Slovakia: Romani woman couldn't find job, now owns her own store
News server Romovia.sme.sk has reported the story of Jana Ferencová, a Romani woman who lived in residential hotels in the Czech Republic for years before starting her own business after returning to Slovakia (see http://romovia.sme.sk/c/7035901/romka-si-pracu-na-liptove-nenasla-dnes-ma-vlastny-obchod.html#ixzz2npHiVr32 - in Slovak only). This is her second year running a second-hand clothing shop in the town of Liptovský Hrádek.
Ms Ferencová and her husband worked for three years in the Czech Republic, and she has had to relocate her shop three times, but she refuses to give up her dream. "My husband and I wanted a good life for our children, which is why we went to look for work in the Czech Republic. We couldn't find any here [in Slovakia]," she says.
The small business owner, now 47, comes from a family of nine children. Her father worked and ran a small business to feed his family.
When he fell ill, he found work for his oldest daughters in the capital, Bratislava, as cleaners. "Our parents were role models for us and we want to be the same for our children," insists Ms Ferencová, who only has a primary education.
"It hasn't been easy, but we have succeeded," she said. While living abroad they gradually began to do better and even considered moving there permanently.
"Three years ago we were working in Prague. My husband was heading a construction gang there, everyone was self-employed. The owner of the residential hotel in the Hloubětín quarter where we were living offered me a job as a cleaner," she says.
That was a turning point. She cleaned at the residential hotel for a year, but then her husband lost his construction job.
The head of the residential hotel offered him a job as a maintenance man, but the mother of three didn't want her youngest son to live at the residential hotel anymore. "There were 10-year-old boys smoking grass there. Cigarettes I might understand, but marijuana? I feared mainly for my 13-year-old son Dalibor, who had enough problems of his own at the time," she says.
The final decision, therefore, was clear - to return to Slovakia. "Once I was home I began sending applications and my CV everywhere, but they all turned me down," she recapitulates.
It was impossible to get a job with just a primary education. "I don't have a certificate, but I'm adroit and reliable. Many times there was a job open, but when they saw I'm Romani, they just said they would call me later," she says.
The family made a living working odd jobs at construction sites for that first year after returning to Liptovský Hrádek. Ms Ferencová worked along with the men at the cement mixer, but they gave it up because the wages weren't high enough.
"I asked the local Chinese business people whether they needed help, but they didn't," she says. The desperate woman walked door to door looking for employment.
Ms Ferencová knew that with no job she would be forced to spend all the money she had made in the Czech Republic in about two months. One day she decided she had had enough.
She began buying blankets and sheets every Tuesday and selling them to local Romani people for a small profit. Her husband and son drove her around and she negotiated the prices with her Romani customers.
On the internet she found a warehouse of clothing in the town of Žarnovica (Banská Bystrica region) and began going there to look over the goods and bargain over prices and terms with the suppliers. "Naturally I calculated how much to buy from the suppliers, how much to sell it for, and whether it was worth it," she says.
It took her three months to find a wholesaler she could come to an agreement with. Leasing a shop was another problem.
Ms Ferencová could not find any free spaces for lease through the private landlords either in Liptovský Hrádek or Liptovský Mikuláš. "It was just like looking for work, everywhere I went they told me they would call me and that was all," she says of her initial experiences as an entrepreneur.
She saw her last chance as being the Liptovský Hrádek Housing Office. Experience had taught her only to speak with the person in charge, so she went straight to see the director.
"I told him: Mr Director, you don't care about skin color, you care about money. If you have empty spaces, you will make money leasing them to me, where is the problem?" she recounts.
Her forthright strategy paid off. The Housing Office leased her space for a shop with a trial period of six months and a deposit of three months' rent in advance.
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