August 2019 blog - My experience as a Traveller girl in school

My name is Kaitlyn Christina Handleigh. I’m a 14 year old Traveller girl living in London and attending a public school (also in London). Over the Summer I will be doing work experience with the Traveller Movement. However this is not my first time being involved in an event with them; I went along with many people that work with the Traveller movement (one of which being my aunt) to parliament on International Women’s Day 2018 for the Women’s Empowerment Network. This day really opened my eyes to see how badly Travellers are treated, whether that be by the police, social services, employers or even the general population.

From my experience in a public school I have first-hand experiences of discrimination against Travellers. A lot of the time it is silly comments like “If you are a Traveller why do you not live in a caravan”, “Pikey just means Traveller doesn’t it?” or “you Pikey” and though these comments are perceived to be ‘harmless’ or ‘just a joke’ they are still hateful comments. I have never, during my time in school, been severely bullied, however I have often questioned my culture because of what people say and how people’s opinions change when they find out I am a Traveller. Teachers have said comments about it, also students and friends have because they disregard Travellers as an ethnicity and count there comments as a joke and not-racist which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Being a Traveller GIRL in school confuses them as they are taught from a young age by uneducated (about Travellers) parents that Travellers are lazy and will leave school to get married and have loads of children. I get questioned all the time about why I’m still in school or even to the point where when I was picking my GCSE subjects I had multiple people ask me “What’s the point? Aren’t you going to leave soon anyway?” Its comments like this that cause Travellers to drop out and then carry on the stereotype. In my time at school I have never let a comment like this slip; I have always argued back or corrected them but it makes no difference.

So, why have I decided to stay in school?

Although I have been raised as a Traveller and will live my life as a Traveller I see no reason why that should interfere with my education. I want to prove that a Traveller girl can earn an education and prove against this stereotype of being ‘lazy’. I would love to see schools teach more about the good things that the Traveller community do rather than the bad, and also for schools to educate children on the difference between Gypsy, Roma and Travellers and their histories, as I feel that this would help people to understand their lifestyle rather than judge and post hateful comments.

I think the Traveller Movement are doing an amazing job in raising awareness of the inequality of Gypsy, Roma and Travellers.

Thank you for reading. Kaitlyn Handleigh