Eoghan Dalton Reports
Many Travellers’ experience in the education system is negative, according to the National Traveller Women’s Forum.Eight Traveller women from Waterford recently completed certificates in Community Development and Leadership, which was coordinated by the Waterford Traveller Community Development Project.
One of the graduates, Margaret Connors, told the Munster Express that she and the other women are trailblazers for younger Travellers.“I decided to go back for myself. The kids were getting a little bit older and I noticed the difference in myself since I started back. It’s given me more confidence as well.”
She had left school at age 14: “After first year and second year of secondary school – that was it. There was no one asking you to stay on from the school or the family.”
Before going back to education, she found herself waiting for “direction” from settled people in everyday places, such as the post office.“If I walked in some place I’d step back I’d be kind of stepping back and waiting for someone from the settled community to give me directions on what to do.
“It’s not as if they’re looking down on you but you still feel you need to be led by them.”Her QQI Level 5 Major qualification allows her to work with schools as a liaison for Traveller children. The women were assisted by the Waterford Traveller Community Development Project and presentations were made by Minister of State John Halligan.
A number of women also completed Minor awards in a number of modules. Waterford & Wexford Education & Training Board supported the women under the Local Training Initiative to undertake the Community Development Certificate through a number of modules.
Maria Joyce, coordinator of the National Traveller Forum, said it’s vital that these courses are available: “It’s about the achievement of the women who get towards a qualification. It’s really important that these kind for opportunities are created for young Traveller women to engage in.
“Unfortunately many Travellers’ experience within the education system in Ireland is a negative one. There isn’t equality of outcomes with comparison to the settled majority.
“Creating these kind of spaces shouldn’t be needed to happen but unfortunately does have to happen.”Karen O’Reilly, another graduate who received her certificate, said she left school in 5th year.“I just felt like I didn’t belong there, I was being discriminated against by students and teachers in the school. It was something I would have liked to do – to have my Leaving Cert – so I went back to education two years ago.
“I knew there needed to be a change for Travellers and that the only way through change is through education, so for me just to be there and just to be a leader in the Traveller community, you can be there for them.”For Margaret Connors, she sees this as the sparks of a change. “We’re changing because we want to change and in ten years time there is going to be a very big difference because we’re making the change for the young people. “And why shouldn’t a Traveller woman lead the way?”