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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.