Glafira Frolenkova is a 6th year student of the Sholokhov Moscow State University for the Humanities and a scholarship holder of the Roma Education Fund.
Ella Tereschenko : “Glafira, coud you tell us about yourself, your childhood, family, where you lived and grew up?”
Glafira Frolenkova: “I was born in the town of Yartsevo in the Smolensk region. Roma people live there mostly in the district of Old Yartsevo. My grandparents had seven children. All of them live on the same street, but in separate houses.”
E.T. : “How did your school life start?”
G.F. : “When I was a child, my best friend was my cousin Oksana, who is one year older than me. Earlier teachers used to come to our street and register all of the seven-year old children for school. I remember that year very well. My cousin was seven years old, and was preparing for school – getting some vaccinations. I understood how important it was and decided to prepare for school as well. But I was only six years old, and my parents said firmly it was too early for me to go to school. When teachers came to our home I asked them to register me as well and told them all I knew at once: alphabet, poems and riddles, and even the numbers up to 10 in German – all of it my father taught me. The teachers listened to me and agreed to register me for the first grade. My parents were against it. But I was adamant, made a fuss andin the end, was registered for school. There is only one school in the Old Yartsevo district, and mostly Roma children study there. I got in there. The first year at school was a bit difficult for me despite my reading skills. I had problems with spelling, and my mother helped me a lot. Later I took to studying and prepared for my classes on my own. It did not matter whether I was ill or if the weather was bad. I went to school anyway. I really liked to study and talk to other children. I was very inquisitive, I wanted to know everything. I had some problems with good conduct, but the teachers forgave me because I studied very well. I was very active, participated in all school games, wrote scripts for them, recited poems on stage,and always won first prize. I still remember my first performance: I read poems about war in my third grade. I was very nervous on the day of the performance, and then came my line. While reading I paused, but people started clapping as though I had finished. I was very confused and looked at my teacher. She showed me to continue. I continued to recite, and the audience listened to me and applauded even louder. This is how I won my first prize.”
E.T. : “Was it easy to finish school?”
G.F. : “The critical moment was in the 9th grade. By that time no Roma children still studied – they left school after 3d or 5th grade. My cousin Oksana and I also agreed “We can read and write, that’s enough, and we can work now”.We stopped studying and decided to finish only 9 grades. We saw no sense in continuing our education. But times changed, and so did the economy. I saw that shops were being built, supermarkets were being opened, and understood that private trade would change as well – the principle “buy here – sell there”. I did not really want to feel cold at the market and bargain with people. I preferred to communicate with people, benefit them, and be involved in important activities. So I decided to become a lawyer – to defend human rights. Of course, I was foremost concerned with Roma rights. So I entered 10th grade, changed my marks from “satisfied” to “good”, in 11th grade – from “good” to “excellent”. And I finished school very well.”
E.T. : “How did you enter university?”
G.F. :”It was also not that easy. My parents did not let me go to Moscow, and I was at home for almost a year. It was difficult to see my schoolmates and listen to their stories, what schools they entered, even though at school they were worse students than I was. I didn’t even try to enter any university… The next year I entered the economic college in Safonovo. Fortunately, my cousin also entered this school, and my parents allowed me to go there with her. And it was not far away from Yartsevo. But there was no law department at this school, so I chose to study accounting. Two years later I came back home with an honors degree and asked myself: “What should I do now?” I asked my parents to let me go to Moscow, but they did not agree. Fortunately, my other relatives – aunt and cousin Nikolai – supported me, and I am very grateful to them. I went to Moscow: exams for budget studies were over, but exams for paid studies were in a week. I studied very hard for the exams, and read all the textbooks because I had to remember everything. By that time I already forgot many things from school. In a week I had to learn all of history from primitive society to Putin. I managed to enter the Law Department of the Sholokhov Open Moscow State Pedagogical University.”
E.T. :”Did you have to work?”
G.F. :”Yes. I had to pay 40,000 rubles a year. It was very hard, though my parents and my cousin helped me. I lived at my cousin’s in Abramtsevo, and the road to university took 1,5 – 2 hours. I got up at 6 a.m., went to university, after the classes worked as a secretary until 11 p.m. I studied for university at home, staying up very late. I slept three hours a day. I had to work weekends as well. I managed to live this way for three months, slept at lectures – then I got sick from being overloaded. I left my work; hardly finished the first year, passed all exams and decided to study by correspondence. I had to work to study. The dean was against it, because he saw my efforts and wanted me to study full time. He signed the order on my transfer with a regret.”
E.T. :”Did the scholarship of the Roma Education Fund help you?”
G.F. :”Yes, of course. I learned about the program from my friends and applied for it at the Ant-Discrimination Center “Memorial”. Though the scholarship was not very big, I would have given up studying without it – my financial situation was too difficult. It was just enough money, but I had to really save money as I needed money not only for studies, but also for transport and books. There were also incidental expenses. For instance, I had to pay to go to hospital as I had no registration in Moscow. I also had to pay for the Internet, which is essential for studying. I saved money on food… Another important thing for me was that we, the scholarship holders of the Roma Education Fund, are often invited to conferences, seminars and trainings. I see that there are very few Roma students in Russia even compared with Ukraine or Moldova. Every year I wait for a conference to see my friends from other countries, the communication level is much higher there than in our everyday life. We discuss many issues regarding ourselves, educated Roma people. Of course, the life of uneducated Roma people who got married very early and try to keep the family is very difficult as well. But it is even more difficult for us as we must combine work with family and follow the Roma traditions. I think it is possible to be a true Roma woman and be educated and live in the modern society at the same time.
Sometimes I think of what I would be doing now if I didn’t study. How could I maintain my family? Trade and everything related to it are passing away. Many Roma people are seeking jobs, but they are not accepted without education. I am very grateful for my fate, that at the crucial moment I continued my studies. Many people dissuaded me from it, but now they say: “What a clever girl you were to get your own way!” My younger brother finished only three grades at school. He was doing very well at school, especially at math. Even now he counts mentally much faster than I do, even with the help of a calculator. But he was too lazy to get up early, and then he had to work and help our parents. He is 22 now, and he often says: “Why didn’t my parents force me to go to school?” But I think a person has to have an inner understanding that education is necessary. Nobody forced me.”
E.T. :”What are you planning to do after you’re graduated?”
G.F. :”I want to stay in Moscow as there are no prospectives in my hometown. I was directly told, that there only someone’s friends and relatives can get a job, and all placements are occupied in advance. I chose to study civil law and would like to be a lawyer. I had an internship in the Simonov court in Moscow, attended several trials and I asserted myself in my decision. It is very important for me that human rights would not be violated. I myself was discriminated many times. For example, we go to café with my friends, but the owner says: “Gypsies are not served here”. I also was told that in our town there was a notice on the door of the job center: “Gypsies are asked not to apply here”.
I also want to have a family and have a husband with modern views, who would not be against my work. I believe all is going to be good!”
And we wish Glafira to have success at work and happiness in her private life!
Interviewed by Ella Tereschenko