Written by Harriet Paintin, illustrated by Hannah Kirmes-Daly.

For the past month we have been in Podu Turcului, a small, forgotten town in eastern Romania, holding art and music workshops with a group of Roma children. In these parts, the Roma identity is forgotten and denied in the face of prolonged systematic and social discrimination and the only thing that differentiates these children from Romanian children is the poverty and the racism that they experience from a very young age. Until 2 years ago the Roma children went to a separate school; when the roof fell in they went to the main school, amongst complaints from the teachers that they would all ‘give diseases to the other children’. A temporary wall was built to divide the classrooms, and they are now taught in separate classrooms.

This is Ionutz’s story, a 12 year old boy who threw himself into each art workshop with focus and passion.

‘I live with my grandfather. He is very old and he used to work in the fields. My great-grandfather was a musician. My parents live 10km away, I go to see them quite often.

I don’t go to school because I got into lots of trouble with the other children. They were hitting me and spitting on me and I would hit back. I gave up school when I was 6 or 7 years old.

When the other kids are at school I watch TV or visit my aunt who lives next to us.

My parents and my grandfather are sad that I don’t go to school. My grandfather is very sick (he has kidney problems and needs dialysis); he told me that he got sick because he was so worried when I stopped going to school. I want to go to school, it would be nice to learn.

When I grow up I want to do a lot, I want to be a footballer, a driver, a doctor.

My happiest memory is when I came to the centre for the first time and I did drawings with the other children and ate nice sweets.

If I could change one thing about my life I would be bigger, older, tougher because the other kids pick on me and I can’t defend myself.’