A New School Year for the Whole Family

For Ivan and his family, the autumn of 2020 turned out to be very different. Ivan had his first day at the University of Shumen “Archbishop Konstantin Preslavski”, and his wife had her first day in the high school. Their son had his first day in kindergarten.

Ivan is 27 years old and comes from the village of Ivanski in Bulgaria. He finished secondary school, and even though he had a dream of becoming a doctor, he did not get the opportunity to study. Then he found out about the “Young Roma Teachers” program, which provides mentoring as well as financial help till graduation from the University. With this program young people can study pedagogy and have a work placement afterwards.

During the summer of 2020, Ivan was accepted at the University of Shumen to study early childhood pedagogy full time. In the preparation for the first semester, he was thinking of his wife Viliyana, who did not have the chance to finish secondary education. He managed to convince her that although she is a mother now, she can still finish her education. Therefore, she enrolled in the Professional High School for Agriculture. Their son Hristo is two years old. Young parents realize that the time spent in kindergarten is crucial for his development and enrolled him in kindergarten “Svetulka” in the village of Ivanski. That is how the whole family started their school year.

Now there are two people form the village of Ivanski – Ivan and Antoaneta – taking part in the “Young Roma Teachers” program, financed and implemented by Trust for Social Achievement, with the help of Center for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance Amalipe.

The main goal of the project is that participants of the program will work in the local kindergarten in the future. Program participants receive mentor support as well as financial help during their studies. Their families are very proud of them and support them in any way they can. Ivan and Antoaneta will be the first people from the Roma community in Ivanski to graduate from the University. In this way they are a good example for the community, and hopefully more people can follow them in their steps.

Roma teacher in Bulgaria: “I adore these children”

The remarkable story of Antoaneta Antonova, who fulfilled her dream to become a teacher. The story has been published by the Trust for Social Achievement, REYN Coordinator in Bulgaria.

“I remember the day I first crossed the threshold. I remember the school bell ringing. As I hadn’t gone to kindergarten, I directly started in the preparatory grade. Our teacher’s name was Daniela Ivanova.”

Antoneata tells us the story of her childhood. Recalling her past as a Romani girl in school and then as mother who wanted to become a teacher.

“She was the one who taught us to write the letters of our names, to count, to distinguish between right and wrong. She was my role model. I dreamed of being like her when I grew up and I wanted to become a teacher.”

A dream made true

Today Antoaneta works with the largest group in the kindergarten, the preparatory group immediately prior to primary school.

“I adore these children. This comes from my heart: each one of them is individual and special. Though I have been with them for only a short while, I can say that I love them. I never thought I would be able embrace and kiss other children other than my own or my nieces and nephews. They are more curious than us, and I personally think that the vast information on the Internet and TV programs give our children space and freedom. When I was a kid, we used to play with mud and used it to make cakes and sweets, and we ran in the yard until late in the evening. Nowadays, children play on their phones and tablets but they are still kids. And even when they are angry with me that I haven’t let them run around, they still tell me they love me. They are fireflies dancing up-and-down, shining with their smiles.”

Read the whole interview on the Trust for Social Achievement’s website.

The children of the Porjamos

On 2 August 1944, about 3000 Roma were exterminated all together in the concentration camp of Auschwitz, Poland. For many years the Porjamos, the Roma genocide, was unreported and even hidden. Here is why recalling the facts is important.  

Often we wrote about the art of storytelling as being an important part of Romani culture. The stories allow us to recognize Roma people who became symbolic figures. Also, in any culture and for any child it is inspirational to celebrate positive role models.

The girl with the scarf

A photo showing the girl with the scarf standing on the closing door of a train at the Westerbork camp in the Netherlands, documented children being deported to Nazi’s concentration camps in the 1940s. For years everyone assumed that the girl was Jewish. However in the early 1990s, a Dutch journalist called Aad Wagenaar, found out that she was not Jewish but actually a Sinti. Her name being Settela Steinbach.

Her father was a trader and violinist, her mother ran the household in their wagon. Searching for work, they moved from village to village in the Netherlands.

She died in 1944 in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Settela and her family were registered in a special section of the camp. The notorious camp where doctor Josef Mengele performed medical experiments on prisoners including children and twins.

Stories like the one of Settela became iconic and need to be told. You can read about her and about other deported Romani children on the portal There is Stjepan from Croatia, Krystyna from Poland, Elina from Czechoslovakia and more. The original tales, the documents and the videos shock the audience and reveal their tragic destiny.  

Those stories are important not only because they tell us about the persecution of Sinti and Roma by the Nazi but because they give a human face to the Romani genocide.

Look and don’t forget

Also the initiative Dikh he na bister – Look and don’t forget, driven by young Roma, raises awareness and advocates for the official recognition of 2 August as the RomaHolocaust Memorial Day. As mentioned on their website they do it to “pay homage to the victims, heroes, survivors and strengthen the identity based on the deep knowledge of the past”. Find out more on their website here.

NEWS – Exchanging Goods and Good Times in Slovakia

The Wide Open School is working with seriously disadvantaged people: the Roma community. They live in very poor settlements. At the same time, through their expert work for universities (in cooperation with professional consultancies) they are connected with wealthier people as well, amongst which are many from the private IT sector.

Different groups, but Wide Open School has brought them together. Building a bridge between the two, exchanging useful things, such as: toys, books, furniture, clothes, necessities for newborns, bikes, strollers, etc.) to Roma settlements. They also have organized several get-togethers between Roma and the IT community. As a result, they have established almost familiar relationships.

This in itself gave the team of Wide Open School big hope, because it shows that not all Slovak inhabitants are intolerant, or even worse: racist.

Full value life
Wide Open School pursuits an environment where all families live in heterogeneous communities, especially children at an early age. Living in a full-value and tolerant environment, where they have access to education and social services and where all people are free in addressing their needs to a reliable, open and competent public administration.

Over the years, Wide Open School has created a broad range of services to help grow the resilience of the communities in which they work. Their offer and experience concerns parenting programs and community building, early childhood programs and aid with social and financial literacy (0-15). In addition, they offer services on topics such as social justice and leadership & governance in multi-cultural environments.

National challenges
Despite their current activities on advocacy, they do realize such activities on both national and regional level are of the enduring kind. On national level, things are more complicated and efforts need long time to take form. Wide Open School therefore believes that these results will be visible in the future only. On regional level, change and successes are more evident. The reason for this is their close cooperation with Mayors. While they endorse the work and cooperate it immediately becomes more visible.

Wide Open School will surely keep up the good work. For us, they have the following advice: Keep working hard for children – your work makes

About ISSA
ISSA is the driving force behind REYN. At ISSA 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, creches, kindergartens and daycare centers across Europe, and in other services for 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.

Little Bogdan found his own words

- News

The first years of a child’s life are the most critical for their development. Alarmingly, many Romani children don’t have access to early childhood services that would stimulate them to reach their highest potential. This is a positive story, though: a five year old child who couldn’t talk and couldn’t draw, managed to gain the skills thanks to therapy.

“When Bogdan came to our Roma Community Center he couldn’t talk. Despite understanding everything we were saying, he could only speak out a few words,” says Aleksandra Miletic, Psychologist.

Bogdan is a five year old boy. He was diagnosed with expressive speech disorder and had limited fine motor skills for his age.

“He could not hold a pencil properly. His play was simplified and was not developing. Most often, he was only stacking big building blocks in a certain order and color” Aleksandra says. She works in the Roma Community Center in Kragujevac, Serbia. Many Roma go there every day, children and adults.

“There are three Roma settlements nearby our center. Many people come from there with different needs”, says a representative of Romanipen, the organization that manages the place.

Bogdan comes from one of the settlements. “He is not much different from any other boy”, Aleksandra continues, “the causes of developmental disorders can be many”.

Bogdan and his family worked hard

Since his sessions at the center started, his abilities have improved enormously: Bogdan now speaks out loud and can pronounce correctly almost all the letters of the alphabet. He learned a lot of words and can make simple sentences. Thanks to his family’s commitment, he never missed a single session with Aleksandra and the speech therapist.

His father is extremely happy with the results: “He has improved a lot. I noticed that he voluntarily engages in conversations with others now and he is better at drawing. Also, he is playing more with other children and made some new friends”, he says.

Since April 2017 the Roma Community Center has provided psychological help to over 100 children and adults. With 7 to 10 children accessing their services every day, the center has become of vital importance for the communities around.

When children like Bogdan are reached by services they are allowed to develop to their fullest potential. That is why REYN will keep advocating for the children’s right to access quality education and care. No more Romani and Traveller children lost!

NEWS – Dutch Travellers protests against ‘Extinction Policy’

A row concerning the basic ‘right to settlement’ emerges in the Netherlands. Several Traveller groups, including Roma and Sinti, have occupied vacant trailer lots that were once appointed to their community. So far, 34 former Traveller locations have been occupied with moveable caravans.

The travelers peacefully protest against the so called ‘Extinction Policy,’ enduring, but quiet assimilation efforts of local governments, that prevent younger generations from taking up trailer lots left vacant by deceased or departing community members. At the end of this process, Travellers, Roma and Sinti are pressured into accepting regular housing.

Community break up

It so appears that local governments aim to break up the Traveller, Roma and Sinti community. Crime or troublesome relations with community inhabitants are named as reason for such efforts. However, no evidence or numbers are given to underpin claims of nuisance to the overall society.

In an interview with NOS, occupants in the southern Dutch village Mill make their case: ‘The Council of State has purposed this area, and many other areas, for the settlement of Travellers. Yet, we are denied single permits to place a home and restart a community here.’ The occupants hold up the Mill lot for the 24th day in a row now, at a fine rate of 5.000 EUR per 24 hours. They are willing to take up the case to the highest court.

Human Rights

The situation may very well develop in favor of the occupants. The state mandates that spaces are to be granted to the traveler community, a right given in the 1960’s to a generation of Travellers, Roma and Sinti that is now steadily aging. Still, municipalities have no right to push young Traveler generations into regular housing. Also, the right to specifically live in a trailer has firm legal roots. In 2014, trailer settlements were acknowledged as part of the Dutch cultural heritage.
The National Ombudsperson and Human Rights Council have therefore openly rejected the Extinction Policy practices, stating that governments are insensitive to the cultural roots and needs of its Traveler population. Minister Kasja Ollongren (D66, Interior Affairs) made dubious statements on the subject. She does acknowledge the rights of the Traveller community, but claims at the same time that local governments can repurpose their soil at their convenience. ‘The right to settle does not justify this random occupation,’ so she says.

Traveling fairs

Many Travelers are part of a vivid community that make a living off of traveling fairs, which are highly popular throughout the Dutch and Belgian community. Most of them; however, work regular jobs, they are educated well and they are all subject to taxes. Unemployment is not part of the perceived problems.

Closeness of friends

Most of the protesters are involved in the occupation because they fail to find their way in regular housing. Piet Soering told NOS: ‘It may be hard to understand for non-Travelers, but the walls truly moved in on me. I’ve tried six different places. But my place is here. This is us.’
The Travellers notably do not reject the regular community in any way. It is – so they say – that they miss having their friends and family nearby, a strength so characteristic for the Traveller, Roma and Sinti community.

The issue will be debated on the 18th of October 2018 in the national House of Representatives.


  • Following contact with NOS reporter Mattijs van de Wiel, ISSA was told that the Municipality of Mill was unwilling to respond to the developing situation.
    – Jolanda Clement for ISSA

    About ISSA
    ISSA is the driving force behind REYN. At ISSA 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, creches, kindergartens and daycare centers across Europe, and in other services for 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.

Gypsy, Roma, Traveller History Month: Celebrating Romani and Traveller culture, history and language

- Blog | Adrian Marsh

We are delighted to publish a guest blog by Dr Adrian Marsh about the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller History Month held every year in June in the UK. For practitioners and early years pedagogues it is an opportunity to celebrate diversity, build stronger relationships with Romani and Traveller families and recognise the rich cultural heritage of Romani and Traveller people to wider European

Gypsy, Roma, Traveller History Month (GRT HM) encouraged teachers, pre-schools, schools and
children’s centres to explore and investigate Romani and Traveller cultures in positive and surprising ways, discovering just how different the reality of their lives were, compared to the ‘fantasy’ of popular media stereotypes and myths.

GRT HM also gave Romani and Traveller children in the kindergarten or school, a chance to be those with the knowledge about the topic, the ones who could share this knowledge with the non-Romani children and teachers. Individual stories and histories of families or groups, put Romani children and their communities at the forefront of the activities with positive role models from the past and present, encouraging Traveller parents to get involved in pre-schools and schools to share and support the topic and activities.

celebrating cultural diversity

GRT HM was an initiative of the Traveller Education Support Services (TESS) in the UK, first launched in the year 2000, in schools in and around London. In response to the continuing celebration of Black History Month (October), Women’s History Month (March), and a regular multi-faith, cultural programme in schools and children’s centres that celebrated various annual events, such as Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights celebrated in autumn (7th November 2018), the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr (15th to 17th June 2018), the festival at the end of Ramadan, Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights (2nd December to 10th December 2018), Kwanzaa, the pan-African festival of light (26th December to 2nd January, each year).

TESS teachers wanted to acknowledge the contribution of Romani and Traveller cultures to wider European society, acknowledge the experiences of Romani and Traveller communities, and celebrate aspects of those cultures with various activities that positively ‘showcased’ Romani and Traveller people, for children and their families.

Activities in the preschool and classroom

GRT HM is intended to be celebrated by all children, regardless of their origins and ethnicity, and is an opportunity to highlight the Romani and Traveller communities. Stories, story-telling, games, songs, mask-making, drama, imaginative play, drawing and painting using Romani and Traveller motifs and icons, such as horse-shoes, waggons (the Romani word is vardo), wheels, birds, dogs (jukkel is Romani for ‘dog’), woven baskets, kerchiefs, bandanas, pegs, camp-fires and horses (or whatever motifs are common in the Romani community you work with).

Decorating paper-plates with floral motifs, or printing materials with foam shapes of flowers are two more activities that can be done with younger children, whilst making crepe paper flowers with older children, is another.

Find out what the crafts made by your Romani and Traveller community are or were in the past, collect stories from older Romani and Traveller people and make books, with the children illustrating them, get grand-parents and parents to come to the preschool or school and share their memories of the past or stories they were told when they were children.

Romani people and story-telling

Stories and story-telling have long been associated with Romani people and, according to scholars such as Francis Hindes Groome (1851-1902), Romani people brought many of the stories we know as ‘fairy stories’ to Europe from India (‘Gypsy Folk Tales’, 1899), such as ‘Cinderella’, ‘Snow White’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’.

Modern Romani and Traveller writers, such as Richard O’Neill, have written their own stories that can be used as the basis for preschool and classroom activities. I have developed a lesson plan for use with the story-book, “Ossiri and the Balamengro” by Richard O’Neill, Katherine Quarmby and illustrated by Hannah Tolson. Read a REYN blog dedicated to that.

This story and many others have Romani characters, Romani language and themes, that can be shared with the whole group of children to introduce elements of culture and traditions. Richard O’Neill’s “Yokki and the Parno Gry” brings themes of loss of ‘stopping places’ for Travellers, insecurity of work in ‘bad times’, difficulties in changing traditional crafts and trades, but also hope and the importance of family and kinship.

Other story-books feature real Romani and Traveller children and people, such as “Tom”, or “Where’s Mouse?” These simple stories are designed to improve language and spelling, strengthen reading skills and build vocabulary.

Both Romani and other children can identify with the central character, who, in this story about a Traveller boy called Dylan, has lost his dog called “Mouse”. Other books for young children and early readers feature Romani and Traveller history, such as ‘Moving Pasts’, ‘How Rabbits Arrived in England’ and ‘Uncle Walter’.

The Romani language

All these learning materials have been produced by and with Romani and Traveller people, so they represent the views, experiences and stories of the communities themselves, celebrating Romani and Traveller cultures and communities. The opportunity to introduce elements of language, such as the Romani and Traveller words in the Richard O’Neill stories, can bring an awareness of Romani and Traveller cultures to non-Romani parents and teachers who don’t know that these languages exist, that Romani and Traveller people have a long and complex history and that Romani and Traveller identities are older than many modern European identities; for example, Romani people arrived in Byzantium in the 11th century, well before modern English, Swedish or German identities are formed.

The Romani language is Indian in origin, Middle Indo-Aryan to be precise and older than Dutch, Hungarian and Flemish.

Using the opportunity of Gypsy, Roma, Traveller History Month (remembering to translate this into the most appropriate and culturally respectful language, as many Romani people in Europe do not use the term ‘Gypsy’ about themselves, as they do in England and Wales), offers a chance to bring a positive perspective about Romani and Traveller people into the early learning environment. It is a chance to increase understanding and improve social dialogue between communities, to promote social justice and celebrate diversity. So let’s use it!