Michal Daniel, left his home in Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic, with his parents and siblings, when he was 7 years old. They were living in a Roma ghetto, with little prospect of meaningful employment, or education, and a future which was about survival, and avoiding the ever present racism that has dogged their ethnic ancestors for centuries. His parents wanted to do something positive for their family, and ensure that they had a better opportunity in life, and, most importantly, one which was safe. They decided to move to the UK…and Derby.
At the time, there were only a few Roma families in the City; this was the very early days of migration from Eastern Europe. Neither Michal, nor any of his family, could speak English so it was always going to be a difficult time, initially.
Michal went to the Pear Tree Community Junior School, and received extra help with lessons in Maths and English that meant that he could progress very quickly. This, coupled with the fact that he was immersed in the language every day, meant that, within a year, he was fluent. Despite being from another country, he was not subjected to the racism that they’d experienced back in Czech Republic, and living in Normanton meant that he was largely invisible. The issue of EU migration wasn’t uppermost in the consciousness of most people in the UK, at that time.
At the age of 11 he went to the Merrill Academy, and then at 16 to Derby College onto the Lexus Course. This was a one year course specifically designed for young people from other countries to assist with language and a further boost to their education in Maths and IT. After this Michal enrolled on a Level 2 Business course, but left before it finished so he could start work in a local factory. This was a tough regime of 12 hour night shifts which, although paid him money, wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life.
Michal had been attending the local Roma Youth group – Roma Community Care , which operated out of the Pear Tree Baptist Church, with significant support from the Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Derby. In March 2014 he decided that he’d like to become a volunteer worker; the switch of role was potentially a difficult transition and he wasn’t sure if it would work. He was keen to start helping and guiding the younger members and pass on his experiences in the City. At the time there had been some flare-ups in the area, and the Police had invoked their powers of dispersal to ensure no groups formed in the streets. There was no evidence that this was from the Roma youngsters, but Michal’s calming influence was a useful asset.
Later that year he chose to continue with his education and to formalise his Youth qualification. In November 2014 he embarked on a Level 3 Diploma in Youth Work. This was a course accredited by Aim Awards; a route similar to the previous National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) system. Although there is classroom input it is a course that focuses on the attainment of practical objectives.
To achieve the Level 3 qualification, Michal needed to gain 36 credits across 8 modules – these were Principles and Practice of Youth Work; Work based practice; Intervention strategies; Knowledge practice and skills in Youth Work ; Safeguarding ; Anti-Social Behaviour; Mentoring; Helping towards independence. His work was constantly assessed and the assessment was both internally verified , by Derby City Council, and externally verified by Aim Awards. This was far from being a “box-ticking” exercise. One of the most critical modules, Safeguarding, had 40 different points that had to be demonstrated and assessed.
After 2 years, Michal was finally awarded his Level 3 Diploma – the first Roma person in the UK to have done this in the Youth Work profession. From the initial intake of nearly 20 people there were only 2 people left, including Michal, who managed to stay the course and receive the award. This now gives him the right to an interview at the University of Derby to join the degree course. He’s now working on a Level 2 Business qualification through Progress to Excellence.
At Roma Community Care he is also part of the advocacy service which helps Roma people with a wide variety of issues on tax, benefits, Council contact, education etc. He also supports local schools, and the occasional interpreting service for other institutions.
Michal finds that the young Roma people want to leave school as soon as they can so they can find a job. Typically, their aspiration is no higher than going to work in one of the various Chicken / Turkey / Flower / Biscuit factories in the local area and to be a manual worker on minimum wage ; they want to follow in their parent’s footsteps as they have no other reference point within the community – they have no role models.
Michal is one of the emerging group of Roma youth who have received a good education in the UK, and are in a position to break away from the factory based work. In his own Youth Work, Michal wants to “open the eyes” of the youngsters in the Club to different career possibilities and the fact that they can strive for something better than their parents. It might take many years to start making a real difference, but the more role models that there are in the Roma Community, like Michal, the more that they will feel released from the legacy of centuries of oppression that they were subject to in their home country.