News

The lessons a trainer learns 6: the challenges and solutions of the COVID lockdown

The spring of 2020 was tough on everyone in Hungary. Especially it was tough on the most vulnerable groups, including poor Roma families. Many people who were already living in poverty lost their jobs and lots of families did not have any digital devices or the digital skills to help their children with distance learning. In my final blogpost, I would like to talk about three exemplary Roma professionals – all women – who really made a difference in the lives of poor Roma communities.

The first two professionals – Szilvia and Erzsébet – work for Partners Hungary Foundation, where we managed to continue our Roma programs online and find extra projects/support for Roma communities despite the lockdown. This became possible because in the programs that were already running, we had already managed to build trustful relationships which helped us get past the challenges of learning the usage of new online platforms. The transition to the online world was highly supported by our management who trusted their professionals with flexibility and autonomy and encouraged us to find alternative paths to maintain relationships with the vulnerable communities. Besides, our Roma professionals, both with rich intercultural mediation, leadership and field experience were relentlessly looking for funding opportunities within and outside of our foundation and who were in continuous contact with the Roma communities in need.

Szilvia and Erzsébet managed to provide support to more than 250 deprived Roma families in six villages altogether, either by themselves as individuals or with the help of the intercultural mediators trained by Partners Hungary or through their relationships with other formal and non-formal Roma communities/associations. These families were either provided with laptops or tablets and workshops in digital literacy so that their children do not drop out from school or food, sanitary and cleaning products. They were also involved in workshops, chat groups where they could exchange experience and learn about the new opportunities.

The third professional is a REYN mentee who was trained to become a kindergarten assistant – Laura, about whom you could read in the previous blog post. A strong-willed woman who calls a spade a spade, and who is willing to advocate for the basic human rights of being treated respctfully, no matter one’s background. She had been long dreaming of working with children in a kindergarten, but her ultimate goal was to get a further certificate which would enable her to work in a foster home. Most of the children living in foster homes are Roma, and Laura’s mission is to empower Roma children, to boost their poor self-esteem through love and attention. Through the past months, the lack of professionals working in foster homes became so big that application for a caregiver’s position was not restricted for those who have already completed the necessary training but positions were open for those who have any kind of qualification related to child care and those who would be admitted after the interview would receive the necessary training on the job. Laura applied for a caregiver position and was immediately admitted due to her interpersonal skills and also to her certification as a kindergarten assistant she earned during the REYN program. She started working in April, in the middle of the lockdown period, with no fear towards the virus. She felt that children needed attention and love more than ever since they could not meet their family due to the restrictions. The fact that she is Roma herself was very well received. Since most of the children were Roma too, they treated her as their aunt. Laura says she has a good relationship with her colleagues and her superior as well. She is looking forward to the official caregiver training which will be paid by the foster home.

These Roma professionals’ strong vision, stamina and their ability to find ways in the darkest times give hope to many of us for surviving a possible second wave. While it was not possible to help everyone in need and there is nothing that can compensate for this injustice, there were and are still ways to help many people. The more of us are inspired by such examples, the more of us can find the momentum and the possibility to help get vulnerable groups through tough times. I feel proud and honoured to get to work with such powerful Roma professionals. I hope to tell you further great stories soon. Until then: take care!

TOY for Inclusion Play Hub in Italy: a gateway to pre-school for Nerima

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An estimated 50% of Romani children don’t go to school in Europe.  Often they are excluded or feel unwelcome by their non-Roma peers and teachers. In other cases they simply live fare away from services.  TOY for Inclusion is becoming the gateway to school and kindergarten for many Romani children. This is the story of a 5 year old Romani girl called Nerima; she was looking for a safe play space and found a pre-school.

If you visit the TOY for Inclusion Play Hub in Mazara del Vallo (Italy), you will perceive a certain familiar atmosphere. People feel comfortable and families participate in activities together. This is what Nerima was looking for when she joined.

At the beginning her family wouldn’t let her alone with other children. Nerima has a disability and her family feared that the other children might not welcome her. Her family decided that it was important for her to attend but always during less busy times and accompanied by an adult.

Week after week, month after month, Nerima became familiar with the Play Hub. She enjoyed using the toys, she became more confident and gave other children the possibility to play with her.

A safe place

Eventually her family realized that the Play Hub was not something to be afraid of, but rather a place that supported their daughter’s development. It was a safe place.

There, Nerima had the possibility to stay with other children and build relationships autonomously. Her family understood the importance of this: the importance of living an educational and social place, the importance of not letting fear hamper their child’s development.

Thanks to this experience, Nerima’s family decided to register her to pre-school, giving her the chance to integrate and to develop to the fullest.

TOY for Inclusion’s mission is to foster integration of Romani children by giving them access to community-based services. We are thrilled to meet families like Nerima’s, who recognize the importance of learning and playing.

Mazara del Vallo hosts one of the two Play Hubs in Italy, the other one is located in Rome. A few months away from the opening, the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs are becoming the gateway to school and kindergarten, and we are proud of that!

To most Romani children, it was the first time outside their settlement

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The Know How Centre has worked with Roma communities for the past 6 years. This year’s program however was their most successful until now: they managed to motivate and support Roma parents of 29 children to apply for kindergarten. A huge milestone and a great motivation to endure their support and empowerment of parents in their pursuit of better futures for their little ones. As a result, the Know How Centre widened their program scope and offered new services.

One of these services was a community picnic in the city center of Novi Sad (Serbia), where children and parents could explore the historical city sights. The Know How Centre offered a short guided tour to the most important places and organized a creative workshop in the park where children could interact with peers of all standings. To most the children, it was the first time they were outside of their settlement, and this needs to be added: their settlement is only five minutes from the city center. It turned out to be a positive and highly valuable experience that will play an important role during their adaptation to kindergarten, when school begins.

Interhuman skillS

The Know How Center (also CPZV) is a voluntary NGO/NPO that aims to improve social development and emancipation on several levels. In addition to executing programs to help Roma inclusion, they roll out programs for families, children and youth (prevention of early school departure). Their applied methodology is to activate different types of beneficiaries through polite human contact, in combination with expert interhuman knowledge and skills.
But they primarily and continuously work with (and for) members of Roma communities of all ages. They endorse their search for knowledge and skills, and strive towards a community where all members have equal opportunities. One of their main goals is to ensure a healthy and stimulating early childhood development for the little ones. So as they reach out to families and children, they organize compelling activities that emphasize the importance of education and schooling in a positive and contagious way.

Start-up procedures and workshops

But the Know How Centre has a lot to share with other ISSA members also. They are an organization founded by five women whom are all experts in the field of social politics. They can share a fair deal of experiences in the preparation of project proposals, project management, evaluation and (periodical) reporting. On offer are also helpful procedures for establishing intersectoral cooperation and advocacy. And they have a well-developed methodology for fieldwork and a huge base of educative workshops for early childhood development.

Seeking evaluation methods

They recognize however that there is still room for improvement on evaluation methodologies for the work in informal Roma settlements. They do seek support through education and training in the field of fundraising. Their team is very open for improvements and acquisition of new knowledge which could improve their work.
Some great words from Novi Sad: ‘Whatever you do, always remember that personal happiness and satisfaction is multiplied by sharing those same things with others, especially with people who are in a position of need. Keep in mind that even the smallest progress you have made can make huge differences (instant or delayed) in the lives of our beneficiaries.’

The Know How Centre (also CPZV) is a member of ISSA, you can find their profile HERE

ISSA is the driving force behind Romani Early Years Network. We commit ourselves to the development of every child, across all domains. Ever since ISSA was founded as a network in 1999 we have grown significantly – sharing knowledge and tools to improve the quality of Early Childhood Development and its workforce. In (pre)schools, crèches, kindergartens and daycare centers across Europe, and in other services for all young children and their families. As a network, we gather and generate prominent studies and insights on child development and learning and convey them to our peers, member organizations and policy makers, so they can put them to good use.

 

 

TOY for Inclusion inspires children in Belgium!

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Playing, reading and drawing is highly beneficial for the development of young children. In this video we see learning activities organized in Ghent, Belgium, by the Centre for Innovation in the Early Years (VBJK) within the TOY for Inclusion project.

TOY for Inclusion supports learning and playing for all children between 0 and 8 years old thanks to the creation of Play Hubs in 7 European countries. The project organizes extra activities that are not offered by compulsory schooling. TOY for Inclusion’s Play Hubs are developed with the local community which brings together people from different cultural backgrounds including Roma and non-Roma.

Read more about TOY for Inclusion.

 

EU Platform for Roma Inclusion 2017, a missed chance for children’s education

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EU Roma Platform 2017The EU Platform for Roma Inclusion 2017 mainly focused on Roma people and the job market. Discrimination was recognized as being a main obstacle for Roma, others pointed out that more efforts are needed to equalize opportunities in education. It was hardly mentioned, however, that young people’s success starts with education at birth.

The main topic of the European Platform for Roma Inclusion 2017, held in Brussels on 27 to 28 November, was the “transition from education to employment”. As the EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová, highlighted, Europe cannot afford to let the young Roma not fulfill their potential.

There was a general understanding at the meeting that the disadvantage at the labor market is rooted in the lack of quality education. Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos, Head of Department for Equality and Citizens Rights at the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), asked: “Can anyone claim that segregated education can provide people with the skills for today’s competitive world?”

EU Roma Platform 2017 Unfortunately, the situation of the youngest children was hardly discussed. The event also failed to recognize that the best education starts at birth. As the evidence shows, the brain reaches its development peak at one year of age, and it is in the first years of life that education has the most impact on a person’s life.

If the EU wants Romani and Traveller young people to be freed from the vicious cycle of poverty and to develop their full potential, the answer is affordable quality education and care at birth.

Recently, REYN co-signed a joint statement to the European Commission. Together with other 50 civil society organizations, we called for a stronger recognition of Early Childhood Development and Health in the current policies as well as in the post-2020 EU strategy for Roma inclusion.

Associazione 21 luglio and REYN Italy: “15 thousand Romani children in slums are deprived of their rights”

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In Italy, 15 thousand Romani children live in formal and informal slums, Associazione 21 luglio and REYN Italy say.

In Rome, an estimated 4,100 Romani children live in poverty: 1,350 are between zero and six years old, 2,750 are aged seven to 18. These children and young people suffer from social exclusion and stigma. A few have access to health services. For these children life expectancy is ten years below the average, one in five will not enter schooling paths and will have almost no possibilities to go to university.

The lack of proper housing is among the first challenges to school retention. The majority of slums are excluded from public service; they are often located in extreme peripheries and polluted areas. Lack of income, discrimination, cultural deprivation and inadequate housing are factors that can impact enormously on the physical and psychological well being of children. These factors can also cause the so-called “ghetto diseases”: malnutrition, scabies, tuberculosis, anxiety and depression.

Forced evictions of informal settlements frequently happen and constitute traumatic events for children that live in the slums. This has serious consequences on the children’s right to education. In Naples, in the neighborhood of Gianturco, a forced eviction that involved 1,300 Roma in housing emergency (half of them were minors), caused a real diaspora just at the eve of International Roma Day on 8 April 2017.

In Rome, since November 2016 there was an increased 133% in forced evictions.

Read the whole press release on the Associazione 21 luglio website here.

Read more facts and figures on REYN Italy‘s page.

TOY partners unveil plans to create play hubs

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TOY for Inclusion partners unveil their plans to create play hubs for young children in seven EU countries (Belgium, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Slovakia and Slovenia). The play hubs will be launched in early 2018. Click on the image below to see the details for each country.

TOY for Inclusion is creating non-segregated intergenerational play spaces in the mentioned countries. These spaces are located in areas that are reachable for both Roma and non-Roma families. They are designed and run by local committees composed by representatives of both communities (called Local Action Teams), school and preschool teachers, community development workers and local authorities.

Along with activities aimed to help children develop competences and knowledge for formal education, these spaces mobilize local communities around young children, and organize intergenerational activities involving older people with and without a Roma background.

Read more about TOY for Inclusion here.