’Do you consider it important that health care workers should know more about Roma people?’ – this was a question I asked of the people in my research. The Roma women at the maternity ward found it important that the doctors should be familiar with their culture, in order to understand why they don’t want to undress in front of strangers, why they want to share the joys of birth with the entire family, or why they tie a red ribbon on their baby’s arm. Most doctors, however, answered that treatment does not involve getting to know the personality and background of patients; the diagnosis and treatment of the health problem is the most important.
What I inherited from my family was the will to continue fighting. Nobody has believed in Roma people and we are still around and try to get by. Therefore, in spite of being from a despised minority, I decided to teach. I knew I had to change things from the top. If future health care workers are compelled to have a course on Roma culture, especially with authentic and well-prepared teachers with health care experience, they can be moulded, their prejudices destroyed, and health care gradually changed.
First I wrote a letter to all the people at the university who were responsible for similar fields. I told them I wished to teach my subject in the form of a communication training, which gives students the opportunity to practice and to face prejudices and the sources of conflicts through community interaction. To my surprise, several of them were interested!
I still remember my first interview. I almost crushed under the knowledge that now I had entered the building not as a student but as a future professor – even though I did not yet have my degree! It was a huge burden, but my determination was stronger. The heads of the department gave me an opportunity to tell them my story. This is what I said:
’I am the child of a poor Gypsy family. When I was little, I decided that I wanted to see everything that was hidden from me because I was born poor and a Gypsy. I have studied all my life, not for the paper, but to gain enough knowledge to really help people. I enrolled in medical school as an adult to get to know the health care system from inside, and to see both sides of it as a professional and as a Roma patient. The Roma are often accused of not trying to do anything to better their fate – well, I am here! I know I am able to do the task of sharing information about my people and teach students communication strategies to destroy their prejudices and train health care experts who are free of stereotypes.’ It was not a classic job interview, but all by myself, as a Gypsy woman, honesty was my only strategy.
And I had turned to the right people at the right time. They asked me to hold an introductory lecture to the teaching staff. They gave me the topic (I’ve forgotten what it was), and I worked it out carefully. I wished some of ’my people’ could have come with me! But I had to face a group of distinguished professionals. I relied on my knowledge and my communication skills, and I spoke to them honestly, from my heart. They did not cease to ask questions, and I was happy I could speak to them about something I find so important. My people.
Then I got the opportunity to produce a course syllabus. Romology as a subject has been taught at the university for several years, by a well-trained and authentic professor (who also supported me and gave me much help), but I felt it was worth looking at the topic from another angle as well. I had never produced a full-term syllabus before. I asked help from Roma experts and friends who had more experience than me, and gradually a formerly non-existent university course came into being. My course! It was found suitable, and last year already I got the opportunity to hold presentations on some courses and at conferences, in an interactive way.
Some readers might see me next September on a course, on the teacher’s platform!