By Tatjana Obradovic Tosic ( left in the picture), REYN member working for “Mother Child educational project” in Serbia alongside Ms Beata Olahova from Roma Education Fund.
When we talk about Early Childhood Development in most deprived communities, like Roma communities, we cannot talk only about one side of the process of ECD. As REYN Manifesto says, we as practitioners are committed to “Creating, developing, exploring and sharing innovative practice, critical solutions and constructive approaches to demonstrate that health, social and educational services and provisions (including community-based care for institutionalized children) that serve Romani and Traveller children and families, can be child-friendly and welcoming to families.”
“Mother Child Educational program” and Roma practitioners working under this project are working every day to fulfil that goal, and to enable good quality early childhood services in Roma Communities in Serbia.
The “ Mother Child educational project” implements five Roma organisations – CSO “Romanicikna” (Krusevac), CSO “Rromanipen” (Kragujevac), CSO “Hands of friendship” (Kraljevo) and CSO “Humanitarian Center Rom” (Obrenovac) and “Small Happy Colony” from Novi Sad. The project is funded by the Roma Education Fund.
The project aims at reducing the gap in early childhood development outcomes between Roma and non-Roma by improving the access to early childhood education for Roma children
1) within formal education – by lobbying at local authorities for a higher level of inclusion and by encouraging and supporting Roma parents to enrol their children into preschool and the 6-year olds to PPP;
2) providing alternative early childhood program in form of Toy Library and
3) within their families – by empowering and developing the capacities of the mothers. The project has holistic approach to the early childhood education of children, including family members, children and institutions in the process of the inclusion. At the moment the project includes more than 350 Roma mothers and more than 500 Roma children age 0 to 7.
Children got space to spend free time as structured time, and not spending time in the streets, because they started coming to the Toy library. The “Mother Child educational project” is innovative in nature because it gives support to Roma mothers, being the most important persons in their children’s life, by empowering them and improving their parental skills and competences, but also their personal skills and competencies.
The toy library is superseding the lack of simulative educational environment for Roma children in targeted localities. Toy libraries have become a model of good practice for the alternative ECD program, offering children not only place to play and toys for renting, but also educated librarians who can help them develop necessary skills and knowledge. The internal monitoring and evaluation system empowers and enables organisations to follow the progress of the project activities but also to follow the progress of children and mothers participating in the project. In that way the project impact and success is tracked, but also it enables organisations to improve the effectiveness of their activities during the implementation.
This project is developing sustainability on two levels. By empowering mothers and their inclusion in the Toy Library boards they are becoming more active members of the Roma Society included in all activities that organizations are delivering (planning of the program, negotiating and developing cooperation with institutions and motivating more active participation of the women from the community). By developing cooperation with preschool institutions and local self-governments in using Toy Libraries as a step in overcoming obstacle in the inclusion of the Roma children in preschool institutions (kindergartens), this project is in long turn ensuring sustainability of the educational outcomes of the Roma children, both in terms of reducing dropout rate as well as level of their knowledge and preparedness for future education.
Major results and impact are:
The project moved Roma communities, mothers in particular, to gain some distance from their everyday lives and problems and to take more active role in education of their children. It created relaxed atmosphere in the workshops, where mothers were willing to exchange their experiences, and through the interaction with facilitators, and established trust, they learned a lot. Through their previous experience, partners realized that complete effects of some program targeting children, could not be fully accomplished if not all members of the family are involved. Therefore, this program has an appropriate approach, and in direct or indirect way, affected other members of the families, primarily mothers.
The project improved the position of the Roma women: in given circumstance where the patriarchal roles are strictly defined, this project positively influenced women’s awakening in relation to the position of Roma women in their communities and in society. The approach proved to be effective, for women were empowered to openly express their opinion, to confront men concerning their position and demands and tasks imposed to them in comparison to men’s roles. Mothers never thought about these issues before, because they thought that their roles were “natural status” as well as unequal power between men and women and that they can’t change that.
The enrolment in PPP and first grade increased and the dropout rate in PPP and the first grade is reduced. If now look the second phase, the major result that is obvious in the second phase is the enrolment, preparedness and attendance rate of children in the PPP and first grade is increased. Comparing to the starting point, the enrolment rate of children in the age for PPP in PPP is now 100%. The attendance rate in PPP, concluding with the data for the June 2014 is 72% which is 30% increase from the baseline position. The teachers are saying that Roma children that used toy Library are coming much better prepared to the PPP than the previous generations.
Mothers changed their behavior towards their children. The mothers became gentle with their kids and they are not so strict any more. They became more responsible and they would like their kids to have what they didn’t have in terms to attend and finish school. They learn how to play together with their children and they now do that at home also with good quality toys from the Toy Library. Mothers also became closer to children where they used to avoid their kids before. The program also educated them to behave better; they fight/argue less with others. They learned a lot about life and things they didn’t know before.
The project contributed to the significant changes children knowledge, skills and behaviour:
• Children became more patient. They can focus their attention to the activities they participate in.
• They learned how to behave well and accepted rules very fast: what is allowed and what is not; what they can do and what they cannot; what is good and what is bad.
• Children improved their knowledge of Serbian language and some mothers pointed out that the main reason for bringing kids to the Toy library and workshops is to learn Serbian. Children learned some letters. They learned to name colors and shapes; to count up to 10; basic reading skills, to recognize letters, to compose words, they try to read simple sentences.
• They mastered space orientation: right-left; relations up-down, higher-lower; time orientation: before-after; morning, noon, afternoon, evening,
• Children’s hygiene habits improved. They wash their hands now and brush their teeth.
• Another benefit is integration of Roma and non-Roma children, they are all together playing in the Toy library, they break through the barriers among Roma and non-Roma kids.
• Improvement in their mutual peer communication: they learned how to work in groups; they are more patient; they learn how to express their needs, they are more tolerant; they became more responsible; they respect rules; but they still need additional stimulation for work (this specially refers to younger children who can’t keep their focus in activities).
The project won Roma Integration Award for 2014 by the European Commission. Having that in mind, we are obliged to share our best practices with other Roma organisations and practitioners from Roma communities and to learn from others. The REYN is excellent place for that. So please do not hesitate to visit our web page and contact us: https://www.facebook.com/pages/REF-ove-biblioteke-igra%C4%8Daka-u-Srbiji-REF-Toy-Libraries-in-Serbia/1449611915273979