Education: Our children need good schools!

Kristina Mikhai lives in the village of Kalinichi, near Tambov. There is a big settlement there of the Kelderar Roma existing for 30 years. The Anti-Discrimination Center Memorial helps residents of the village to register their houses and advocates the rights of the Roma children to education.

Olga Abramenko :”Kristina, how did you find yourself in Kalinichi?”

Kristina Mikhai :”I’ve been living here for 31 years. After I was engaged, I got married here. Before that, we lived in Vilnius in a big barracks. Ours was the first. About 15 Kelderar families still live there: some of them have built their own houses, others still live in the barracks. I also lived in Riga for about two years. I went to a Latvian school there. It is widely believed that people don’t like Russians there, but it is not true. Nobody told us we were Gypsy, no one was afraid of us. They accepted us into the schools, taught us very well, the children were never offended. In Vilnius I also studied well – we were not separated, all of us were together.”

O.A. :”Are you satisfied with the school in Kalinichi?”

K.M. :”No, I am not. First, our school is in emergency condition. Second, it used to be a 9-grade school. Then middle school was moved, but primary one still works in Kalinichi. There is no cafeteria or a gym. But the most important thing is that the children are taught not well enough. You can see that four-graders can hardly read. If they can count it means they were taught by their fathers. To tell the truth, we have two new teachers in primary school. They work very hard, but the result is still quite poor.”

O.A. :”What is happening in the middle school?”

K.M. :”Our children were transferred to the 5th grade in Kuzmina Gat. The building is normal there, but our kids get into lots of fights. I am afraid of sending my grandsons to that school. We complained to the director that our children are offended by the high school students. They beat them, call them names and force them to bring them cigarettes. Is it ok? The director did not pay any attention to the conflicts. She said the children were always fighting, they get used to it, and then everything is fine. We don’t agree: the children are the biggest source of joy for us. If they do not feel good at school, the parents would not let them go there. What is interesting is that after the fights, the children stopped going to school, but the teachers did not even come to ask why the children are not at school. It seems they are glad to get rid of Gypsies.”

O.A. :”Did your children get an education?”

K.M. :”Both of my sons finished the 9th grade. The elder one is shy, but the younger is very resolute. He wanted to study more in the village of Stroitel. When he came for the school certificate he was told: “They won’t accept you, you’re Gypsy”. He got offended and never studied again. But how much better would it be now if he had a diploma! That’s why I want my grandchildren to get an education.”

O.A. :”What would you like to change in the life of the settlement?”

K.M. :”First of all, we need a good school. Our children really want to study, and they can study very well. To tell the truth, very few of them go to high school, but we know, that in Chudovo there is a guy from a settlement who is finishing the 11th grade now. Your journal wrote about him, and there was a report about him on Ren-TV. We didn’t like the program though. It’s not good to show our children mixing with drug addicts. They should do better reporting about school: how the children study, what subjects they have there, what rooms and desks there are. Because it looked like everyone was bad except for the boy. I want other people treat us in a normal way – at school, on the street, and on TV.”

Interviewed by Olga Abramenko


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