Roma children‘s Christmas wishes confirm poverty gap

School Principal Peter Strážik asked children in his school what they wanted for Christmas. Over 50% of the children in the school are Roma. The difference of wishes between Roma and non Roma children reflect the hard reality.

As a headmaster of the only elementary school in Spišský Hrhov (Slovakia), I often do various surveys that provide me with precious feedback. Sometimes I check the satisfaction of parents, sometimes I send surveys to the school staff to find out what to improve and how to move forward.  Most often and very gladly, I ask questions to the children. It helps me to understand their world better. The children are usually open and truthful, they leave me in amazement, or even shock me.

I ask the children

In the past, I have asked children about the quality of school lunches, the severity or benevolence of the teachers, workload and bullying. Sometimes I also focus on inclusion, that’s because 52% of pupils in our school come from the marginalized Roma communities. The school Inspectorate monitors the respect of human rights, integration and acceptance of differences. I do not exaggerate if I say that the results show a high level of acceptance of Roma, and there are friendships between the children, who sit together without bringing up their differences.

Last week, I wanted to study something unusual, something not so important for the life of the school, but very important for the headmaster who wants to be a friend of all the pupils of the school. The only question I was interested in was what the children wanted for Christmas.

Inspired by my sons

I was motivated by a situation at home where I asked my two sons to write a letter to Santa Claus with a list of wishes and gifts. My older son (16) refused to do it, he said that he has everything and needed nothing. (He’s modest like his father). The younger son (12) took the paper and pen without hesitation and brought me a not so modest list. He asked for several gifts which had a total value of 1,500 euros. Fortunately, besides material gifts, he also wished for peace, health, happiness, or good election results.

The survey

Going back to the survey, the results show way too much. Although I never do it, this time I asked the children to write their names on the lists. I had a reason for it. Are you wondering what I found? You should be.

Slovak children had roughly the same wishes my younger son has: mobile phones, tablets, computers, play stations… etc. The lists of Roma children also showed unity. However, a diametrically different one. Some might not believe it, others might be saddened by it. I offer the results of the survey to you, you are welcome to come and see the questionnaires in my office, with a cup of quality coffee.

More than half of the Roma children wanted sweets and cakes, and for their father to be at home with the family at Christmas. About 30% of the children wanted a jacket or a sweater; girls preferred shoes and scarfs. A few respondents wanted toys, with a book here and there. There were also bizarre wishes including chainsaws, axes and knives. Out of the total number of children in this group, only two wished for a cell phone.

What conclusion can we make?

The everyday reality of children from excluded communities has remained unchained for a long time. It is marked by poverty but on the other hand by strong social bonds: the need for a family, (grand)parents, siblings and neighbors. They stick to their habits and traditions and still have respect, something, which has become a thing of the past in the majority community. Roma do have things to teach us. Trust me!

By Peter Strážik, Principal of the primary school of Spišský Hrhov, Slovakia.