Roma-to-Roma: Elvira interviews Natasha

Natasha is a Bayash Roma, who is married and has one daughter and graduated from the University of Zagreb as a Nurse Practitioner. She has been active in Christian work as well as pursuing her medical career and also running for the National Parliament in Croatia. She is currently working on the translation of the Bible into the Western Croatia Bayash dialect. Her vision within The Roma Bible Union is to build a network of successful Christian Bayash young people to take leadership positions within the culture as a whole.

Interviewing her is Elvira Marginean who grew up in a Bayash village in Serbia. Elvira has just finished her undergraduate work at the University of Novi Sad in Business Leadership and is planning to do her Masters Degree and then PhD in Economics to create systemic economic models of change in Bayash Roma communities. Elvira also is working on Bible Translation in the West Serbian Bayash dialect as well as writing and assisting at several levels within The Roma Bible Union.

Elvira – Can you share with us your early school experience? How was it to attend the school as a Roma?
Natasha – While I was in the elementary school from the first till the fourth grade, one Roma girl was with me in the first shift and then in the second shift, there were two other Roma girls. There was not many of us in the elementary school since it is a small place. I do not recall any negative situations or experiences during it, except that at one that time, the other children would not include us, in social games or common events. So we felt a bit rejected and we did feel that we were different, so we would always sit in the back. To be honest it was normal for the Roma to sit in the last rows. In 5th grade of elementary school, things changed significantly, because we showed that we are worthy, we are diligent and that we love to study. These teachers, as well as other children in the class, noticed, so they completely accepted us. I remember when I was in the 7th grade at the primary school, other girls from the department would say that we are great, that we are completely the opposite from the Roma that they are used to. For them, this was a big and positive surprise. When I enrolled in high school, other children did not even know that I was Roma, they didn’t notice either my appearance or speech.

Elvira – What kind of dreams did you have as a little girl, and why that dream?
Natasha – Well since I was a little girl, while I was still in the kindergarten, I dreamed of becoming a doctor. I’ve always loved to wear a white coat, to carry a stethoscope and toy needles with me and to act that I’m a doctor. It has always been my wish and somehow I just saw that in front of me. Why? Somehow I think that maybe because I simply loved to play with it as a little girl. What was interesting for me was that I always pretended to be curing sick children.

Elvir a – As a Christian, how did faith help you to get to the place where you are right now?
Natasha – When I was 9 years old, my parents started to attend a Baptist church and as a child, I went along with them. I was familiar with God and with the Bible, but I did not have any experience with Him by myself. My experience actually started when I was in 2nd grade of High School. I experienced a personal encounter with God. In that period, everything changed significantly, it started with self confidence, I began to observe myself differently, of course, positively (laughter), I had more faith in myself, I had positive thoughts that I can and I will have one day my own job, my own money and and my own career. So I can say just by thinking about it that since I gave my life to God, I can endure more, I am tougher, and I can go even more and more forward in life.

Elvira – When we speak about Education, what does it mean to you?
Natasha – Education for me presents change. Change in worldview. I can say that a person mentally and physically can feel differently with education. Education helps us to make money for our lives but it would not be possible if we wouldn’t have the necessary and proper education for it. We have to look beyond what we see in front of us. Specifically for the Roma people who are living in the Roma community, their main focus is on their circumstances, on the members of their families they live with, and they simply do not see it further than that. They do not have greater dreams or desires, “Well, if my neighbours are not working, I do  not have to work either, or if they do not go to school, I do not have to go either.” So I consider education the key element in a changed life.

Elvira – As we mentioned your family, how did they react to your desire to get educated?
Natasha – My parents never stopped or pulled me away from being educated, on the contrary, they actually supported me. They were not like typical traditional Roma parents who, when their child finishes elementary school, especially the female child, if they do not want to go to school further, there is no pressure for them, they don’t have to. My parents wanted me to get a proper education, they didn’t have any problems to convince or either force me because I wanted it, so they just supported me.

Elvira – What about your faculty? Why did you decide to go for more, did you felt that it is necessary for your future?
Natasha – When I graduated from High School, I applied for the Entrance Exam at the medical faculty, unfortunately, I did not manage to enrol in the faculty I wanted because of one subject that I missed. They told me that I could try in Rijeka (a city in Croatia), that I would surely succeed there, they even called me to come, they urged me to take the Entrance Exam at Rijeka, but somehow I felt that I should stay in Zagreb to try out another faculty. So, the next day, I came to the High Health Faculty and I took the entrance examination. In my heart I felt it was the right thing for me, that was it. So I ended up at the Health Care School, which is a three-year medical study for a medical nurse. I found my self in that, and I felt alright about it. I was not discouraged or disappointed because I didn’t make to get into the Pre-Med faculty that originally I intended.

Elvira – Are the Roma accepted in their vocations?
Natasha – If you had asked me this question, my dear Elvira, a few years ago, while I was still studying, my answer would then be no. Now I can say that it is difficult to be accepted as a Roma in my profession. When I graduated from my faculty I was employed at the state hospital at the intensive care unit, everything was fine until the moment the information was received from the state commission through a set of circumstances that I was a member of the commission to monitor the national strategy in the field of education and health Roma national minority, so they found out that I was a Roma.

I noticed that they began to behave differently towards me, more negativity in the sense that they would slowly reject me, trying to avoid me and try to keep their distance from me. At first, I didn?t know why they acted so, but I found out later. Slowly, they started to ask questions about my nationality, I admitted to them that I was Roma, some colleagues accepted it greatly, some even praised me, while other colleagues began to avoid me no matter my expertise, my knowledge, my diligence they avoided me because of my nationality.

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