An interview with Romany Gypsy activist Betsy Mobey

30 January 2018
Betsy Mobey
Romany Gypsy activist Betsy Mobey speaks to Travellers Times about her experience as an intern on the Young Gypsies and Travellers Speak Out project at Friends Families and Travellers.

Betsy, when did you start you internship?

Early June, just after my birthday =)

Can you tell me a bit about your life before FFT?

I’m a Romany Gypsy based in the south of England. I stopped about in a trailor on sites, layby and carparks up until I was 8, then we settled into a little Wealden house and the parents have been there ever since. It’s not been the most straight forward life, my mum has suffered with her nerves since I can remember and has had multiple nervous breakdowns. My brother is also epileptic and struggles with his nerves too, these circumstances aren’t unheard of but with the added baggage of my unaccepted culture, the worst days can seem like an infinite sh*t storm.  But life is what you make of it, die trying, as they say! I’m a trained Actress, hair & makeup Artist along with a past career as a signed model and now… And now an Activist!

What age did you stay in formal education until?

I finished school with next to no GCSE’s, although I stuck it out until the end of year 11, I felt disregarded by many of the teachers. After Secondary school I auditioned for BTEC Level three Performing Arts Course, which required at least 6 GCSE’S which I hadn’t acquired, However,  I was fortunate enough to have been given a chance and got a place! I finished with a Triple Merit gaining distinctions in every performance. I was later offered a place at University but turned it down and had a year out of education at 18. I later decided to change path and study an intensive 2 year course on Specialist Hair & Makeup for Film, theatre & Fashion, finishing at age 20. I am now 23 and have been working ever since.

When I interviewed you for the internship, I was struck by your commitment to continuing your education post 16. Is this unusual for a young Romany woman?

It varies on the person to be honest. Some of my cousins got married and didn’t go to secondary but then went to college… I have a few cousins that have been or are currently at university. I find it depends on your interests, your upbringing and especially on the type of person you are. I’m not so compliant and am very self-sufficient, I’ve always done what I’ve wanted to do whether my folks, said yes or no,… (Normally no). I’m also unmarried and have no children, so that plays into it too.  A lot of Romanies don’t necessarily openly identify either, so unusual, no.
I’m not so compliant and am very self-sufficient, I’ve always done what I’ve wanted to do whether my folks, said yes or no,… (Normally no)

How did you hear about FFT?

I was approached on Facebook, by Michelle Gavin, who saw my activism and recognised my acting work, so forwarded my details to Suzanna about a casting for the lead in her play, Crystal’s Vardo. I wasn’t cast but it fortunately led on to this Internship.
I’m a trained Actress, hair & makeup Artist along with a past career as a signed model and now… And now an Activist!

Since you have been at FFT what are the 3 most important learning experiences you have had?

I have learnt many valuable lessons with FFT, but the three important ones that come to mind would be;Self-discipline in difficult and sometimes unfair situations. Having done a good bit of travelling, Outreach and Youth work, I’m constantly interacting with all sorts of people, in many different environments. Professional Boundaries really did open my mind and help me to focus. The diversity among our communities In the U.K. and overseas. There are many subcultures and differences but also many similarities that connect all of us together. I feel very lucky to have had these opportunities to travel abroad and to have gained this insight. Working in an office environment for the first time along with tasks that come with that. Working as a team, with time restraints and deadlines, responding rapidly to current events. Organisation and good communication procedures.
Our Traditions and especially our language should be cherished and re cultivated into mainstream society. A more accepting future, working together in solidarity.  

Since you have been at FFT what have been the 3 highlights of your internship?

Recognising the routes I can take in order to fulfil my passions, to make change within and outside communities. Using tools that can help with my activism work. Teaming up with other organisations, networking with Travellers and Human Rights activists up and down the country. One in particular, Lisa Smith who works for ACERT and at Rural Media for Travellers Times, she’s been a real inspiration for me. If I hadn’t of heard of FFT then I might not have met all these wonderful and truly inspiring individuals. The Trip to Auschwitz was incredibly eventful, waves of emotions. It was a moving trip- I learnt so much about the Roma Genocide, with oral history and talks with Roma survivors from the camps. A truly enlightening trip in many different ways.

You have been working with the young people at the Brighton site, what have you been doing with them and what have you gained from this experience?

I was hired as a professional makeup Artist, the month of Halloween to teach a masterclass on special effects makeup, to a girls group of varied ages. It was hugely successful and rewarding; I have been encouraging them to follow through with their ambitions, to be strong independent women like we have always been. Our similar backgrounds enabled me to connect on a similar wave length. Since then I have joined in on numerous activities and just recently did a Q&A interview with the youth on behalf of Crystal’s Vardo for Jessica’s project at The University of Sussex.

I received very good feedback from my colleague about your work with the young people. Would you consider a career working with children?

Yes, I really have enjoyed it, I’ve thought about teaching in the past but never put pen to paper. I would prefer to specialise in working with Romany and Traveller kids. It’s important that the new generation have visible role models within our community, from teachers and doctors to Activists and those in the media’s eye. I’m positive that more and more Romany and Travellers will be taking on these roles in society in the next 5 years.

You are a committed activist for your community- what are the main things you are doing?

Social media is a huge platform these days, I’ve been writing articles and opinion pieces for FFT and Travellers Times, which reach a wide audience. Also fb, Twitter and Instagram are also great platforms I use on a regular basis. It’s important to keep it regular.  I’ve been attending important meetings locally and nationally and am now a part of the Youth Hate Crime IAG, where I will being working with other organisations.In my spare time I’ve been working on my own personal projects, I’m currently writing a children’s book and developing a short film.

And how do you hope to take this work forward in the future?

My dream is to get more awareness out there on my beautiful culture, for it to be mandatory for schools to teach our History and to celebrate Gypsy Traveller Roma history month in June. To see the councils’ work alongside us, fully inclusive of our every needs, whether we are nomadic or settled. I’d like to see our skills, our language and traditions rejuvenated and praised. Our Traditions and especially our language should be cherished and re cultivated into mainstream society. A more accepting future, working together in solidarity.  
If I hadn’t of heard of FFT then I might not have met all these wonderful and truly inspiring individuals.
Besty Mobey is  a member of Travellers' Times Youth advisory group  find out more here.

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