids from my lovely neighborhood, and I was very happy to see them. But not for long.

My classmates at the public school had not known I was Roma. I sat in the front row and I was one of the best students in class. I had a lot of friends and I enjoyed every subject. When my Roma friends came to my school, I started to play with them and spend time with them. Seeing this, my classmates soon realized that I was different. I was not really one of them: I was a Gypsy. Little by little they started to avoid me. They would no longer play with me, they would no longer talk to me, they would not pay attention when I talked to them, and, even worse, some of them started to humiliate me for being Roma.

It was unbearable to experience this—to be called bad names and treated differently just because my ethnic origin was other than Bulgarian. I was soon moved to the last row in class and often did not have a classmate to sit with. I started praying for school to finish fast, as it was indeed a kind of hell for me. I was only 10.

Previously an active and joyful child, I became closed and ashamed of who I was. I did not know what was wrong with being Roma. I did not know why they treated me this way when I was the same person before and after they knew my origin. It was all so hard for me to understand.  

I grew up and I finished school, glad that I did not have to be there anymore. But I did not give up. I believed that I had to fight and to prove that there is nothing wrong with being a Gypsy girl in Bulgaria. Every day, I strived to be better and better. I finished secondary school and went on to university, where I graduated with a degree in journalism. I worked hard and never gave up trying to achieve everything that I wanted in life.

I believe that anything is possible if you want it very much. I continue to fight to be who am I, to fulfill my goals and to be true to my values. Nowadays, working for the Open Society Foundations, I am proud to be a Roma activist who helps give opportunities to many young Roma women and men.  

I encourage all Roma women to not give up, despite the hardships they experience. We will often be underestimated, mistreated and discriminated against because of who we are—but we should never give up! Every woman should continue to fight for equality and for recognition and to achieve her dreams in life.

Dear Women, never forget that anything is possible if you want it enough!

Violeta Naydenova