The Yanopol family

In the village of Chudovo the Kalderash have lived for 20 years. In the village there is a “settlement” school where children receive primary education. However, not many of them study further. (Following the traditions of their fathers and grandfathers), they start families and begin working very early, so they have no time for studying. Ramesh Yanopol is an exception to this rule. This year he is finishing school and is planning to enter university. We would like to tell more about this wonderful young man and his father who always supported him in his pursuit of education. 

Vasily Grigoryevich, your family is special and unique indeed! You live in a settlement, but all your sons attend school, and the eldest, Ramesh, is in his last year. Tell us more about your family: where did you live, where did you come from?

We came to Chudovo from Belarus in 1986. Before that, we lived usual nomadic life. We went to so many places! I was born in the Tula region; then we lived in Uzbekistan, then in Belarus, and in Gomel, after that it was Aktyubinsk and Orsk in the Sothern Ural. Over time, we moved less and less. We would live in the same place for 3 years, then for 5 years, 7, 10. At the moment we’ve been living at the same place for 25 years. In my childhood all my family worked as artisans. At that time, it was in demand. We made coppers and tin. In the 80-s cooperatives were organized to conduct different works, mostly making metal constructions at home and welding. The way of life was absolutely Romani, and, of course, the attitude to the school and education was traditional.

Did you study at school yourself?

The first time I went to school was in Orsk in the Southern Ural in 1983. I studied there for 3 months, but then we moved to Aktyubinsk. I didn’t go to school there at all. Next year we returned to Orsk, and I finished my first grade with all A-s. We still keep the certificate as a family relic. Then I didn’t study until 1986, when I finished my second grade in Chudovo. This is all the education I have. So my “scientific knowledge” is in the limits of primary education.

You speak very good Russian. I would never guess you have finished only 2-3 grades at school. But now you decided to sit all your exams and get the certificate?

Yes, I planned to do it in 2009, but, unfortunately, I didn’t manage. I didn’t have enough time or money. I had to work a lot. Though, I still hope that next year I will manage to do it. I hope to change jobs, so I might get an opportunity to study with tutors. Of course, I do want to finish secondary school.

Ramesh, could you tell us about yourself?

I am studying in the 11th grade of secondary school in the village of Syabrenitsy in the Novgorod region. This year I am finishing school and planning to enter the Novgorod University. I like history very much.

I heard you participated in the local history readings; you were invited to Moscow and even got a prize for your work.

I started this work in biology class, as we got the task of creating a family tree. Firstly, I made a list of who gave   birth to whom, but I thought it wasn’t enough. Then I asked myself who are we, Roma people, and I decided to improve my work. We created a family tree back to the 7th generation, from the end of the 19th century to nowadays. We could have dug deeper, but it was too difficult because the Roma people moved a lot and even changed their names. Sometimes they even hid their ethnicity pretending to be Greeks, Bessarabians or Serbians. That’s why our chronology is limited. We used as many  of our ancestors’ names as  were known.

Ramesh, was it easy for you to study at school? Did you have any problems in your first years there?

It was very difficult in the beginning. The school was a sort of foreign environment. I was taken from home and put in some strange place. There was a contradiction in my childish attitude: the usual, natural Romani environment where all the children run around and play games was very different from the one I was placed in – I had to attend the school, study things, and do my homework. I was led to school by the hand for the first four years, until I got used to it. I even cried at school. In the fifth form I felt much better, and now I feel very good there and study without any problems.

Did you have any problems with the Russian language in the primary school?

No, I didn’t. But it is because of my family: at home we read Russian fairy tales, learned poems by heart. My parents had a purpose – they wanted me to learn Russian. It was a bit difficult to speak in Russian, but I had no problems with understanding. By the way, things like television should be taken into account as well – the children watch TV and automatically learn Russian.

Ramesh, why was the school environment strange for you?

The first factor was obviously the language. Then, at school I was supposed to behave differently. At home I could do whatever I wanted, but at school I had to study and behave in a different way.

Any person who comes from a traditional environment faces such a problem. There is a stereotype that the Roma people really should not study at all; otherwise they will lose their identity. Another opinion is that you can be educated and Roma, not loosing connections with your ethinicity. Vasily Grigoryevich, what do you think about it?

Only an educated person can think this way, because they can see the perspectives and the borders. It is very difficult to explain why education is important to an uneducated person. For instance, if a person thinks that the Earth is flat it is very difficult to explain to him that the Earth is round, and that, actually, it also turns. Of course, there are farseeing and reasonable people in any society. Such a person becomes the head of a closed society, in spite of its strict hierarchy. Such a person accepts challenges of the time, becomes a leader even if they lack regalia. And such a person does not want to have any titles as they are above the prejudices.  It’s a different personality, a new formation.

There is a stereotype: “Why shall a Roma study?  Just let them dance and travel around.”

Yes, our people often consider education to be a negative experience, thinking it is better to live without education than to disappear in the faceless masses. They think that civilization destroys, and that education would lead to common globalization, would destroy ethnic identity.

I think such traditionalism is a form of self-defense.

Yes, of course. But new people should come, a new generation who would solve the pressing problems of modern Roma people.

You managed to teach your sons; Ramesh is in his last year now which is very unique for a settlement life. Did you have any arguments with relatives or community?

Of course, I did. The first time my elder relatives wanted Ramesh to get married when he was in the 7th grade. At that time I refused saying that he was too young, and we didn’t have enough room in the house to take a bride. The relatives talked about marriage next year again. It was very difficult to refuse as it could offend them. So I pulled down the house, in one day. When the matchmakers came I told them: “You see now, I don’t even have a house! How can Ramesh get married now?” Thus, we got some time, and Ramesh continued his studies. Now he is married, but is still planning to finish school and enter university.

We can only wish good luck to Ramesh Yanopol in entering university and will support him in all possible ways. We like to believe that he will become a representative of the new generation, which would help Roma people to get through isolation and marginal status in the society.

Ella Tereschenko

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