Romani children‘s Christmas wishes confirm poverty gap

School Principal Peter Strážik asked children in his school what they wanted for Christmas. Over 50% of the children in the school are Roma. The difference of wishes between Romani and non Romani children reflect the hard reality.

As a headmaster of the only elementary school in Spišský Hrhov (Slovakia), I often do various surveys that provide me with precious feedback. Sometimes I check the satisfaction of parents, sometimes I send surveys to the school staff to find out what to improve and how to move forward.  Most often and very gladly, I ask questions to the children. It helps me to understand their world better. The children are usually open and truthful, they leave me in amazement, or even shock me.

I ask the children

In the past, I have asked children about the quality of school lunches, the severity or benevolence of the teachers, workload and bullying. Sometimes I also focus on inclusion, that’s because 52% of pupils in our school come from the marginalized Roma communities. The school Inspectorate monitors the respect of human rights, integration and acceptance of differences. I do not exaggerate if I say that the results show a high level of acceptance of Roma, and there are friendships between the children, who sit together without bringing up their differences.

Last week, I wanted to study something unusual, something not so important for the life of the school, but very important for the headmaster who wants to be a friend of all the pupils of the school. The only question I was interested in was what the children wanted for Christmas.

Inspired by my sons

I was motivated by a situation at home where I asked my two sons to write a letter to Santa Claus with a list of wishes and gifts. My older son (16) refused to do it, he said that he has everything and needed nothing. (He’s modest like his father). The younger son (12) took the paper and pen without hesitation and brought me a not so modest list. He asked for several gifts which had a total value of 1,500 euros. Fortunately, besides material gifts, he also wished for peace, health, happiness, or good election results.

The survey

Going back to the survey, the results show way too much. Although I never do it, this time I asked the children to write their names on the lists. I had a reason for it. Are you wondering what I found? You should be.

Slovak children had roughly the same wishes my younger son has: mobile phones, tablets, computers, play stations… etc. The lists of Romani children also showed unity. However, a diametrically different one. Some might not believe it, others might be saddened by it. I offer the results of the survey to you, you are welcome to come and see the questionnaires in my office, with a cup of quality coffee.

More than half of the Romani children wanted sweets and cakes, and for their father to be at home with the family at Christmas. About 30% of the children wanted a jacket or a sweater; girls preferred shoes and scarfs. A few respondents wanted toys, with a book here and there. There were also bizarre wishes including chainsaws, axes and knives. Out of the total number of children in this group, only two wished for a cell phone.

What conclusion can we make?

The everyday reality of children from excluded communities has remained unchained for a long time. It is marked by poverty but on the other hand by strong social bonds: the need for a family, (grand)parents, siblings and neighbors. They stick to their habits and traditions and still have respect, something, which has become a thing of the past in the majority community. Roma do have things to teach us. Trust me!

By Peter Strážik, Principal of the primary school of Spišský Hrhov, Slovakia.

The children’s gift to Pope Francis

- News

Pope Francis appreciated receiving the decorations prepared by the children of our Play Hub in Slovakia. “The pope urged parents to find time for their children… he wants them to “play together”.” The Slovak President Andrej Kiska said.

The President of the Slovak Republic, Andrej Kiska visited Pope Francis in the Vatican and presented him with the Christmas tree ball prepared by the children of the TOY for Inclusion Play Hub in Spišský Hrhov.

During their meeting at the Vatican, last Friday, the two had the chance to talk about inclusion and integration among other things. Mr. Kiska informed the pope about the work done in Spišský Hrhov.

According to Mr. Kiska, much of their discussion centered on the family. He recalled how the pope urged parents to find time for their children. But not only with technology; he wants them to “play together.”

The balls will be hanging on the Christmas tree in the House of St. Martha, where Francis will serve mass every day until Christmas.

The Play Hub in Spišský Hrhov is situated in the local school and kindergarten. “Our children talk about the Play Hub during the day and plan meetings there after school. In this way, meetings among Roma and non-Roma families become part of the education system”, says Peter Strážik, school principal and local team coordinator.

Over the past months, the TOY for Inclusion Play Hub in Slovakia has been receiving appraisals by high level politicians, families and children.

What children say about TOY for Inclusion in Slovakia

- News

The TOY for Inclusion Play Hub in Slovakia keeps receiving appraisals! Recently we reported about Thorbjørn Jagland, the Council of Europe Secretary General and other high level politicians who applauded the project. Today we are happy to share some cheerful quotes that children who attend the Play Hub have told us!

The TOY for Inclusion Play Hub in Spišský Hrhov (Slovakia) is placed in the local kindergarten and school and it’s visited every day by dozens of children.

This is what they say.

“I was amazed to see the colors of the room… We don’t play at home because we don’t have such modern and new toys. My father left us when I was a baby, so my mom takes care of me on her own. Last time before going home, Tatiana [a volunteer], told my mom we could take some toys with us at home. I could not simply believe that! We took a Lego set home and I spent long time constructing it until I fell asleep.” Zuzana, 8 years old.

“We come in and make ourselves comfortable. There is no day without Play Hub, I can’t wait to come again tomorrow!” Sonia, 6 years old.

What parents say

“A unique place for us Roma mothers. I have never seen a place where so many different children play together like in our Play Hub.” Monika, mother of 4 children.

“I have never felt so welcome and respected before. My boys are happy to play with other children of the village and nobody treats them any different. They even have the chance to use books and toys I could not afford. What a perfect place!” Anna Dirdova, Roma mother of six children.

Learn more about the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs here.

Slovakia: arguments for compulsory preschool sound loud again

- Blog | Stanislav Daniel

Politicians want preschool attendance compulsory for Romani children, however they should probably make education accessible and affordable first.

Not long ago, there have been many discussions about compulsory preschool attendance as one of the measures supporting Roma inclusion in Slovakia. After getting off the agenda for some time and possibly inspired by practices from nearby countries, policymakers are putting the topic back on the table.

On Wednesday, May 2, EduRoma – a leading NGO promoting inclusive education for Roma in the country – organized a public discussion on the topic trying to answer some of the key questions. Is preschool available to all children today? Are preschools ready to co-educate Romani and non-Roma children?

Once and forever

There is a solid pool of evidence showing that building kindergarten capacities without investing in quality of provided services does not boost the potential of the children. While academia continues to build knowledge base for quality inclusive and affordable service, policymakers stick to the argument of obligation. Several EU Member States included it in their national Roma integration strategies.

So where did this obligation come from? We can only assume it emerged from the negative stereotypes against Romani parents. Local anecdotal experience shows that where service was provided and Romani parents were actively engaged, attendance increased and parents were happy to benefit from the service. In a situation, when the services are not even accessible, it sounds weird to discuss its obligatory character. And who says that the obligation will increase the educational achievements?

For Roma only

The most dangerous arguments in the discussion are connected to limiting of the obligation only to Roma or the so-called “marginalized Roma communities”, i.e. segregated Roma settlements and ghettoes. In fact, research indeed shows that the most disadvantaged benefit from early childhood services the most. However, there is no justification for introducing an obligation for one disadvantaged group and actually punishing and stigmatizing them for their situation once more.

Zuzana Havirova, founder of the Roma Advocacy and Research Center and a panelist at the event said: “There is no sense in targeting Romani children. If there is an agreement on decreasing compulsory school age, then the key benefit is in bringing the children together so that they can learn from each other and learn to live together in diversity since early childhood.” She sees preschool mostly as a tool to fight segregation: “This may help in dealing with disadvantages and exclusion of Romani children as there is potential that this would put them on track with mainstream quality education.”

Cost free and not free

Accessible and affordable are the terms that are often mentioned in connection to early childhood services. In many countries, including Slovakia, the last year before entering into primary education is without kindergarten fees and policymakers promote this as a measure to help the most disadvantaged. However, in this case the cost free may not be free in fact.

In Bulgaria, the Trust for Social Achievement (TSA) – host of the REYN National Network in the country– conducted a study which reveals that while the service may be free on paper, there are many financial or in-kind contributions families are required to provide to the kindergarten. TSA found that parents contribute in total €30 million to the system annually and there is not much reason to think it is different in other countries, including Slovakia. Instead of pushing for obligations, states should first focus on the available and affordable.

Tell us what you think, share your posts on social media with a hashtag #REYNdiscussion

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

- News

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

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

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

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

Read the article here.