Passion, hard work and determination – three attributes that are unquestionably key to succeeding in any chosen field. However, the measure of those attributes is something that can often go unseen by anybody other than the person embarking on their individual journey.
In the case of Sir Thomas White Loan Charity education loan borrower Denisa Gannon, the level of passion, hard work and unrivalled determination required to succeed arguably exceeds that of others.
Originally from the Czech Republic, Denisa has Roma origins, with Roma an ethnic minority in her home country. Despite having been able to benefit from education not usually afforded to Roma children in the Czech Republic, employment opportunities weren’t available to a Roma single parent and led to Denisa moving to the United Kingdom in 2006.
“I was one of the fortunate Roma children that had the opportunity to attend mainstream education,” Denisa explains. “In the Czech Republic Roma children are usually placed into a school for children with special educational needs. Roma children are placed into such schools based on their ethnicity and not on their mental and learning capacity.
“I moved to the United Kingdom because as a Roma single parent I couldn’t find employment, despite having good education,” she continues. “I had A-Levels, and in the Czech Republic that was an exceptional education for Roma women. I was applying for substandard jobs compared to my education, but I was not successful as soon as they realised I was Roma.”
Incredibly, Denisa reveals that this level of discrimination towards the Roma community continues in the Czech Republic today, arguably worse than ever, with very little in the way of progression for those discriminated against and little in the way of protection.
“I came into the United Kingdom able to speak very little English and as a single parent with a three-years-old son. I found a job as a cleaner and decided that permanent move was necessary.”
Upon arrival in the United Kingdom, Denisa wanted to ensure that she was aware of her rights and wasn’t exploited as she has seen happen with many migrants arriving in the country.
“In 2009, I started to study a law degree at De Montfort University,” she explains. “I decided to study law because I realised that I need to know my rights. I realised that I could not stand up for myself without having better education of these rights, as I was easy target for people that exploit migrants, such as landlords.
“I soon realised that there were more people like me in similar situations and they also needed help. Of course, I also wanted to improve my employment prospects and I felt that a law degree was right for me.”
One of the toughest challenges that Denisa faced was learning the language. It is perhaps overcoming this initial challenge that highlighted the traits that would stand her in good stead in developing her career prospects. However, another huge challenge for Denisa, as she later discovered, was that she learn a new way of learning.
“It is not easy to come into a country where you cannot speak the language,” Denisa insists. “I think that requires perseverance, determination to learn and leave everything behind.
“I had no experience with higher education in any country,” she continues. “In the Czech Republic, I never needed to learn how to think and the Czech educational system doesn’t support critical thinking in any way. In Czech, they learn by memorising everything. If you are capable to memorise large volumes of text, then you can do well there.
“I failed my first exam because I simply thought that I must just memorise everything. I went to see my tutor after the exam for feedback, so that I could understand why I failed. He explained to me that I memorised lots of information, but I did not answer his question and therefore did not pass. That was completely different approach to study for me. I had to learn how to learn.
“In my third-year exams, my marks were above 65%, also my written assignments were on 65–70%.”
Having successfully obtained her undergraduate degree, Denisa became intent on being able to practice law, something that required her to complete the Legal Practice Course in the first instance. To be able to do so, Denisa contacted The Sir Thomas White Loan Charity.
“The Charity was on the list of De Montfort University’s funding options for postgraduate study,” explains Denisa.
“I remember being very nervous when I was invited for the interview with Trustees, but I was completely honest with them and explained why I needed the loan, which was used for Legal Practice Course fees and to aid childcare costs during my studies.”
Upon completion of Denisa’s Legal Practice Course, she became the first person of Roma heritage to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales.
“I was fortunate to be accepted into a unique scheme called the Justice First Fellowship, created by the Legal Education Foundation,” says Denisa. “This scheme gives opportunities to individuals that wish to pursue career in social welfare law and become social justice lawyer.
“After graduating, my training contract was at the Central England Law Centre (Coventry Law Centre) and was focusing on clients with multiple issues. Usually lawyers deal only with one legal issue, such as family law or immigration. I am trained to deal with clients that have multiple issues, such as housing, domestic violence, immigration issues, debt issues and welfare benefits.
“I enjoy working with clients that have multiple issues,” continues Denisa. “I can deal with all issues face-to-face with clients. I do not need to rely upon other caseworkers to do their work, as the case is resolved quicker because I am working on each issue.
Despite her frustration at not being able to help more people at any given time, Denisa reveals that she is incredibly proud to be able to use her experiences and training to help others.
“My work is rewarding on all levels,” she says. “My work has a tangible impact on my clients’ lives. I can see that I can help change somebody’s life for the better and give them a fresh start. I am happy to help someone out from such a situation, as I know how difficult it is when you do not know where to get help.”
Having recently welcomed a baby girl into the family, things are set to get busier for Denisa. In addition to her legal work, she is also the founder of a Roma community organisation in Leicester and aims to help people with their legal issues, whilst also raising the Roma voice within the city.
“Following my maternity leave, I will return to the Central England Law Centre,” Denisa says.
“I have ambitions of becoming a judge in the future. However, in the meantime, I wish to help the Roma community in Leicester. At this stage, we’re seeking funding and office space.
“I wish to develop an organisation with a charitable status that will fight for Roma rights in the United Kingdom, and possibly internationally.”
Having overcome so many obstacles to reach where she is today, Denisa’s passion, hard work and commitment are sure to remain as strong as they have ever been in order to allow her to continue to make a difference.
For more information on The Sir Thomas White Loan Charity’s interest-free education loans, please click here