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Toy Libraries in Kosovo Help Children’s Development

Toy Libraries are a stimulating environment promoting early learning, and child development were established in Kosovo to increase the participation of Roma children in early education.

Toy Libraries were established in two schools in the municipality of Prizren – the second most populous city and municipality of Kosovo. The classrooms that were designated for learning center activities have been adjusted and redesigned to serve as Toy Libraries. In those classrooms, Roma parents can borrow high-quality educational toys and other materials – books, sound books, geometric shapes – for their children to use at home.

“Considering that during the day I am busy with household obligations, I spend up to two hours, 3-4 times a week playing with toys with my children. We also read books from the Toy Librarywith fairy tales and stories. In class, we read fairy tales twice a week, for one hour, according to the schedule planned for the use of the Toy Library,” says Elvan Galushi – a mother of two sons from Prizren. “Toy Library has had a positive impact on my relationship with my children. Through this activity, I have given my children and myself the time to learn and play together. Our family is unable to buy these toys because of the difficult economic conditions, and borrowing helped us a lot. My son has the opportunity to borrow his favorite toy and plays with them every day after school.”

So far, Toy Libraries have 85 members who are Roma parents and 87 Roma children aged 0-8 years. There are 397 toys and 12 books available in total.  KRAEEYN project has donated 149 of the items and also provided hygienic materials.

Promoting ECEC Professions Among Roma Through Workshops for Families

There is still room for improvement in the promotion of education among Roma in the field of Early Education and Care (ECEC) in Slovenia. Some specific activities can help in promoting ECEC professions among Roma, and the research that analyzed the number of Roma professionals in the field, conducted by Slovenian REYN Network in 2018, proves it.

There are no recent data on the rate of successfully finished education on a higher level by the Roma students. An evaluation study reports that around 500 Roma children among 4 350 finished primary school in 2005-2009. This means that around 60% of Roma children, who were enrolled in primary school, successfully finished their primary education. Even though this information is not up to date, it still indicates that there is much room for improvement on the promotion of education among Roma in general or specifically in the field of ECEC.

The Educational Research Institute that led the research, invited two Roma preschool teachers to visit some Roma settlements in Slovenia and present their job and work experiences. 13 parents, 8 preschool children, and 24 school children attended these workshops in three different Roma environments. These activities introduced the profession of a preschool teacher to parents and children and encouraged them to apply for a secondary or higher school to employ in this field.

The preschool teachers spoke about their profession and shared a video, which showed their routine work in the preschool. The final part of the workshop was dedicated to creative activity, through which they presented an aspect of their work in the preschool. Children and parents together created, for example, a glass lantern.

Children were impressed by these presentations, and some of them even pretended to be preschool teachers during the discussion. They enjoyed watching the video and looking at how a preschool by the Roma settlement was working.

“We could also have such a preschool in our settlement!” said one of the girls from the audience.

After the workshop, some children’s mothers requested more information about vocational retraining in education, which would allow them to get a job as preschool teacher assistants.

In some settlements, though, parents did not show much interest in the presentation – in some cases, the workshop facilitators sensed that parents felt a bit inferior to them, in some cases parents sounded quite pessimistic.

“Education does not ensure you a job if you are Roma,” shared one parent, while some other parents would be eager to get educated in this field, but lack financial support in fulfilling this wish.

The preschool teachers plan to have the same workshops also in the future.

“When planning such events, it is important to carefully choose the facilitator, a secure and known place, and ensure an informal atmosphere. Then the participants are more relaxed and open to ask questions. If they receive relevant information in an appropriate manner, parents could be empowered to encourage their children to decide for the profession, which we present,” concluded the preschool teachers, who conducted the workshops.

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.

Spazio Baby Welcomes Roma Families in Rome

Spazio baby – a place for early childhood – is located in Polo Ex Fienile – a former barn turned into a polyfunctional building, located in the suburb of Tor Bella Monaca in Rome. It is open four mornings a week and welcomes children from 0 to 3 years old, accompanied by a family member, usually a mother, who also often participates in other activities and courses organized by Associazione 21 Luglio.

It is important for the mothers from the Roma community to have a place for early childhood where they play and discover new experiences with their children in a nurturing and welcoming context, where they can be supported by educators and by professionals – midwives, pediatricians, and nutritionists – who deal with early childhood and who periodically offer advice to the families. It is also important to share parenting experiences, doubts, and fears with other moms who may have very different cultural backgrounds. We talked to three educators and asked them to share more information about their activities.  

How do families spend their time at Spazio baby?

Marcella: We offer handling and free play activities with educational toys and on sunny days children can play in the garden. Thanks to the mobile play hub that contains games and teaching materials, we can bring a well-equipped playroom to the green spaces of the Polo Ex Fienile. For a few days a week the family members take part in small craft workshops together with their children. Families come from extremely diverse origins. There are both Italian and foreign families. Most of them come from Sub-Saharan and Northwest Africa. There are also families from South America and Eastern Europe. Sometimes some Roma mothers and children come to spend their morning with us as well. Outdoor activities became very essential in this pandemic period. That is why we offer to children and parents games, walks and sensory path in the green space and also in the vegetable garden.

Dzemila: When we are outdoors, we use lots of natural elements in our activities: twigs and leaves, sand, soil, and seeds. We use fruits and vegetables both to eat and to color or to do decoupage. We can see that children have fun doing these activities with their mothers, who also participate with enthusiasm. Besides, we have sown some vegetables, and it was also lots of fun. Recently we started to grow green bean seeds, and we already see the first sprouts.

How is your work team composed?

Dzemila: We work in shifts of three or four educators. We are five in total, and three of us are from Roma origin.

What is your career path?

Marcella: I have a degree in psychology, and for several years I have been working on a project with minors from 0 to 13 years.

Miriana: I am a Roma educator. I have participated in many training sessions on the subject of early childhood organized by Associazione 21 Luglio, with which I have been working for about 10 years.

What does being a Roma educator working on early childhood mean to you?

Miriana: I am a little more comfortable working with children outdoors. For me, it is essential to work and have experience exchange with colleagues, but above all with mothers who have no prejudices to me as a Roma woman. Seeing that mothers, with such different origins, trust us and bring their children to us is a nice compensation compared to some situations of discrimination that I experienced as a young girl. When I was little, the parents of the other children didn’t want them to spend their time with a Roma girl. As an educator, on the other hand, I never had problems with discrimination.

Dzemila: As a Roma who has worked for many years in the social sector, first in a refugee center, then in a foster home, and later with Associazione 21 Luglio, I find that the best thing is when the families we work with come from many different origins and backgrounds. On the contrary, I think doing an activity for mono-ethnic families is a form of racism. I believe that working with those who are different from you leads to a greater open-mindedness. My life experience as a Roma, but above all as a woman, has helped me a lot in my work. Being Roma helped me to avoid labels and prejudices.

Marcella, did you already work with Roma colleagues?

Marcella: No, it is the first time that I have Roma colleagues. I already knew Roma families, but I never worked together with them. Now I am delighted working with them. Maybe it’s a matter of personality… All three colleagues are very pragmatic, they find a solution for anything, they fix broken things, and, if needed, they even climb trees. Moreover, they are predisposed to listening. I see that they talk willingly with parents, giving good advice, perhaps learned in past experiences, when they lived surrounded by so many children.

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Roma Professionals in Slovenian Preschools

A research that analysed the number of Roma professionals in Early Education and Care (ECEC) and their employment possibilities was conducted by Slovenian REYN Network in 2018. According to the results, there were 12 Roma professionals employed in preschools in Slovenia, among which one preschool teacher, three preschool teacher assistants, and eight Roma assistants (additional person in preschool groups, which includes Roma children).

No opportunity to enter the ECD workforce

REYN Slovenia interviewed different Roma professionals – preschool teacher assistants and Roma assistants – and asked about their roles at work, cooperation with children, parents, and other co-workers. Besides, REYN Slovenia was interested to hear about the opportunities for professional development they have and any potential challenges they face in finding a job. Their responses showed that they do not feel being treated the same way as their non-Roma colleagues.

“I wish that the society was aware that I am equally qualified for my job as other teacher assistants,” said one of them.

Moreover, many of them expressed frustration about the fact that there are educated Roma professionals who have difficulties finding a job in preschool.

“There are at least six girls with an adequate education in our settlement, who are interested in entering the ECD workforce, but they do not get the opportunity,” shared another Roma colleague.

REYN Slovenia gathered further information on the situation of Roma professionals in preschool through focus groups with 13 leaders from nine different preschools. Discussions were focused on the changes that need to be implemented to enable employment opportunities for Roma professionals and the role of preschool principals in this process.

The outcomes of these debates confirmed the significance of Roma professionals being present in the preschool group, in which the Roma children are also included during:

  • the introductory period when children are newly enrolled in a preschool group:
    • “When children enter preschool for the first time, they feel scared, uncomfortable. Some of them are not familiar with a new language. This can lead to shock, distress, which children do not understand. If there is at least one familiar person to whom they can return to and be comforted by, this transition can be much easier for them.”
  • the transition from preschool to school:
    • “The presence of Roma assistants in preschools can be mostly noticed in the phase of changing the learning environment from preschool to school. They know me already, our relationship is completely different, more relaxed, trustful.”
  • building trust with parents:
    • “My presence in the group has largely contributed to the fact that the parents trust us more, there are more children being enrolled in preschool than in the past.”
  • understanding the Roma language and culture.

Guidelines on tackling the challenges with employment

The research also indicated some challenges that Roma professionals are facing in their professional lives. They mainly refer to their limited possibilities of being involved in the whole process of work in preschool, in fewer opportunities for continuous professional development and fewer opportunities for acquiring the desired employment.

This research resulted in a developed report and guidelines on how to tackle the challenges in employing Roma professionals in our preschools, which was also presented to the authorities on the national level. Besides, a video was made to promote the awareness of the importance of employing Roma professionals in ECEC. Moreover, two Roma professionals conducted workshops in Roma settlements and presented their profession to Roma children, students and parents.

“We, the Roma, can also work in a preschool?” asked a very surprised local girl during one of these workshops.Such a question is an important signal for REYN Slovenia that they still need to put a lot of effort into promoting the profession of preschool teacher among the Roma. Furthermore, they should outline the positive impact of having Roma professionals in the preschool group and empower preschool leaders to be aware of giving equal opportunities for employment to the Roma professionals. All of these are priorities in the work that REYN Slovenia Network does now and in the next years.

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Inclusive Kindergartens in the 8th District in Budapest

A complex kindergarten development program was launched in the 8th District Municipality in Budapest at the beginning of this year. The program is implemented in partnership with Partners Hungary Foundation/REYN Hungary (PHA) and Rosa Parks Foundation that received a tender from the European Commission.

In recent years, large numbers of young people, including middle-class families with small children, have moved to Józsefváros (the 8th district), which for a long time was one of the most disadvantaged areas in Budapest. However, these newly arrived families do not enroll their children into the local kindergartens (in many cases with a Roma majority), which prevents the possibility of building a diverse and inclusive atmosphere.

The goal of the project “Inclusive kindergartens for the quality education of Roma” is to make 12 local kindergartens inclusive and attractive to middle-class parents who now send their children to kindergartens outside the district, reflecting on the diversity that characterizes the district. Keeping its own program and building on its strengths, each kindergarten will develop its own institutional inclusion program and attractive high-quality programs and services to invite middle-class families to the local kindergartens.

“You think you are doing perfect, but when a second eye sees your kindergarten, you realize you can always develop,” says Melinda, the kindergarten principal of the 8th district.

As part of the project, PHA will develop a complex methodology and an associated set of tools, which will be tested in the project. These tools will be available to all municipalities and other kindergartens who similarly want to make their kindergartens inclusive.

The tasks of the Partners Hungary Foundation and REYN in this project are to:

  • Develop institutional strategic planning in the kindergartens and its implementation with the involvement of all stakeholders.
  • Help the kindergartens to renew their methodological tools and offer new services in accordance with the mapping the needs of the kindergartens and parents.
  • Communicate the new services to the residents of the district, families, strengthening the district identity.
  • Modify the district boundaries for the optimal use of kindergartens and in order to ensure a proportional presence of Roma, children with special educational needs, and foreign children in each kindergarten.

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Eleonora Kulchar, REYN-Ukraine: “A Child’s Best Interest is Our Primary Value”

Between 350 and 400 thousand Roma people live in Ukraine. Most of them are undocumented and are living in a difficult socio-economic situation, without proper conditions to support their children’s optimal development and growth. Parents are not always sufficiently educated to be able to help their child with homework, and they are usually simply unable to create a supportive home environment for learning and development. Since 2016, REYN Ukraine has been helping Roma parents and children to solve these issues. Now REYN Ukraine network includes 702 members. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the network members had 120 work meetings. Today we are talking with the REYN Ukraine national coordinator Eleonora Kulchar about the challenges and successes of their work.

What are the priorities of REYN Ukraine?

Our network priorities reflect values ​​and principles that are declared in our strategic development. Our values are: working in the best interest of a child, responsibility, professionalism, transparency, and respect for diversity. We also have several principles. For instance, a child’s best interest is the primary value of the REYN Ukraine. Therefore, all our activities are aimed at solving key challenges of the child, supporting education and early development. Besides, being a part of the REYN Ukraine network team means taking responsibility for a relationship, for action and result. Professional growth is also very important for us. Transparency is one more vital thing, and for us, it equals trust. Moreover, we accept diversity in people, and we respect their personalities and choices.

What are your short-time and long-time goals?

During the monitoring that we recently had, we have found that one of the main problems, obstacles to the successful training of Roma children in schools, is discrimination and stigmatization on a national basis, often manifested in bullying. Therefore, our short-term plan is to form and implement an advocacy program aiming at overcoming this problem and minimize its consequences. We also would like to attract new partners: state structures, national NGOs, international organizations, and experts who have experience in fighting against bullying. Besides, we would like to expand the network by including the new members who, as stakeholders, have the competence and relevant resources to change/influence the situation at the regional levels in Roma communities. Our long-term plan is to make the policies aimed at raising the level of education of Roma children and promoting these policies to the regional and national levels.

What is the current situation with young Roma children in your country, taking into consideration the COVID-19 situation?

Roma children in Ukraine were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic: quarantine and the transition of schools and universities to online learning. The level of education of Roma children was relatively low even before, and now, with the pandemic, the situation worsened.

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 would ask them if their children were in the place where Roma children are now – what they would change in the country’s education system.

What is the dream of your national REYN for Roma children in your country?

Our dream is depicted in a vision of the REYN Ukraine network: the world of where Roma child is happy is the world where this child feels safety, care and has a chance to take a worthy place in the society and remain him- or herself at the same time.  

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