Petra, a Roma girl from Plzen in the Czech Republic, remembers her school days.
“We were scared to go to school , they were waiting for me at the gates. They used to run after me and tried to get money and cigarettes off me. I didn’t have any so they hit me”.
One day she, and her friend, were surrounded by 30 boys and girls. Her friend was grabbed by the hair, and her head smashed on the ground. They wrenched her hair so much, that they pulled out large sections of it.
“They made a big circle round us and the Head Teacher was watching everything from the window and didn’t do anything.”
This did not take place in Plzen this was in Derby 10 years ago. She was 13 years old at the time, and was very uncertain with her English as she’d only be in the country a few months. Her family had left the Czech Republic mainly because her father was having difficulty getting enough work to keep his wife and 4 children. He was a Slovak “white” ( non-Roma) but because his wife was “black” Roma it was impossible for her to get work due to the discrimination. The racism wasn’t just skin colour, it was simply because of being Roma. Age also did not matter.
When Petra was 12, she was with her brother at a children’s party. While they were all enjoying themselves, the house was attacked by a group of 8 skinheads in their late20s and early 30s. Not content with shouting abuse outside, they broke in and caused mayhem for the children in the house. Fortunately the Police arrived promptly and dealt with the gang, but it left a great sense of fear for Petra and her friends.
She came to England in 2004 when she was 13 with her parents and brothers. After spending a brief period in Bradford while her father found a house she spent all of her time since then, in Derby. The incident of bullying at the Merrill College in Allenton was met with swift action by the Council, despite the Head Teacher denying all knowledge of the incident. She was moved to Sinfin Community College after a brief gap of a few months.
Her English was very poor at this stage but with intensive tutoring from within the college, together with a dozen other students of Czech/Slovak origin, and a Slovakian translator, she became reasonably fluent within a few months. Her memory is much more positive of her time at Sinfin, and she left with a few GCSE’s which importantly were in English and Maths.
After leaving school, she took further education to improve her language skills, and then pursued a brief modelling career in London. She has since done some volunteering work, and also jobs at local firms who routinely employ people from Eastern Europe.
She now works in Derby as a Community Organiser for LOCALITY, and helps in the process of identifying areas of neighborhood concern in Mackworth, Alvaston and Abbey by talking it through with the residents.
Petra is very philosophical about her future aspirations. She just wants to have a job, a family and to own her own house. “ I don’t want to be rich – I just want a normal life”. She realizes that learning the language was the most important part of her education. She is very forthright about this “When I came here, I decided I needed to speak the language, I want to be here, and live here – I need to know the language”. It is clear that this has been so pivotal in her integration within Derby, and has enabled her to feel that this City is now her home.
She told me that she visited the Czech Republic a few months ago, with her Mother to see some of their family. Within a few days she wanted to leave and return to Derby – the only place that she now feels is her home.