News

Smoothing the Transition of Roma Children from the Trailer Park to School

In the city of Leuven, Belgium, many initiatives have been taken over the years to increase the participation of children of the Rom Traveller[1] families in the nearby schools. The efforts of different welfare organizations ensured that by September of 2021 90% of the Rom children were present by the start of the new school year. Various efforts contributed to this success, including exchange visits organized by REYN Belgium and providing insights and inspiration from the REYN network. The strength of the experience in Leuven is that different social organizations work together towards the same purpose: to ensure that Roma children attend school regularly and feel comfortable there, and that there is good school-parent cooperation. 

At the residential trailer park in Leuven, 30 Rom Traveller families are living permanently. The city of Leuven has made a conscious decision to invest in the establishment of social support services for the Rom families. In concrete terms, this means that two employees of the city are responsible for the entire functioning of the trailer park in consultation with the Rom families. As the employees of the city of Leuven are regularly present at the trailer park, trust has been formed between the families and them over time. Two staff members are the Roma families’ point of contact for support questions in different areas of life. Because of the diversity of questions, there was the need to start a broader network of social professionals. This network –  the so-called ROL team – consists of staff from Agency Child and Family, staff from the family support organization ‘De Mobil’ and social workers from the public centre for social welfare . With this group, two times a week they organize on-site consultations. In this way, they can take concrete action with regard to the families’ requests for support on different life domains, each on the basis of their own expertise. They work together with partners on housing, health, leisure activities for the youngsters. More and more parents by now are convinced that these services might be beneficial for them and their children and are willing to make contact.

Residential trailer park in Leuven

Involving parents in the transition

These partners are also involved in creating smooth and warm transitions from home to the schools in the neighborhoud, and they do it by motivating and reassuring families along the process.

A couple of years ago, members from the family support organization ‘De Mobil’ started to regularly organize a play-and-meet-moment for young parents and their young children (0-5 years). These pre-school activities are still going on where children can play with toys and games, while parents chat and discuss topics on education and family life. Parents can work out a picture book on their families, as a starting point for conversation. In the future, they will be able to lend the toys for a certain period. 

In organizing these activities on a regular basis, the professionals of ‘De Mobil’ have built a strong relationship with the families and have gained their trust. They also support the conversations between the parents themselves. One of the topics is going to school. Parents have many questions: how does it work, a school day? What do children there? How will the teachers react on children’s needs?

The staff of the local Agency Child an Family, who are also members of the ‘ROL team’ are involved in motivating and reassuring the families for school.

“While parents come to our consultation office for the medical check-up of their babies and toddlers, we talk about schooling. At first they think it’s too early for their child, but later they change their mind. We provide information on how to register, when school starts etc. Because they are not familiar with our education system, you’ve got to give them time.”

Hanne, nurse from Child and Family Agency

To put further trust in going to school and as an action due to the pandemic, two schools in Leuven took the initiative to  organize temporarily ‘homeschooling’. Two teachers came to the trailer park with lots of toys and playing-learning materials that are usually present in a toddler’s classroom.

“Parents have many concerns about the school: ‘What if my child is hungry or thirsty? Will somebody notice it and take care?’ By showing in their own environment how a toddler’s class is organized – with lots of toys and playful learning moments – they get acquainted with the benefits of schooling: ‘Look, it seems that he is just playing with little boxes, but he’s learning to count at the same time!’”

Lies, homeschooling teacher

Homeschooling had a positive effect. Parents and children got a better idea of what happens at school. They started to foster the idea of sending their children to school more regular and were more and more reassured that early school participation was important and an added value.

“The homeschooling period was a very good warming up, building positive experiences and gaining more trust in ‘the real thing’. Because of the support of many services and people, this was successful. Other practical problems still remain, such transportation to the school.”

Tim, social worker, city of Leuven

Due to these actions, the school supporting part of the project has been very successful: 90% of the children of the trailer park were attending school on September 1st, 2021. This is the result of many persistent actions of the ROL-team, two homeschooling teachers, other school teachers and directors.

“In August I went to visit all the families at the trailer park. You can call it a ‘motivation visit’. I wanted to prepare them that the first school day is coming. That helps a lot. On the first school days it is important to take away the worries of parents. We send them pictures and texts  to show them that their child is happy here and he’s got a lot of friends. Many parents can’t imagine their children sitting next to non-Travellers-children…”

Annick, school director

Thanks to the efforts of many, the transition from the trailer park to school is now much better. Still, it remains a precarious process, partly due to the corona pandemic, but there is much motivation among all partners to keep up the efforts when children talk about their experiences at school positively.


[1] Rom is one of the three groups of Roma population in Belgium. The other two are Travellers and Manouches/Sinti.

REYN Bulgaria Role Models: Three Young Roma Women on Achieving their Dreams

Established in 2018, REYN Bulgaria offers positive role models in the field of early childhood development, improves the quality of education, integrates health care and education more effectively in the early years, with an emphasis on nutrition. Bulgarian REYN unites efforts for the advocacy in the field of early childhood development with a focus on improving access, quality, and results in health care for children from the Roma community. To emphasize the efforts and work in promoting successful role models, REYN Bulgaria interviewed three active participants of the REYN Bulgaria Network, who told more about their experience in the field of early childhood development.

The video stories present the personal journeys of Roma women Raya, Toshka and Mariela. They are active members of the REYN Bulgaria Network and participate in the “Young Roma Teachers” project.

“The stories of Raya, Toshka and Mariela are crucial examples of the impact of role models on motivating young children to continue their personal development and to not give up on their dreams. On the screen, the audience can see three young women who chose the difficult path towards becoming kindergarten teachers. They are ready to face possible hardships and challenges they might encounter during their personal and professional development journey. The stories of Raya, Toshka and Mariela prove that successful role models can positively impact the development of children at an early age,” says Ivan Ivanov, the REYN Bulgaria coordinator.

The REYN Bulgaria Network supports young and ambitious people of Roma origin in achieving their dreams for professional and educational realization. The Trust for Social Achievement implements the “Young Roma Teachers” project, and supports young people of Roma origin who wish to become kindergarten teachers. In this way, it also helps build successful role models that contribute to the better development of Roma children and increase their motivation and desire to learn.

REYN Ukraine Member Anastasia Tambovtseva Teaches Children Written Romani Language

Anastasia Tambovtseva is a linguist, who practices foreign language teaching. She is also a well-known TikTok blogger who runs an educational Romani blog. Anastasia researches the problems of getting an education among the Roma population and introduces her own unique methods and tools.

Anastasia joined REYN Ukraine network two years ago. During this time, she took part in 10 webinars for network members, a notebook for writing in Romani language and an author’s webinar “Modern technologies as a tool to overcome illiteracy” for REYN Ukraine members. She also won REYN Ukraine micro-grants competition that was aimed at testing and implementing innovations in the field of Roma children early development.

Anastasia, you are the winner of REYN Ukraine micro-grants competition. What was the idea of ​​your project?

– I have developed a notebook for Roma children, which is called “How to learn the letters in Romani language”, and, thanks to the support of REYN Ukraine, I will be able to publish it and disseminate it within schools with Roma students and educational centers. This tool is great for studying the letters of the Romani alphabet, for learning how to write them. It is very strange to start teaching children how to write not in their native language, so if children speak in Romani at home and think in Romani, it is better to teach them writing in their native language. Sometimes a child does not understand why writing and reading are important, if everyone at home expresses themselves orally.

How will your notebook help Roma community?

– I really hope that in the nearest future this notebook will help to create even more educational materials for children in Romani language. First of all, the child gets acquainted with the letters: what do the uppercase and lowercase letters look like. There are also pictures with words that start with this letter. Besides, there are also some tasks – like finding a word that starts with this letter, and so on. In this way, children train their attention.

There are many Romani dialects though. In which dialect of Romani language will the notebook be published?

– It will be in Vlax Romani. The choice fell on Vlax, because Roma community in the area where I live is Vlax, so I studied this dialect and I understood that without knowledge of the language I will never be close to children. It was difficult to learn it since it is not English or German and there are not many materials with which you can learn to speak Romani. I like learning and spend most of my time in front of a computer screen or with books. Therefore, whoever wants – can find materials and study. I’m still learning. In my telegram channel, I sometimes ask how to say this word and my subscribers write comments and respond to the stories. We have disputes and very interesting discussions from time to time. I believe that I am still learning this language.

When you first had a lesson with your students in Romani language, what was their reaction?

– It was the reaction I wish all teachers could experience in their professional lives. My first lessons I had in Russian. We learned the letters, and when we learned how to write and pronounce some of them, I thought I would write Romani words. It was the word “dad” (dad) and the word “dorov” (hello) children froze it in astonishment. At first I did not understand why. I thought perhaps because it was their native language and that is why they reacted like that. Something inside told me that there was some deeper reason though. Then, when I attended REYN Ukraine webinar about the oral cultural tradition and the peculiarities of communication with Roma children conducted by Marianna Seslavinska, I realized that children believe that they could write and read in any language but Romani. When children saw that it was possible to write in Romani, for them it was a big surprise. Therefore, after that I started to teach the Romani language more. At that time I already knew it better and I felt that I had a more strength to teach in Romani. I hope that for Roma the education is more accessible. I am grateful to REYN Ukraine that it is becoming more and more like this.

– Are you Roma yourself? How did you become interested in Roma theme?

I am not Roma. I am often asked by Roma what my nationality is. It is actually hard for me to say. My ancestors are  of different nationalities. The ones I am aware of are Ukrainians, Russians, Polish and Georgians. Maybe even more.
I became interested in Roma because I met some Roma families due to my tutoring. Then I started to learn about the situation with Roma children in schools, and I wanted to teach Roma children literacy in their native language. One of the reasons for the difficulties of Roma children in school is the language barrier, because Ukrainian is the mostly spoken language at schools. In Kyiv region Roma speak Romani or Russian. Very few of them know the Ukrainian language, and obviously, the child gets into a new environment, where they also speak another, new language…

What is your online blog about?

– I started shooting and publishing online in various social networks because in this way my students could study at home on their smartphones. The first topic of my blog is learning, the opportunity to learn letters, sounds and reading by yourself. It is literacy training. The second direction is the history of Roma people. This information is not only for Roma, but also for people of other nationalities or origins, for everyone who is interested in learning about Roma history. Another area is socially useful information for Roma people. Ukraine is currently undergoing medical reform, so I tell how to sign a contract with a doctor, how to get a passport etc. We had a live broadcast with professionals working in this field, and they also gave some useful advice. Later I wrote a post about it and now Roma can benefit from this information.

PhD project on services for Roma communities. Apply now!

- News

The Northumbria University Newcastle seeks candidates to their PhD project titled “Exploring interventions to tackle service provider discrimination against Roma, Gypsy and Traveller Communities”.

Health inequalities and lack of services hit Roma and Travellers disproportionately. According to the Roma Health Report of the European Union (2014), the Roma population has considerably shorter life expectancy compared to the non-Roma population. When it’s about education, only one Romani child in two goes to kindergarten.

To address consistent disparities in the access to services like education and care, The Northumbria University Newcastle is sponsoring a new PhD project. The PhD “will explore how models of service provider education can best be developed and implemented, in order to reduce discrimination and increase service access for Roma, Gypsy and Traveller Communities. Using a collective case study design, encompassing the perspectives of professionals and community members, it aims to collate learning from existing equality and diversity training initiatives.”

The deadline for applications is Friday 25 January 2019.

Find more details here.

 

Village in Slovakia as an example of Roma integration in the NYT

- News

We are happy to hear that one of the villages we are working with has been mentioned by the New York Times as an example of Roma integration.

“The children know each other in school, so they play together,” an interviewee said. And “we sometimes sit together, Slovaks and Roma, when we are at the pub together.”

Roma people like all people are a resource when they are valued and respected. As reported by the New York Times, the village of Spissky Hrhov (Slovakia) has partnered with the Roma community to create positive change.

In Spissky Hrhov, we are working to create a TOY for Inclusion library together with the Wide Open Academy, the pre-primary and primary school.

Read the article here.

Roma children’s education in Italy: from ‘gypsy pedagogy’ to innovative educational practices

- News

Luca Bravi, Historian, University of Florence

The ‘gypsy pedagogy’, which in the last half century has hindered all pedagogic actions directed at Romani children in Italy, marks a sad era that we must overcome. This is the conclusion reached by “The Roma child: from gypsy pedagogy to innovative educational practices” conference, held in Sesto Fiorentino, Italy, on May 19-20. The event was held by REYN Italy and in collaboration with other associations, and saw the attendance of about 60 participants.

Luca Bravi, Historian at the University of Florence, presented an important report. He highlighted the red thread linking the extermination of Roma families in Auschwitz and the “re-educative” approach conceived by some Italian pedagogues in the 1960s, which was then applied by institutional bodies and private social organizations in the 1980s. The “nomadic camps” and the “separated classes” represented discriminatory practices that have always considered the Roma child as a different child: coming from a distant culture and with an IQ below the norm.

“We cannot build new inclusion policies without having the deep knowledge and awareness of the history of “re-education” towards Roma people in Italy,” Mr. Bravi concluded.

Separated pedagogical approaches are still in use in different parts of Italy. Often they are difficult to recognize and criticize because they are disguised in practices that retain the label or the idea of ​​inclusion, but they always end up structuring around the theme of ghettoization.

It is no coincidence that still today in the guidelines of the Minister of Education, Research and the University, the Roma child is presented as “little inclined to pay attention to the anonymous and abstract speech addressed by the teacher to the entire class.”  For this reason, the Ministry recommends that “working with Roma, Sinti and Traveler students and families, requires a great deal of flexibility and willingness to set specific and personalized learning paths.”

All this has been proven wrong by the twelve stories of Roma children presented during the conference, which from North to South and from East to West of Italy, demonstrate the importance of a change of approach by operating a profound discontinuity with the past.

Today, those Roma boys and girls who attend Italian universities are no longer an exception. This has been possible because innovative approaches and non-segregating policies have prevailed.

The Formula? Putting the child at the center and working with parents; fostering an integrated approach targeting the whole class and not the children from Roma origins exclusively; supporting the family with parenting guidance and housing. The prospects opened in Sesto Fiorentino have been many and exciting. Once again, most likely, the problem is not represented by the 28,000 Roma living in the outskirts of the Italian metropolis (only 0.05% of the majority population) but by a culture, ours, heavily impregnated with prejudices and fears. That’s what we have to start addressing again.

Written by Carlo Stasolla,  president of Associazione 21 Luglio, REYN member in Italy.

Read more about the event on REYN Italy’s blog here.

Making positive change for children sustainable

- Blog | Stanislav Daniel

The creation of the Ready Set Go! project in Romania has supported over a thousand young Romani children and their families. However, as the funding is ending, the future of the project is in doubt. On the occasion of the International Roma Day on April 8, 2017, the Romani Early Years Network (REYN), the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) organized a roundtable discussion in Brussels to discuss the future of similar projects. The event hosted by the European Foundation Centre’s (EFC) Forum for Roma Inclusion highlighted the benefits of pilot actions and identified additional ways to bring European Union policies closer to Romani children, to make the changes more sustainable.

Apart from few evocative photos, there is not much you can find about Gălbinași online, particularly if you do not speak Romanian. The village of a few thousand inhabitants is one-hour’s drive south-east of Bucharest. Not much has happened recently in the town, apart from the reopening of the recently renovated kindergarten and the quality services being provided by trained staff there, including Roma parents, as a result.

The locals tell us that Gălbinași has around sixty children of preschool age, vast majority of them Roma. Only twenty are lucky enough to get the chance to attend the reconstructed kindergarten. Originally built almost a century before and almost falling down until two years ago, the building has now become the center of social life for Gălbinași’s youngest citizens and their families. While currently the kindergarten is ethnically homogeneous, plans for more integrated services are currently discussed.

The Gălbinași kindergarten was one of fourteen new kindergartens built in eleven localities and six Romanian counties, where vast majority of children are Roma. The kindergartens and linked services (e.g. the toy library, reading corners and more) were established thanks to the Ready Set Go! project, organized by the Roma Education Fund (REF) Romania with partners and the support of the Norway Grants. Over a thousand young children and their parents have benefited from the project. However, after 29 months, the project funding is ending.

Records have been kept on the number of children and parents involved, the children’s attendance, the toys used by the children in the toy library and much more. Although it is perhaps too early to evaluate the impact of the kindergarten on the children’s educational achievements, their parents, knowing their own children the best, have already seen a clear boost in their development.

However there are many uncertainties about the future. Municipalities wonder how they can maintain the kindergarten and its services from their own budget. Local coordinators wonder if they should think about how to reach out to more children. Can the organizers of the project persuade the government to take it as a model and include it in the state budget?

What can the EU do to improve early childhood development?

At the European level, Roma and pro-Roma civil society is seeking support in Brussels for increased attention to early childhood development. Recently, REYN, EFC and EPHA joined forces to coordinate efforts to look closer into the situation of young Romani children in Europe.

On April 10, on International Roma Day, we organized the first joint roundtable meeting with other nongovernmental organizations, networks, foundations and representatives of the European Commission. REYN and EPHA made presentations on the policies needed to support of the inclusion of Romani children, including the vital importance of early childhood development for Roma health and wellbeing during the whole life, as well as initiating a more thorough discussion focused on the needs of young children and their families.

One of the key policy processes which emerged during the day-long discussion was the comprehensive implementation of the National Roma Integration Strategies (NRIS) by EU Member States, which are believed not to properly reflect children’s specific situation in their policies, even though they were encouraged to do so by the EU. This was also highlighted at the meeting, as the EU carries out the mid-term review of the European Framework of the NRIS, the EU’s vital role in facilitating meaningful change for Roma. The discussions identified the key issue: Romani young children both are not considered in pro-children policies, and young children are not properly focused on within the pro-Roma policies. And to address this, more of grassroots voices need to be heard in Brussels and vice versa.

We at REYN and EPHA not only want to address the deficiencies of policies currently being implemented, but also look into the future. Together, we will work towards the development of sustainable systems, where all children including Roma and Travellers, have access to quality early childhood services. Together, we will make sure that governments understand the benefits and do not limit their initiatives only to kindergartens or preparatory classes. With health actors we will promote health as an inseparable component of early childhood development.

We call upon philanthropy to become more active in the area of the early childhood development of Romani and Traveller children, as it is too often overlooked despite being crucial for Roma inclusion. And we call upon you to work with us to make sure there are no more lost Romani and Traveller generations. Follow the channels of Romani Early Years Network, we will bring more.