Stories in English

From the ghetto to the Music Academy

2012. január 5. | CJI - Románia

By Elena Tudor

Mihai Grigore left home when he was 10. He is from Bârlad and has six brothers. His parents were living in a poor Roma neighbourhood, they had odd jobs and could not secure decent living conditions for their children. „There were days when didn’t have anything to eat,” Mihai recalls. Desperation gave him the strength to leave. The Queen’s Heart, an NGO, was his luck: the association gave the chance to some children in the ghetto to live in two flats in Bârlad. Mihai was one of them.

He failed the first year at school, because a hard winter prevented him from attending courses. He didn’t have what to wear. He can still remember his parents talking on cold winter mornings: „Let him sleep, it’s cold, where can he go like that? ”

Education – a life belt

Education is vital to Mihai: it has saved him from living in the ghetto. The NGO included in the program and then he left home and went back to school to make up for the wasted year. During the secondary school he studied the clarinet at the Music School in Bârlad and then he went to high school in Iași. There he graduated the theological seminary. Now he is a student in the first year at the Music Academy in Cluj – Distance Learning Department.

He makes friends easily; this is how he met a Romanian woman working for  „Fifty fifty” – a German NGO developing Roma programs, based in Düsseldorf. Two years ago the association celebrated its 55th anniversary; Mihai was invited – together with other friends from Bârlad – to play at the celebration. They are all members of  Mugurel band. This mini-concert was followed by others and, this November, they are invited again to Germany, to play at the opening of a painting exhibition. He started playing the clarinet when he was in the fifth grade at the Music School and now he can play very well. He studied, he improved his knowledge and participated in contests. He also plays the piano well, but he confesses he has to work harder.

It is his turn to help others

Together with friends from Birlad School, he set up his own association – School Elite. Their aim is to find Roma children in difficulty and explain to them that going to school is their only chance to succeed in life. It is actually Mihai’s dream: to help – in his turn – other Roma children. He is aware that education is the only way out of poverty. „I lived in a 16sqm room, my parents had odd jobs, I had many brothers and we were sharing our footware. I had a hard life and I was offered a better one. This made me choose the right way”.

He wants to offer an alternative life to some children in his old neigbourhood. Meanwhile, the local authorities have moved the community to a place with better living conditions, but Mihai says the rate of unemployment is still high. People have changed only the place, but not their habits. Due to poverty, most of them do not send their children to school. In the new neighbourhood, he found a small room that he turned into a sort of day care center for children. One of his friends, a member of School Elite, looks after them. Mihai teaches them music and dancing.

It is the education that matters, not the colour of your skin

Now he is looking for a job to have a secure income. Queen’s Heart Association still helps him, but he is 21 and has to find his own way in life. As a theological seminary graduate he can teach religion to students in the primary school. He is trying, but it is difficult to get a job in the education system when you have no experience. He doesn’t talk about discrimination. „I have never experienced that. My secondary school teachers didn’t even know that I was a Gypsy, they would learn that after I started telling my colleagues about discrimination. I have always believed that it is education that matters, and not the colour. If you are not educated, then you do something else, you take up drinking, drugs or stealing”.

His eyes look sad when asked about his brothers. Most of them are on their own, but two are still living with their parents. He is very sorry that one of them has given up school. Unfortunately there was nothing he could to help him.

He still – almost obsessively – believes that school is the key. He smiles again when you ask him about his plans. He wants to have a family and to offer his children a better childhood than he had.

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