News

Erika Szabóová, REYN Slovakia: “Our voice is stronger together”

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.

Read more about REYN Slovakia and follow their Facebook page

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.

Read more about REYN Hungary and follow their Facebook page.

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.  

Read more about REYN Ukraine and follow their Facebook page

Dream to Grow: is European Labour Market a Place for All?

How to make Europe’s labour markets a place for all – this was the topic for discussion during the online event organized by the Romani Early Years Network (REYN) and ERGO Network on 7 October 2020. The networks hosted a virtual human library, where Roma professionals from Italy, Scotland, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Belgium and Romania told their stories and shared their experiences on how to dream big and achieve goals, regardless the circumstances.

“We were travelling around Scotland, living on camps and obviously it caused a lot of barriers for me trying to get an education because there is a lot of racism towards Roma and Traveller people,” says Davie from Scotland. “When I got into school, one teacher even said that it would be a waste of school resources because I was a gypsy and I would not do with education anything anyway.”

This institutionalized attitude that exists in many countries prevents Roma and Traveller people to get employed and to achieve their professional goals.

“Diversity is important, but it is far from being panacea for all the visible and invisible manifestations of systemic racism faced by Roma. To be able to achieve justice, anti-racism institutions, private companies, other entities and schools and our European society as a whole need to be ready to recognize, to understand and to address all the power imbalances, the history of injustice, the policies and laws, procedures, the norms and standards,” says Margareta Matache, director at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights’ Roma Program and Harvard instructor.

Not all the time the needs of Roma communities are reflected in either national or EU policies and strategies and not all the time these needs are captured in essential documents.

“Then we are asking ourselves why we are failing if we gave Roma access to school, water, a place to live, electricity… But to be honest, we forget one thing. Perhaps, we really gave them all, but we never asked them if this is what they need, we never asked them to take part in creating their future, and we very often forget that what we think is right for them is not necessarily what they really need. By building a dialog and by involving them in all processes, we can move forward towards a more inclusive and responsive future!” reassures Aljosa Rudas, Program Officer and REYN International Coordinator at ISSA.

Regardless of the circumstances, people can succeed, and the stories of the Roma professionals told during the event were a good example of that.

“People succeeded despite of the system, and not thanks to the system. When we asked how they succeeded, they did not mention particular policies or diversity measures. They mentioned that it was an institution, an organization or an individualthat came and gave them a little tiny nudge” concluds Stanislav Daniel, co-chair of ERGO Network.

Stay tuned and follow REYN #DreamtoGrow and ERGO #APlace4All campaigns on the social media.

Get inspired by the video stories of our human books and the event’s main speakers here.

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

- News

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.