Czech Republic: Interview with homeless Romani mother who grew up in children's homes
Nikol is a young Romani woman who lives on the street and is expecting her second child (the state took away her first one). Her boyfriend is a drug user, but seems to be reducing his intake.
She is looking forward to getting her child back and beginning to live normally again. News server Romea.cz interviewed her about her life growing in a children's home and her plans for the future.
Q: How did you end up living in a children's home?
A: I am one of three siblings. My stepfather raised us until he got leukemia. My biological Dad spent a very long time in prison and my Mom is just glad to be alive, she's not exactly doing well. I am the oldest child and that is why I was the first to be sent to the children's home. My siblings followed after our stepfather could no longer care for them.
Q: What was it like there?
A: It's fine there, people are nice to you. The only thing missing is freedom, more independence. You have to follow the rules - the times to clean up, to eat, to go for a walk. The children's homes should not be closed down, there are many children in them and no one will adopt a child over the age of five. I trained to be a cook/food server there. At the age of 16, however, I had to go to a juvenile reform institution because I had extended the time I was taking walks past the limit.
Q: What are your memories of the children's home?
A: Beautiful, I had everything I needed but money. Now I don't have access to the Internet, I don't have electricity or heat, I can't sleep, I don't have a television set, I can't take a vacation. When I was a child I was sponsored to go to Croatia or Disneyland. In some children's homes the material security is better, provided they have more sponsors. We always had to shop at the second-hand store or at the Vietnamese shops. There was also a rivalry when it came to events attended by more than one children's home. The ones from the big cities have more money. I was very ashamed to go to joint events with children from those children's homes.
Q: Are you in contact with the people you got to know in the children's home?
A: I'm in contact with my brother and sister, who entered the children's home two years after me, but they don't know I'm living on the street. My brother will have a birthday soon, but I don't have the money to go see him or give him a present. I would be ashamed to go there looking like this. The last time I went to the children's home I looked absolutely different.
Q: What do you believe should work differently at the children's homes?
A: They could buy the children more clothing. They shop four times a year, and each time they spend about CZK 700 per child. And the food... all of it was served to the exact gram. You must take your food at a certain time even if you aren't hungry, it's not possible to save it for later. They also shouldn't neglect children's visits with their families - not all of the children are without families. The tutors should pay more attention to the children. Some chatted with us and played games with us, but the next shift would be women who just shouted at us and then went home.
Q: Do you believe a children's home can prepare people for regular life?
A: Absolutely, but the children themselves must be interested in that - for example, they have to seek out their tutors. The tutors drove us to clean everything and to learn our lessons, which was a chore for us, but a girlfriend of mine from the children's home attended military school and got a social apartment, for example. Now there are also starter apartments. I believe the children from the children's homes should be more aware that the homes are there for them. Today I would be ashamed to go to the director because of how I used to behave.
Q: What did you do after you left the juvenile reform institution?
A: At 18 I married my first boyfriend, but his Mom didn't like him being with a Romani girl, so I ended up on the street. Sometimes I sleep at a girlfriend's house, or at a shelter, or in a tent. During the winter it's the worst. Last winter we slept in a bus, but it got infested with bedbugs, so it was closed because of the hygiene. That was right when I was pregnant, I gave birth six months ago, but they took my child away from me because I didn't have a home. I visit him every 14 days, though. He's in the temporary care of foster parents. If I can demonstrate that I can take care of him and have a place to live, they will give him back to me. Now I'm expecting a second child with my same boyfriend - he's on the street too.
Q: Was it difficult for you to find work?
A: I've just had temporary work - as a Gypsy girl who comes from a children's home, no one has ever wanted to hire me. Now I'm pregnant so it's not possible for me to be hired at all. Thanks to the Hope (Naděje) organization I have clothing and the opportunity to take a shower. People don't give me money because they don't think I need it when my clothes are clean. My boyfriend and I do smoke grass, we collect it from people who throw joints away when they're done with them - we don't have the money to buy it. My boyfriend was on drugs for five years, but he's improved psychologically and is taking drugs less often now. However, he does have a criminal record, so it's difficult for him to find work.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: I want to go to a shelter for mothers with children and other women. My boyfriend will go work in Switzerland, where he has an uncle, and he will send me money. Once he has made enough he will come back and I'll be able to find a sublet when I get maternity benefits. I am already looking forward to the shelter, but I have to fight for it on my own. I miss being able to cook myself something or watch a film. If all goes well I will get my child back - I can apply for a social apartment in my district. I never think about myself, I will share the last of what I have with anyone else, but then when I myself have nothing, nobody will give me anything. Living on the street has taught me a great deal. I'm not going to stand for that anymore.
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