Irijana Rizvanovic: Languages are a window to the world

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Twenty-one-year-old Irijana Rizvanovic from Bijelo Polje, with a summer address in Podgorica, is a program assistant in our organization.

From September, she will be an English language student at the Faculty of Philology, the University of Montenegro in Niksic. Irijana, whose name means peace, already has two diplomas - Vocational High School and Electro-Economics, and we are sure she will become the owner of at least one more. We talked to her about her involvement in the NGO Young Roma the long road to education, travel, and plans for the future.

How come you finished two high schools?

RIZVANOVIC: Having in mind the importance of education in order to find a job, I try to educate myself as much as possible. I am a tourist technician and administrator. When I finished the first year in Electro-Economics school, I passed the differential courses in the vocational high school for a tourist technician. I studied in parallel, and I attended the fourth year of high school regularly.

Why languages and why English?

RIZVANOVIC: I speak English quite well and I want to improve it. It is a must, it is the universal language of the world. Perhaps the love of English and American literature also contributed to this, especially the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe.

Apart from English and Romani, I speak German fluently. I am very interested in translation. The great motivation to enroll in English was one life experience. When my father and I were traveling to Germany when I was younger, we were stopped by the police and he did not know the language. There was an interpreter who solved our problem. That's when I realized that languages are a window to the world.

How did you start working in the NGO Young Roma?

RIZVANOVIC: Last year, during the summer, I was an intern in education programs, and this year I became officially part of the team. The employment contract means a lot to me and I hope that I will be a good example to my peers, an incentive to go to school and get a job.

Tell us something about your family.

RIZVANOVIC: There are ten of us in the family. Currently, nine of us live in Montenegro. Now, during the summer I live in Podgorica with my parents, sister, and younger brother. I have four brothers and three sisters. The older brother lives in Germany. My older sister has a disability. She is 26 years old. Our mother and I take care of her. Growing up, I traveled a lot, in other words, I moved. Germany, Italy, Montenegro... I was born in Hamburg. I lived there for three years and then I came to Montenegro.

Does your family support you on the path to education?

RIZVANOVIC: My parents have always encouraged me to continue my education. My younger brother Irijan is attending the third grade of the Vocational High School and intends to enroll in the Police Academy in Danilovgrad. My oldest sister Dzenada works in the Municipality of Bijelo Polje in the office for Roma issues.

How did the education process go?

RIZVANOVIC: I went to kindergarten in Bijelo Polje, where I lived until the sixth grade. Then, when our house was damaged by the flood, we moved to the settlement of Potkrajci. I went to the elementary school Pavle Zizic. In Germany, I finished eighth grade and started high school. After that, we went back to Montenegro, to Bijelo Polje, where I finished the ninth grade because I had to transfer classes from Germany and pass additional classes in Montenegro. As I mentioned, we traveled a lot, so life took me back to Germany where I finished first grade of high school. We returned to Montenegro where I finished high school.

Compare the relationship between students and professors in Montenegro and Germany.

RIZVANOVIC: From kindergarten to sixth grade, I had the support of teacher Sonja Pekovic, who was like a second mother to me. She was always by my side to protect me, explaining to my peers that we are all the same regardless of nationality. She gave me clothes many times and helped not only in that sense. I also had the support of other professors in Bijelo Polje. As for the attitude of students, while attending the elementary school Dusan Korac I made many friends, but after enrolling in the elementary school Pavle Zizic - Njegnjevo, it was a bit harder for me to adapt to the new environment, I became more closed, more introverted...

In Germany, first of all, the education system is different. More attention is paid to practice than to theory, they have a different approach to students. Professors are more relaxed but have authority, they understand students. The relationship is much closer, they spend more time with students.

What is the biggest problem of young Roma in Bijelo Polje?

RIZVANOVIC: Lack of education is a big problem. Many do not finish high school. Some parents do not have the conditions to educate their children, and those parents who do have conditions, still don’t do it because they are not aware enough. Roma teenagers do not think that school is so important, some have potential, they know languages but do not want to waste time.

What is the biggest problem for young Roma women?

RIZVANOVIC: They are under pressure from the family. Many believe that a male child is more valuable, better than a female, that he should go to school, and a female should get married or be a housewife.

What would you change when it comes to the attitude of the majority population towards members of the Roma population?

RIZVANOVIC: I don't like the fact that they think Roma are stupid and uneducated. Roma people survive for so many years, which means they are resourceful, smart. Some are not aware of the importance of education, and many do not have the basic conditions for living and entering the educational process. The majority of the population underestimates or shy away from Roma. During conversations, I often noticed that when I told them I am a Roma woman, they changed their attitude.

Author: Milena Cavic

Text adapted by: Samir Jaha

The views expressed in this article do not represent in any way the views of the NGO Young Roma, the European Union, the Council of Europe and other donors.