The wheels of heart and mind: supporting Roma children in education

Image: GDJ /

Gelu Duminică, executive manager of the foundation Împreună Agency for community development, relates his own school experience and the recipe behind his fruitful educational trajectory.

I am Roma and my family are common folk. My mother, who never learnt to read, and my father, who finished 7th grade, went through enormous suffering because of the misconceptions of people towards Roma. Their entire lives were spent in honest work, and they educated their children on the necessity of giving and receiving respect. However, many people around them feigned superiority because they had more money, and their skin was white. This, and many other things, led my father to teach us that “in order to make it in life, you need to be twice as good as a Romanian!” And so it was. Life, however, showed me that I cannot generalise, and that racists can be overpowered when one gets help to become resilient.  

My parents always supported me, even if it meant that they had to make great sacrifices: to make sure that I had clothes and stationery for school they had to give up having warm boots and clothes for winter. They made this sacrifice with a smile on their faces, assuring me of their confidence and telling me that “the sky is the limit” in my evolution. Some of my teachers laid their hands upon my shoulder and smiled at me when I answered during classes, explaining to my classmates that my results were all the more important, as, in order to be like them, I had to face challenges they did not face – I did not have my own room or my personal desk, I wore clothes that had belonged to my older brothers, and very often I could not go on school trips. These “trifles” left deep scars on my childhood soul, but the kind words that I heard and the confidence that my teachers had in me made me want not to disappoint them and continue to come to school gladly. In fact, I believe that this was the recipe of my educational trajectory: the fact that some of my teachers made me regard school as a joyful thing and not as a place where my soul was torn.  

I did not want to go to secondary school, let alone university. I went to secondary school because my mother intervened, forcing me not to give up challenging myself, and I went to university as a result of the solidarity of the people around me. Even from the first year of secondary school, some teachers started to explain what university meant, and how it can help one succeed in life. They used to talk to me every week, holding some university flyers, persuading me that I could get there. In the 10th grade, following their counselling, I chose Sociology. When I passed the exam, my friends raised some money, and my neighbours helped me to pay for my dorm room. Without their support, I would have remained at home, which would only have strengthened the idea I used to hear around me that “somebody like me has no way of going to university”.

I never had any issues with the wheel of the mind, as certain people knew how to set it spinning for me. I was lucky that those same people understood that each of us also has a wheel of the heart that must be taken care of. For only when the two wheels interlock can good things happen...

Gelu Duminică

Gelu Duminică is the executive manager of the foundation Împreună Agency and an associate professor of Sociology and Social Work at the University of Bucharest. For the past 21 years, Gelu has been implementing community development projects at the level of over 100 local communities where a significant number of Roma live. Currently, Gelu is Educational Advisor for the CoE-EC INSCHOOL project.