A TRAVELLER who left school at 15 and is about to embark on a Masters degree in law has spoken about her experience of overcoming bullying and discrimination.
Kathleen Lawrence from Swords spoke to Ryan Tubridy on his RTE radio show last week and was hailed by the host at the end of the 25-minute interview as someone who would be “an asset to any organisation”.
Kathleen, 32, told how after a patchy attendance record she left school with no qualifications but ended up working on Capitol Hill in Washington.
She said of her school years: “I was bullied by students in my class, I was discriminated against by teachers, it was just an awful experience.
“When everyone else was learning Irish, I was given a colouring book and told ‘you don’t need to learn Irish’.”
At the time Kathleen didn’t realise what an impact this would have on her life – she wanted to become a teacher but without Irish that was not an option.
She wed at the age of 18 but her marriage ended when she was 26 and it was at that point Kathleen decided she was going to forge her own career path and make something of her life.
She enrolled to study for a Batchelor of Arts degree in Maynooth University and in her final year applied for the Washington Ireland Programme.
Kathleen was successful and ended up working with congressman Brendan Boyle.
She said: “I had to pinch myself. I actually made friendships with proper settled people… and was so wary to make friends with settled people because I was afraid of discrimination.
“But it opened my life to new experiences that I don’t think I would have had otherwise.”
Kathleen credits Fingal Traveller Organisation with setting her on her journey.
She started volunteering there in 2013 and a year later ended up working in Pavee Point’s primary health care programme.
Kathleen still works with Pavee Point part-time and is an advocate for supports for people from the Travelling community who want to go on to third level education. Next year she hopes to do her Masters in Human Rights and Criminal Justice.
She said: “My main goal is human right rights for Travellers and Roma, it’s more important than ever, not just because of discrimination but also in the areas of education, health and accommodation.”