The Atlas of Roma Communities from 2013 gives a qualified estimate of about 403 000 Roma living in Slovakia, which represents around 7,4% of the total population. Statistical estimates and sociological mappings vary. Some claim there are about 500 000 Roma living in Slovakia. Established in 2014 by Wide Open School, REYN Slovakia advocates for quality early childhood education and care services to be provided for Roma children and improves the professional development opportunities for early childhood practitioners working with Roma children. Today we interviewed REYN Slovakia coordinator Erika Szabóová and learned more about the organization’s initiatives and goals.
– Erika, what are the priorities of your national REYN? What are the short-time and long-time goals?
– Both the short-term and long-term priorities of REYN Slovakia are the same. We aim to offer appropriate professional development opportunities to early childhood practitioners working with Roma children and their families, and actively continue advocating for quality early childhood education and care services for every child.
– What is the current situation with young Roma children in your country, taking into consideration the COVID-19 situation?
– According to our information, the current situation is pretty stable. The summer has helped to calm people down a little. The vaccination campaign targeted specifically at Roma communities is still underway. No communities are being quarantined right now. We will see if and how the situation will change with the new school year: how many children will enroll in kindergartens, what issues will arise in different children groups (for instance, development delays, lack of interest of parents reported by school staff), whether schools will be able to function in person, whether there will be any developments or problems with compulsory preschool education, etc.
– What is the recent intervention that your national REYN carried out?
– We have organized professional development activities – trainings, workshops, study visits – for 120 REYN members during the last months. We find that the newly established cooperation with the Czech network of Early childhood practitioners is very crucial, as our problems and challenges are very similar.
– What is your message to the policy-makers of your country – what would you ask them or tell them if you had 1 minute to talk to them?
– I believe we learn the most when we see things, when we can listen to different people and when we work with our own hands and hearts. I would organize a short-term internship of one week in a kindergarten, school, or community center for them. No high-level meetings, just living the plain life of these vulnerable communities. Then my questions would most probably be: do all position papers and action plans match the reality? What can we all do, as humans, not only as politicians, to help in the best way we possibly can? What needs to be done on a societal level, on community levels, to help these people – children and adults?
– How does your national REYN engage with the members (individual and organizational)? How many members do you have?
– We have more than 500 individual members and around 12 organizational members. The main channel we use for our communication is our Facebook page, where we post regular updates about our activities or news related to our scope of work. For targeted communication with our members, we also send out newsletters. This channel is useful, especially when we try to communicate longer texts, but also when we need to reach an audience not active on any social network. To engage with our members, we also use the channels and relevant activities of our hosting organization Škola Dokorán – Wide Open School and a close cooperating organization Open Society Foundation Bratislava.
– What is the dream of your national REYN for Roma children in your country?
– Our dream is that all children in Slovakia – including Roma children, even from the most marginalized communities – have a possibility to succeed in their lives and to reach their full potential. We also dream that Roma parents become positive role models and agents of change not only for their children, but also for their communities.
– Why should one join REYN, you think?
– The shortest answer would probably be: our voice is stronger together. This, we believe, is true at all times. Besides, the more members we have, the more knowledge and expertise we are able to collect, harness, and use for the wellbeing of Roma children.