Martin Dudi: I want to become a teacher or work with children from poor families
Martin Dudi is a 22-year-old Romani student from Písek who comes from a family that does its best to uphold Romani customs and traditions and even still speaks the Romanes language. Until the age of three he only spoke Romanes at home, and he did not begin to use Czech until he went to preschool.
Today Dudi is studying Philosophy and Religious Studies at the South Bohemian University. The following is his life story to date, in his own words.
Classmates kept their distance
As a child I never suspected that I was different from others because of my skin color and social position. At the age of four I first went to nursery school and I saw that the other children were different from me and were behaving differently towards me than they did towards each other.
From the beginning it was difficult to find friends. My skin color bothered everybody.
Despite the fact that I never did anything to any of the other children, they kept their distance from me. I didn't understand it.
I didn't know what I was doing wrong, so I asked my parents for advice. Their answer was clear: "You're a Rom, you're marked by the past, and even though you are considerate and decent, others have prejudices about Romani people."
That was followed by my first day of school. To this day I can still remember the expressions on the faces of my fellow [non-Romani] pupils and their parents when my parents and I entered the classroom.
Everybody stared fixedly at us, and when I tried to sit next to somebody, they told me the seat was taken. I had to sit alone.
I overheard curses and insults a couple of times during the school year, but I never responded to them. My parents always led me to understand that I was not to allow myself to be insulted by those of my fellow pupils who were so "stupid" as to insult others.
In the first grade I began playing basketball. The moment I touched the ball, I knew it would be my favorite sport.
I still play basketball today, but I will say more about that later. At primary school I never had any problems, not with discipline and not with grades.
Thanks to basketball I found many friends, and over the years my fellow pupils behaved absolutely the same towards me as they did toward the non-Romani pupils. Sometimes somebody would "let loose" with some remark, but I got used to that and put it into perspective.
In the ninth grade everybody began asking what I planned to study at secondary school. Everybody believed I would attend a secondary vocational school to learn a trade and become a cook, a mason, a plumber or something like that.
I had a clear idea, though, so my answer was always: "I'm applying to the Business Academy". I felt disbelief from all sides - apparently nobody believed I would have the chance to properly graduate from such a secondary school.
Family financial crisis
Just after I began my first year of high school, my family was struck by our biggest financial crisis ever and my parents were almost completely unable to pay our bills. We did not have enough money for food or rent.
After several months, the situation resulted in our having to move from our beautiful apartment straight into a locality for "inadaptables" and rent defaulters. Never in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me that we would end up in such a situation.
Together with my two brothers and my one-year-old little sister, we moved into a apartment half the size we were used to. The building of our new home was frequented by drug addicts, drug dealers - bad smells and a mess everywhere.
I was not used it, I didn't know how I was supposed to behave there. One thing, however, was clear - I was not allowed to stop attending school or to give up on my dreams for the future.
I was aware that life was showing me how I might end up if I became one of those who rest on their laurels and miss all their opportunities to enter the labor market. Living at the "house of horrors" was unpleasant.
I wanted to aid my parents, no matter what it took. I spent all of my free time training children to play basketball, and after several weeks the main trainers wanted me on their training team.
I attended a trainers' course and my first paid job was training children to play basketball. It wasn't a lot of money, but it certainly helped.
Every month I would give my Mom more than half of my pay, telling her I didn't need the money. After successfully graduating from business high school, I matriculated at the Faculty of Economics of South Bohemian University in the department of Business Economics and Management.
Suddenly I began meeting many educated people and I began to think about what I actually want to be, what I want to do with my life. During the second year I realized that the field wasn't very beneficial to me.
I came home from university every day in a bad mood, and I paid almost no attention to the lectures because they had stopped amusing me, so I decided to switch majors and apply to the Theological Faculty and the department of Philosophy and Religious Studies. Over the last few years I have come to realize that I want to keep working with children.
I want to become a teacher or an employee of a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to working with children who come from poorly-situated families. In the future I would like to give public lectures telling people about the options life offers them, and not just for Romani people.
Energy and motivation from the USA
A couple of days after making that decision, I met my good friend Ivan, and it occurred to him that I might spend a month in the USA, in Denver, Colorado, where the American basketball organization Cherry Hills is located - I work with them in the Czech Republic on projects for children. As a basketball trainer I have been in charge of a basketball camp for three years that is organized by the Cherry Hills club together with American trainers from Denver.
I had some friends there, so I contacted them. I asked whether it would be possible to return to the USA with them when the camp here was over, to spend a month in Denver and learn something new.
My friends from the USA were enthusiastic about the idea. They designed a program for me and I had the tickets in my hand in a couple of weeks.
At the time I asked myself: "How is all of this even possible?" After running the camp here, I flew from Prague to Munich and then straight to Denver.
"I still can't believe it," I kept saying to myself. A boy from a Romani family, who lives in the "house of horrors", was now in America.
I spent my first week there at a high school camp with roughly 100 students. We played games, sang, danced, and the program was full from morning to evening.
After that I spent three weeks with the Cherry Hills Evangelical Church. I attended several charity events called "Manna Ministry", where people whose lives have become complicated come to Cherry Hills and get not just free clothing, food and shoes, but also financial counseling and hair styling, all of it free of charge.
The Cherry Hills organization bought everything ahead of time, we stocked the shelves with food, and the people could come for it. When I saw families with children coming, it was hard for me to hold back my tears.
I remembered my own childhood. I remembered days when I could not go to school because we could not afford to send me there with a snack and there was nothing to eat at home.
I imagined how I might feel if, in the future, my own children might not have anything to eat. What if my little sister wouldn't have anything to eat?
That was a horrible idea, and what is even worse is that one can do almost nothing about it. I felt hopelessness and powerlessness during the time I spent there.
I asked myself: "How is it possible that some people have so much money they don't know what to do with it, and some don't have any?" Every day I wanted more and more to work with children and youth.
I decided I had made the right decision to change majors and study at the Theological Faculty. During my time in the USA I also had the chance to attend a two-day program called the Global Leadership Summit.
Successful managers and business owners who had transformed their dreams into reality gave presentations there. I was most captivated by the ideas of Patrick Lencioni, who has a written a book called The Ideal Team Player, and T.D. Jakes and his book Destiny – Step Into Your Purpose.
Another brilliant experience was attending the Catalyst Conference, where Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel lectured about their own dreams and the need to aid others. I must say that my month in the USA gave me not just a great deal of enjoyment and experiences, but also new aims, dreams, and vision.
In conclusion I would like to really thank everybody who has supported me. I thank the Open Society Foundations, Roma Education Fund, ROMEA, Albatros, my parents, my trainers, my teachers and friends who have become my role models and managed to give my life meaning.
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