Personal testimonies

Janie Codona

 I am of mixed Gypsy, Scottish and Show-people heritage. My Granny was show-person and went to school in winter. I had just one year in school between the age of6 and 7. As a five year old I experienced racism and told my parents; it led to a fight. From that point on I asked myself, “Do I tell and take the consequences, or stay quiet?”

As an adult with no qualifications, I managed to get onto part time degree Youth and Community Work degree at London Met using a portfolio of work. I would travel from Kings Lynn, to prove people wrong who didn’t believe I could.

My next challenge was my PhD. By then I was a grandmother of 14 grandchildren but I always had the support of my family as well as Jo Richardson at De Montfort University. I value education because I’m surrounded by family who weren’t educated. As a child I had to read documents I couldn’t understand to the adults in my family. Education is something to have in your back pocket.

Putting children in school from the roadside has become almost impossible. Times changing with tablets and phones. I have made my children promise they will send their children to school.

I’m proud to be a Gypsy; claiming back the word. Gypsies’ education starts the day they are born but we are playing catch-up. I work as an advocate with Gypsies in Fenland and being Gypsy was an advantage getting the job; it’s the first job where I could be open about my background. I feel proud to be part of the group of women I have met today. Organisations like this should be run by Gypsies, Roma and Travellers. Being empowered isn’t easy; the culture can limit women’s freedom. Activists can’t leave the communities behind.

Christina Kerrigan

I am an Irish Traveller and mother of two children. I joined the Traveller movement in April 2017 after attending an advocacy course on domestic abuse; I then had the opportunity to apply for an internship and started the following October. 
I am now Community Development and Partnerships Officer working on the education project delivering cultural awareness training. I also deliver cultural competency training with Solace Women’s Aid and do casework as an advocate for women. 

I am a member of WEN (Women’s Empowerment Network) and also a member of the Department for Education GRT stakeholder group. 

I left school just before my GCSEs and I’ve had various jobs but I have never identified myself as a Traveller. I took every opportunity I could but it always brought her back to this kind of work; raising awareness and helping to fight against discrimination and many issues in Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

Sabrina Stewart

Thanks for inviting me; I’m glad to be here. I’m a Scottish Traveller who has spent most of my life travelling the length and breadth of Britain. My father was educated but my family were mobile as I was growing up; we did fieldwork between February to November each year. I had had three jobs before I was 16 and I have a business selling washable rugs.

I have six children and when they were in hospital I was inspired to train to become a nurse. I attended first aid classes for Travellers at the  Traveller Movement and went on to qualify as a nurse. I joined the Women’s Empowerment Network. I’ve done a public speaking course because I feel people who are nomadic are left out of the educational conversation. I faced particular difficulties myself trying to enrol in Higher Education without having a permanent address.

Siobhan Spencer

I am a believe if Lifelong learning; we can go back and fill in the gaps or add to what we learned in school. It’s more difficult to kindle flames from sparks of interest in young Travellers without the Traveller Education Services.

For people like me the challenge is juggling between real world and that of networked learning. The challenges we currently face are listed in the review of non-existent social integration strategy submitted by the National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups and FFT.

We should never forget where we come from, especially our language. We need to celebrate all that’s happening but not forget the people on the side of the road; we have to bring them with us.

I had a great aunt who was able to get work as a nanny by pretending to be Jewish, using what she had learned from a Jewish man of the road. I studied Native American culture, who believe life is an education. We all need to work together