My name is Antoaneta Antonova and I am 26 years old.
I am originally from the village of Virov, but for the last eight years I have been living in the town of Montana. I come from a Roma family. Though my parents have four other children, not one of us has ever been denied anything. My parents have treated each one of their kids in the same way. I am the eldest child and the only girl among my siblings. I had a wonderful childhood—I was the happiest girl in the world. From an early age, I was brought up to respect people and to appreciate the little things in life. I am grateful to God for the family I have and that they raised me to be a good person. Had I been given a choice, I would have chosen the same parents and my four brothers, without whom life would have been unimaginable and whom I love so much.
I will never forget the school I attended in the neighboring village of Gabrovnitsa.
I remember the day I first crossed the threshold. I remember the school bell ringing. As I hadn’t gone to kindergarten, I directly started in the preparatory grade. Our teacher’s name was Daniela Ivanova. She was like a mother and a friend to us. She was the one who taught us to write the letters of our names, to count, to distinguish between right and wrong. She was my role model. I dreamed of being like her when I grew up and I wanted to become a teacher. It was wonderful: she never stopped amazing us. When we were little, she used to gather us in a circle and warm us up by taking our hands into hers. We could feel the warmth and love of this woman who taught us so many things. The older pupils looked like giants to us, and we were afraid of them. My siblings and I did not go to kindergarten because our grandparents looked after us and they told us it was better for us to stay home.
Nine years in elementary school went by like a flash, and I had to start high school.
I had the feeling, however, that I didn’t belong there. I found most of my classmates to be arrogant, especially the children of privileged parents. I withdrew into myself because the children with darker skin were laughed at. I was worried that they would start making fun of me, too. I was ashamed of myself and did not want to go to school anymore. My worst fears came true as our classmates seemed to avoid me and the other two girls of Roma origin in our class. Over time, we got to know each other, but this division between us and them was always present. I started torturing myself, wondering why I was born a gypsy. Later, I mustered some courage and stopped paying attention to whether people liked me the way I was. The important thing was that I had a wonderful family, the parents of my dreams, and four brothers I adored.
For my prom night, my parents bought me the most beautiful dress I could have ever imagined.
It made me forget about the difficult moments I had experienced in high school. In the summer of 2013, I had to decide whether to continue my studies or find a job. Despite the fact that my parents insisted on me continuing my education, I didn’t go for that option because I knew it would be difficult for my family to pay for my studies. I thought that having a job would give me the chance to save some money and be able to pay for my education. I knew that it would make my parents very happy.
I found a packaging job at a metalworks company. I moved in with my partner and we started dreaming of our own home. This dream came true, and I was incredibly happy. I was only twenty- two years old when I found out that I was going to be a mother, and that motivated me even more to revive my childhood dream of becoming a teacher. Still, I decided it wasn’t the right time, as I had to devote all my time and efforts to my child. On November 19, 2015 I had my first child. I felt so happy, it was as if time had stopped, and it was all about my child, my home and my family. I thought every now and then about my dream, but it was nothing more than
that. A year later, I got a call from my mother asking me to accompany my sister-in-law Bettina to the kindergarten in Kosharnik, where the director wanted to have a word with me. I did not know what the reason for that meeting was, and I felt a bit nervous. My mother knew everything but she kept it a secret, as she wanted to surprise me. In the kindergarten we met the director, Emilia Kotseva, and one of the teachers, Denitsa Georgieva. We also met two other girls from our neighborhood. We had a chat and, at one point, I realised that we were waiting for someone. However, I still did not know what was going on or why we were even there. Then Spaska Mihailova from New Road Association arrived, along with Eugenia Volen and Alyona Denyakina from the Trust for Social Achievement. They told us that five of us—me, Betina, Temenujka, Petrana and Petya—had been selected to apply to participate in a project aimed at supporting young Roma teachers. We could not believe that this was happening to us. I was speechless and I started asking myself whether it was a dream or a false promise. After that meeting, I counted the days until my next meeting with Spaska. I went back to work and, in a few months’ time, I met with all the girls at the new kindergarten in the neighborhood. This time the surprise was enormous, because we were told that in October we would be given the opportunity to apply to Veliko Tarnovo University “Saints Cyril and Methodius.” We enrolled in Pre-school and Primary School Pedagogy.
My first day at the university, September 28, 2018, was exciting.
All I had ever imagined was coming true. I was in a hurry to get there in order to forget all the bad moments I had been through, as well as prove that not all Roma are the same and that, to me, people should only be divided into good and bad. My new life had just begun; my big dream had finally come true. I wanted to teach children because I love children and I wanted to become a good teacher. It was an ordinary day, but that very day I imagined my dream career and realized that I would never give up, regardless of the circumstances. Early childhood is a unique stage in human life, laying the foundations for one’s future health, education, behavior and personal development. What children experience during these years has a long-lasting impact, not least of all on the future of their communities. Many people choose to become teachers because of a desire to change things. This profession enables us to positively influence the lives of children and teenagers who are the future of their country and the world. To become and remain a successful teacher, you need to passionately love what you do. Being a teacher is hard work, and teachers often do not gain recognition for their efforts. The way I see things through my brown eyes, parents play a lifetime role in educating their children, while kindergartens and schools provide them with formal teaching. The behaviors, ideas, beliefs and values of children develop on the basis of what they have learned and observed in their families. Often times, parents and teachers either fail to communicate with each other or have conflicting, sometimes hostile, relationships. The way in which teachers and parents communicate and resolve disagreements among themselves has a significant impact on children’s success. Clear, regular communication between teachers and parents results in the encouragement of children and their love for education so that they can consider school a positive experience and are motivated to learn. The most important thing is to try to be a better person every day. Children deserve respect, understanding and support, regardless of their ethnicity. I have yet to achieve this, but one day I will become an exemplary teacher, and my hope is for my child to be as proud of me as I am of her.
I work with the largest group in the kindergarten, the preparatory group immediately prior to primary school.
And I can only say one thing—I adore these children. This comes from my heart: each one of them is individual and special. Though I have been with them for only a short while, I can say that I love them. I never thought I would be able embrace and kiss other children other than my own or my nieces and nephews. They are more curious than us, and I personally think that the vast information on the Internet and TV programs give our children space and freedom. When I was a kid, we used to play with mud and used it to make cakes and sweets, and we ran in the yard until late in the evening. Nowadays, children play on their phones and tablets but they are still kids. And even when they are angry with me that I haven’t let them run around, they still tell me they love me. They are fireflies dancing up-and-down, shining with their smiles.
Our director is a human with a capital “H”.
She is a mother, a friend and a boss, as well. She is everywhere, always ready to help everybody. We call her the multi-armed Shiva. The choice of the teaching profession in the 21st century is no longer related simply to “teaching,” the approach one has to children and a desire to communicate with them. Being a teacher is also one of the best schools for personal and professional development. To be a teacher means to make use of the opportunities that come your way, to be efficient and to grow as a person and an expert in education. It also means to be able to use your skills and knowledge to help others develop and grow, transmit the effect and inspire. Last but not least, the success of teachers can be measured by the success of their students. Being a teacher has to do with empathy, the wisdom of “passing it on,” supporting, encouraging and knowing the importance of doing your best, not only for yourself but for others. Being aware of your role as a teacher is at the heart of changing the world because everything starts with you and the choices you make. Dream on so that good things can happen to you!
In 2015 Yanka Takeva, the president of the Union of Bulgarian Teachers, announced that 49.5% of Roma children do not attend school and have been excluded from social development and from the social environment. According to the data, 28% of Roma children never attend school and the rest leave school soon after the seventh grade. This means that Roma children simply do not have the competencies required for being part of the labor market and as useful citizens, both personally and within society.
But the dreams of young people, even in northwestern Bulgaria, the region whose industrial development lags behind most significantly, do come true. Tony is just one of the young ladies who have managed to achieve their professional ambitions. The Trust for Social Achievement (TSA) pilot program “Young Roma Teachers” is already being implemented. The education of children, including attending kindergarten and school, has always been of particular importance with respect to family priorities. The people of Montana and the surrounding area have always been hardworking and persistent in pursuing their goals. Today, the region is known for its economic backwardness, unemployment and poverty, but these circumstances cannot stop those who want to live a better life. The goal of the Young Roma Teachers Program is to hire representatives of the local Roma community to work in kindergartens. This creates role models for young children and provides opportunities for the professional development of youth in the community.
Four Roma students have joined the team of Prolet Kindergarten № 8 in Montana as of the 2018/2019 school year, thanks to the joint pilot activities between New Road Association, TSA and the preschool facility. This project gives the kindergarten team, the community, parents and children real role models and the opportunity to learn how to pursue their dreams from an early age.