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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.

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

Online Forum “We are all Children” Took Place in Ukraine

“2020 is a year of challenge for each of us and for our network in particular,” said REYN-Ukraine national coordinator Eleonora Kulchar during the online forum “We are all Children” that took place on November 24-25. “Unfortunately, we cannot look in the eyes of each of you or hug you. But I thank each one of you that you were able to find time for this forum and that you are ready to remember that children have no nationality, social or economic status. All of them are just children who deserve love and support from us, adults.”

During the forum, organized by the Transcarpathian Regional Charitable Foundation “Blago”, the host organization of REYN, participants discussed strategic goals of the REYN-Ukraine network and how they resonate with the draft of the new National Roma Integration Strategy  in Ukraine. REYN International Coordinator Aljosa Rudas spoke about the challenges faced by Roma communities, families and children and highlighted how National REYNs support them. Open Society Foundations Program Officer of Early Childhood Program Szilvia Pallaghy outlined the child’s interests in the new EU Roma strategic framework on equality, inclusion and participation for 2020-2030.

Distance learning is hard to access

The results of a joint study by REYN-Ukraine and the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine on Roma children’s access to education during the pandemic were also discussed during the forum. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Roma children experienced bullying and not fair treatment at school. With the pandemic, this challenges became more severe.The study shows that 51.8% of parents reported that their children were bullied by the teachers, and 47.9% said that children were bullied by other children. In the whole country, distance learning was almost inaccessible to Roma children, as only a third of respondents had a smartphone, tablet or laptop and only 27% use regularly internet. In large families, one device was available for all children with repercussions on their online attendance and performance. In almost every third family, children did not do homework at all.

Encouraging children to dream and grow

This year, under REYN Ukraine, Transcarpathian Regional Charitable Foundation “Blago” supported financially six projects, and provided advice to two more. These projects were designed and implemented by REYN members in different Ukrainian cities, who  shared their experience and best practices during the forum. Among the projects, there is a street school of primary socialization for Roma children living in temporary settlements in the Lviv region, made possible by the integrated work of social workers, juvenile prevention officers and Roma volunteers.

“Children can and should dream about more things than what they have now!” the project implementors said.

Besides, this year, thanks to REYN, the following initiatives started in Ukraine:

  • An interactive summer camp in Odessa region for Roma and Ukrainian children took place. The main idea of the camp is the belief that friendship begins in childhood.
  • A center for preschool development now exists in a Roma cultural center in Zolotonosha, Cherkasy region.
  • Bilingual cartoons are disseminated between the professionals who work with Roma children and also in the schools where Roma children study and in the Roma organizations
  • REYN donated notebooks and laptops  to preschool age Roma children to support their development and the gradual acquisition of the Ukrainian language.
  • An alternative school during pandemic appeared in the Odesa region.
  • Because of distance learning, computer literacy courses for parents started in Kharkiv region.
  • The promotion of online local initiatives, models and methodologies of preschool development has begun  in Uzhhorod.

It is also worth mentioning that in 2020 the REYN-Ukraine network has significantly expanded. Currently, it consists of one national coordinator and three regional coordinators in different parts of Ukraine. The network management includes eight organizations from different regions of Ukraine. The network has 698 members and covers 14 regions of Ukraine.