“I never had the opportunity to go to school as a child, and at 24, I couldn’t speak, write or read in English,” says 27-year-old Ramona Constantin. “I was a housewife and a mother and that is all I was meant to be.”
In 2009, Ramona, A Roma, migrated to Manchester, England for a better life. She left Romania after her husband left her and her daughter with no means of financial support. She decided to move to the UK to improve her situation even though she lacked any skills, a formal education and the capacity to speak English.
She shared her personal experience on her migration challenges and opportunities in England during a panel discussion on participatory development at the United Nations Social Forum of the Human Rights Council, which was organized by the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva earlier this fall.
Ramona decided to take an active role in her community by registering for a training program sponsored by the Manchester City Council, the University of Manchester, and the Big Life Company—an organization that provides educational job training, language classes and housing assistance. During this program, she took courses in English, as well as computer and job training. For 18 months, she worked for the Big Issue in the North selling newspapers on the street in order to practice her English and support her family.
“On a personal level, this experience really made me who I am today because it gave me the confidence to follow my dreams,” she says. “The training created hope—it shows the Roma people in Manchester that there are people who want to help us, who want us to stay and to become a real part of their community.”
Today, Ramona can read, write and speak fluently in English. She is working as a community interpreter and performs community outreach for the Big Life Company. She is also working as an interpreter for a National Health Service trust and collaborating in a project in Romani Studies at the University of Manchester. She also works at several local primary schools with Roma and non-Roma children as a Teacher’s Assistant.
“We shouldn’t have low expectations for ourselves and no one else should have low expectations for us simply because we are Roma,” she says.
Ramona feels that it can be difficult as a stranger to engage with a community because of their cultural differences. She says it is important to develop a support structure in order to feel more engaged with your network, which means reaching out and learning more about a community’s resources and services.
“I think I bring hope to my community—the hope that it’s possible to achieve even without an education or without being a rich person,” she says. “The fact that I am a Roma woman doing this kind of work is something different for them [her community]. The fact I have been visible to my own people through my hard work sends a powerful message.”
In the future, Ramona would like to attend a university and eventually become a social worker. She also hopes her outreach work will inspire young Roma people, especially young women, to work hard and attend school. “We are the same as anyone else—we have the same minds and the same potential,” Ramona says.
Migration is one of six global thematic priorities of the UN Human Rights Office. The revised strategy of the Office focuses on a range of issues including opposing the criminalization of irregular migrants, combating discrimination and xenophobia against migrants, protecting economic, social and cultural rights and advocating for alternatives to the immigration detention of migrants. The Office advocates for a human rights-based approach to migration, which places migrants and their rights at the center of all policy responses to migration.
On 10 December we celebrate Human Rights Day. This year’s theme is inclusion and the right to participate in public life.
26 November 2012