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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.

Ivan Ivanov, REYN Bulgaria: “We Can Achieve More Together”

Established in 2018, REYN Bulgaria offers positive role models in the field of early childhood development, improves the quality of education, to more effectively integrate health care and education in the early years, with an emphasis on nutrition. Bulgarian REYN is uniting efforts for 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. Today we are talking about this with REYN Bulgaria coordinator Ivan Ivanov.

– What are REYN’s priorities? What are the short-time and long-time goals?

– The short-time priorities of REYN Bulgaria are to provide regular opportunities for professionals to exchange good teaching practices and methods for working with Roma children and parents.

The long-term priorities of REYN Bulgaria are to become an informational platform for professionals and to develop successful Role models at an early age who can increase the trust of Roma parents in educational institutions and improve the educational achievement of the Roma children and students.

One of the long-term priorities of REYN Bulgaria is to support the process of creating a professional community that develops active advocacy measures and actions which may positively reflect on improving the conditions for working with Roma children and parents.

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

– The current situation is not stable at all. The mortality in Bulgaria has become increasingly higher during the past month. The percentage of vaccinated people is really low, around 20%. Right now, we are on the edge of a full lockdown of the entire country. Most of the children in Bulgaria, not only the Roma kids, face a lot of challenges in many aspects. The kindergartens and schools are closed, and all children are being homeschooled. The main communication channel with the most vulnerable children and families are the educational mediators. The educational mediators are working mainly in the neighborhoods, as well as in the remote rural areas with children from vulnerable groups – children at risk of dropping out of the education system, children from ethnic minorities, children from socially disadvantaged families.

The lack of social contact has had a largely negative impact on the educational progress of children who usually hear Bulgarian only at school. In some cases, the older children take care of their younger siblings who, after closing the educational institutions, are left at home, as well as to help the younger ones in the distance learning process at school.

We are trying to be flexible as much as we can, in order to meet some of the main needs – of the teachers and professionals who work with Roma children and the needs of the Roma children and parents.

– What is the most recent intervention that REYN carried out?

– One of the recent interventions is the program for small grants of REYN, “How to raise smart and strong children,” which aims to improve the efficiency and capacity of specialists focusing on early learning and care. Тhe project connects REYN and a local NGO. It raises awareness on the importance of preparing healthy and nutritious meals as a prerequisite for solid brain development, which affects later success in school. The initiative has already included more than 700 parents.

– What is one success of REYN that you are (most) proud of?

– We are really proud that during the last two years, within the REYN Internship program, which supports the process of introducing positive role models, we have recruited almost 20 interns, 10 NGOs on a national level, and more than 10 kindergartens which have been involved in the implementation of these project activities.

We also managed to implement more than 30 REYN regional member events both ( in-person and online), sharing good teaching practices for working with Roma parents and children, based on the REYN resources and videos created or translated during the year.

– What is your message to the policy-makers of your country – what would you ask them or tell them if you had one minute to talk to them?

– Based on our professional experience, I believe we can learn and work together. When I visit Roma kindergartens and schools, I’m always shocked, and the only thing that goes through my mind is: do we really do anything to help these children? Do all these actions, strategies, and plans meet the real need of these children and their families? Can we find a way to work together in these difficult times in order to support the most vulnerable ones amongst us? What do you think?

– How does REYN engage with the members (individual and organizational)? How many members do you have?

– At the moment, REYN Bulgaria consists of 249 REYN members (109 institutional and 140 individual). One of the main channels we use for our communication is our REYN website, where we post updates about our activities and news generated on behalf of TSA and the REYN members. In order to recruit new REYN members, we publish updates and blog articles on the Trust for Social Achievement’s website, which is the host organization of REYN Bulgaria.

– What is REYN’s dream for Roma children in your country?

– Our dream is that all Roma children could receive the support and additional resources they need to reach their full potential. We also dream of having more positive role models and ambassadors for an actual change in the country.

– Why should someone join REYN?

– We believe that we can achieve more together, especially now, when we have the strongest need for support and new perspectives. When we broaden the REYN community, we also broaden our horizon of professional insights, beliefs, and hopes.

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.

Reducing Digital Gaps for Children of Marginalized Groups in Kosovo

30 families from the Roma community in the Municipality of Gracanica, Kosovo received tablets from Kosova Education Center (KEC), the hosting organization of REYN Kosovo. This was done to protect children in emergency situations, support parents in the daily routine with children and stimulate children in the home environment, especially during and post COVID-19 pandemic.

Children who attend the pre-primary (preparatory) level of education as well as the first graders will use their tablets for online learning and doing other learning center activities.

“The Ministry of Education and Science failed to take into account the needs of students from the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities when it started organizing distance learning. Furthermore, the Ministry does not have data on the inclusion of students from these communities in online learning,” says KEC project manager Bora Shpuza Kasapolli. “The distance-learning broadcast started on March 23, 2020, where students in Kosovo attended home lessons through the Kosovo Public Radio and Television (RTK). Communities at the risk of poverty found it more difficult to attend school because of the new way of schooling online. While other communities had 3.4% absence, in these communities absence went up to 10%. It is clear that the pandemic has negatively affected the process of education, especially among the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities.”

Because of no technological equipment at home, children could not communicate with their teachers. Many of them had to send their homework to the teachers over the parents’ phones. During conversations with the parents, KEC representatives found out that children like learning in school more than learning from home, due to the lack of technological equipment.

“In this regard, the provision of tablets was necessary and very useful for providing access to technology and increasing the participation of children from Roma, Egyptian, and Ashkali communities in the learning process. Having access to information and communications technology, it enabled them to re-establish connections with their educators and attend the education process on a regular basis, ensuring the continuity of academic development. It also helped them maintain relationships with their peers, which is a crucial factor for psychosocial wellbeing,” continues Bora Shpuza Kasapolli.

Beneficiaries have been selected by the local organization Balkan Sunflowers Kosova, also a member of the REYN board. This organization manages and directs the learning center in Gracanice, where curricular and extracurricular activities and various educational programs take place. Children who got their tablets also attend this learning center after school for homework assistance and other specific needs.

“Learning has become easier for our children because nowadays it is taking place online, so for us provision of tables has been very helpful. The tablets have enabled us as parents to spend more time with our children at home,” shares Miliam Jashari – a parent of a child who has got a tablet.

Read more about REYN Kosovo and follow their Facebook page

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.