Last week a picture of a young Roma child was the topic of world news (see Adrian Marsh’s discussion of this topic in the blog post below). The subsequent column inches dedicated to ‘the blond angel’ Maria brought the subject of Roma children, for a short time, out of obscurity.
However, rather than provoking positive action this story served as an opportunity to reinforce prejudice and stereotypes. DNA tests found the blond youngsters in Greece, Ireland and the UK were Roma after all and the previous interest in these young children and their families faded.
As the eyes of the media were focused on a Roma camp in Greece I had the honour of spending time with some different Roma children. REYN organised a study visit to learn about the activities of the Ruhama Foundation who are focusing on Early Years education for children living in the most deprived areas in Romania.
The team comprised of teachers, community developers, NGO workers and students; Roma and non-Roma; from all over the Continent.
This Study Visit was the first of its kind bringing people together who work face-to-face and hand-in-hand everyday with Roma and non-Roma children and their families.
The benefits of Early Years education have been well documented. However, it was noted during the Visit that this should not be seen as the only panacea to raise all out of poverty.
The task cannot be solely placed at the feet of kindergarten or nursery teachers; many of whom are low paid, female and facing the brunt of current budget cuts precipitated by the financial crisis. An integrated approach is needed.
In light of this the Ruhama Foundation showed us how they are working in partnership with local and national authorities in order to establish and sustain change.
The approach of this Study Visit, Ruhama Foundation and REYN was on ‘doing’ rather than talking; finding solutions rather than listing challenges and problems.
It was also identified that this approach has to be accompanied with the strength and humility to learn from mistakes. The Ruhama Foundation was active in working to provide opportunities for parents not only tell their story but also to work in a real partnership.
For me, this seemed very promising. The ultimate goal must be for all parents and children, Roma and non-Roma, not only to create their own solutions but to be involved in the debate to define the problems.
This is not easy. However, as the image of Maria fades from our TV screens, it seems as though the work of Ruhama Foundation and other organisations like them are more pivotal than ever as we work to create this alternative picture.