Travellers and Roma gathered at Pavee Point Traveller & Roma centre to celebrate their achievements in education and make suggestions for the future, on International Traveller and Roma Day 8 April.
Rosaleen McDonagh, writer and PhD candidate said: “Formal education was not always kind and respectful to me, to my ethnicity. However, learning to read and write has been the one achievement that saved me.
“When you can read what they write about you, you can respond in their language with their words, but with your knowledge.”
Bianca Paun, a Roma law student at Maynooth University explained how the university experience has made her stronger. “It has been a journey – from nailing exam techniques to helping to set up the women’s rugby scholarship programme in the university.”
“A push needs to happen so that third level education for Roma children becomes a norm. I am the only Roma in my university, that I know of, but judging by my siblings I won’t be the last,” she said.
While Higher Education Authority figures show that while 1/15 adults in the State is studying in one of the universities, institutes or colleges – there are just 61 Travellers in Higher Education.
Sindy Joyce, Traveller advocate, Doctor of Sociology and recent appointee to the Council of State also sent her message: “Education is a basic human right and it can be very empowering. We must offer a safe space to validate identity and culture that is both inside the institution and outside the institution.
“It is essential that we celebrate who we are as a people as well as our achievements. I would say to our young people to be proud of who you are and always remember you can achieve anything you put your mind to, just be you. “
Traveller groups recently presented to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills and highlighted the need to create a more inclusive learning context that promotes respect for diversity, interculturalism and addresses racism.
In closing the event, Pavee Point Co Director Martin Collins said direct and targeted measures are needed to promote Traveller and Roma inclusion in mainstream education. Quoting the first Hispanic Justice in the US Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor he said: “Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society”.