A poignant poem written by a 10-year-old Traveller describing the persecution of Gypsies throughout history – and today – was read out at the House of Lords this week.
Lord Avebury, MP Julie Morgan and Councillor Richard Bennett of the Local Government Authority were among those listening to the poem at an event celebrating the voluntary work of Gypsies and Travellers, as part of the Year of the Volunteer.
Bridie Jones, a Traveller based in Canterbury, read out the poem, written by her grandson Blue, saying: “A lot of Gypsy and Traveller children are angry because they don’t realise why they are treated differently, even though they are wearing the same school uniform as other children.”
The poem begins with Travellers almost being wiped out by Hitler, confronts local councils and police who ‘put them through hell’, and ends in the future when Tony Robinson’s great grandson discovers a gold ear-ring, and realises that Gypsies have survived.
But people hated them, from far and near;
‘Don’t worry’ said one man, ‘I am here‘
I will build gas chambers so high in the sky,
Where thousands of them will surely die
I rid this world of man, woman and child,
Not one of this race will be left behind.’
But God was good, he saved a few,
And sent them out to spread a seed or two
In no time at all, the world was full,
With beautiful Gypsies tall and small
Their laughter and music was heard all over the land
This upset people, so began
their new plan
To get rid of travellers and Gypsies too
‘Let’s call up the council to see what they can do!’
Bridie, who volunteers in local schools, said the poem had been written because she encourages children to channel their anger into being creative. The poem ends:
“The moral of this poem, as you have read,
Is Gypsies will survive, and racism will be dead.”
Gypsies and Travellers who volunteer in health, education and with the police were presented with awards for their work by Lord Avebury, Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Traveller Law Reform.
Lord Avebury said that the positive message of the event, part of Citizenship and Community Month for the Year of the Volunteer, was a reply to the ‘steady drip, drip of racist media coverage’ against Gypsies and Travellers.
“There is a false stereotype of Gypsies and Travellers as rural invaders or outlaws, but we see today that they are active for the benefit of other people. I hope that the wider community will hear about this and perhaps acknowledge that there are positive aspects to Gypsy and Traveller life – which would be even greater if they were free from prejudice.”
Joe Jones, Blue’s grandfather, who volunteers to improve Traveller education, said: “We’re not like people think we are, because people haven’t got close enough to see what we are really like. So we’re just asking people to come up and shake our hand, perhaps have a cup of tea with us, and they’ll find out what we’re really like.”
Councillor Richard Bennett, Chairman of the LGA Gypsy and Traveller Task Group, said:
“Today’s event is not about what people are doing for themselves, but what you are doing for other people, and the world needs to know about it.
“We are going to make sure that the Gypsies and Travellers are treated in the same way as the settled community. I would like to think that a line has been drawn in the sand between the past and the future. I don’t want to look back at how it was – I know how it was and I don’t like it. We are all travelling together and only when we can do that with mutual respect can we call ourselves a civilised community.”
Andrew Ryder, policy worker for the Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition, organisers of the event, said that it was extremely important that the LGA were aware of the voluntary work of Gypsies and Travellers.
“It was good for Richard to hear about the great work that Gypsies and Travellers do, and how they want to be part of the community, because I’m sure that will increase his resolve. After all the attacks on travellers earlier this year, I think a consensus is now being formed across the parties to want to address a lot of problematic issues, so I welcome that very much.”
Andrew added: “Many Travellers are facing eviction, some are living on the side of the road, but they still find time to try and make the world a better place for others. I think that’s quite exceptional. I think it will surprise some people that so many Travellers volunteer, but I hope it will change their perceptions of the community when they find out.”
The Year of the Volunteer is backed by the Home Office and led by CSV and the Volunteering England Consortium.
For further information please contact Chris Pitt, Year of the Volunteer Press Officer on 0207 812 0036, email@example.com
or Martin Walford on 0207 812 0033, firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes for editors
1 Another excerpt from the poem:
So in a few years they will be no more,
Gypsies selling heather at your door
We’ll keep those Gypsies away from good people like you
The law is with us, there’s nothing they can do.
So don’t worry dear Madam, all is well!
If you see any Gypsies, please ring me and tell.
I’ll send out the council and bailiffs as well,
To move them on, to where I can’t tell
Then all their land will belong to you and me,
To build houses as far as the eye can see.
Poem excerpts copyright B and J Jones.