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Travelling Tales- giving a voice to Scottish Traveller youth

Youth charity Article 12’s “What a Voice” exhibition, showcases 12 different aspects of Scottish Gypsy Traveller life including Nomadic existence, Heritage, Family, and Health in an effort to help us – the settled community – understand more about their situation. At the exhibition’s launch last Friday in Edinburgh, I was struck by how often the area of Education was visited and revisited.

The exhibition is very clear about the challenges involved: “the horrific abuse and bullying Scottish Gypsy Travellers often face at school because of their ethnicity and way of life means that even today they often do not complete mainstream education.”

Scottish Gypsy Traveller author, storyteller and patron of Article 12 Jess Smith was at the event and shared her experiences of being a Scottish Gypsy Traveller, reciting her poem ‘Traveller Boy’ to illustrate the difficulties faced by Traveller youth at school. Here are a few lines:

He watched the alien children

With their barriers of paper and ink

And he heard the whisper that rustled round

‘don’t speak to him, he’s a tink.’

He remembered the ghost of the pine trees

And the kelpie that lives in the pool

But he knew that he never was frightened before

Till the day when they locked him in school.

A volunteer who helped curate the exhibition describes her experience: “At college I was made to feel worthless. People would snigger and laugh at you and you would think ‘Well, what’s the point.’”

This discrimination must be tackled, but the problem of education is greater than simply addressing classroom bullying. The kind of education Travellers value is entirely different.

The exhibition acknowledges the difficulty settled communities can have in understanding a people who place a different level of importance on formal learning experiences.

This does not mean Travellers are dismissive of education; mainstream formal education simply does not traditionally provide the type of learning they find valuable and useful. “Travelling culture emphasises the importance of passed-down skills, caring for your family and learning through an oral culture of parables and storytelling.”

This is not to say formal skills like literacy and numeracy are not useful to Travellers; the exhibition draws attention to how literacy issues impact the lives of Gypsy/Travellers on a daily basis. But the volunteers of the Young Gypsy Traveller Lives project insist that, to combat these problems, we need to be more culturally aware:

“It would be good if there was better training for teachers about our culture. Or even if we had Gypsy Traveller teachers.”

A culturally sensitive approach to education may be a positive step. Jess Smith’s research led her to discover descriptions of young Gypsy Traveller children being good with colours and nature. The exhibition notes that “If schools provided classes in vocational subjects such as landscape gardening or forestry, there would be greater incentive for young Gypsy Travellers to stay in school.”

The "What a Voice" exhibition and Young Gypsy/Traveller Lives video were real eye-openers and a great place to start a dialogue. View them and other resources here.


All Quotes taken from Cadger, B., [2012], What a Voice, Article 12 in Scotland. Video by Article 12.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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Thank you Sarah for attending our event and sharing this information.

lynne tammi 11 years ago

Thank YOU all for putting on the event and for the inspiring and important work that you do.

Sarah Stewart 11 years ago