REYN Bulgaria

Roma Population

Roma are formally Bulgaria’s second largest minority group, representing approximately 370 000 or 5% of those who declared their ethnic identity during the 2011 Census. However, estimates range widely, and some sociologists claim the actual number of Roma in Bulgaria to be more than twice the official statistics.

Main Goals

Creating positive role models in ECD, to improve the quality of learning and instruction in ECD, to better integrate health and early education by focusing on nutrition, and to unite advocacy efforts in ECD with a focus on improving access, quality, and outcomes in ECD for Roma children. 

Advocating for raising awareness around the situation of early years services offered to Roma children in order to ensure more equitable and quality services and to create a more inclusive system.

Providing professional development and exchange opportunities to professionals and paraprofessionals (support staff) actively engaged in early years services.

Increasing the number of Roma professionals and paraprofessionals (support staff), involved in early years services.

Providing internship opportunities for Roma interns; negotiating and finding alternative ways to set up an internship scheme for this purpose.

Main Challenges

  • While Bulgaria has achieved considerable reductions in infant mortality, its rate is still over 80% higher than the EU average (6,6 vs 3,6 deaths per 1000 live births in 2015). There is a significant fluctuation among regions and in settlements with concentrated Roma population, with levels up to 200% higher than the national average.
  • Malnourishment is another health risk that puts Roma children at a disadvantage. The level of anemia among Roma children aged 6-11 months is 61% compared to 37% among ethnic Bulgarian children. The relative share of Roma children aged 0-3 with growth delays (measured based on the World Health Organization’s criteria for height-to-weight ratio) is 30%, compared to 8% for ethnic Bulgarians.
  • At present, 23% of new entrants into Bulgaria’s labor force are Roma or individuals living in marginalized communities. Roma currently experience great gaps in educational outcomes, with only half finishing junior high, less than 15% completing high school, and less than 1% earning a university degree.
  • Half of Bulgaria’s Roma live in illegal neighbourhoods, with 80% of all residents in these neighbourhoods lacking access to sewage and hot water. Many homes also lack running water and electricity. Many live-in fears of eviction. These deplorable conditions result in high incidences of preventable and chronic diseases among Roma children. They also affect their school attendance and economic potential.

Activities Carried Out

– Two regional member events organized by institutional members, attended by over 75 ECD professionals.

– Seven Roma university students conducted paid internships at kindergartens serving Roma communities.

– 16 teachers (both institutional and individual members) participated in study trips to explore good practices of working with Roma children.

– Organized two-day events with 100 students from the Anglo-American school (a leading international school in Sofia) on the topic of how poverty affect children.

– Organized two regional workshops for literacy and socio-emotional skills development in children from disadvantage communities that were attended by over 40 kindergarten teachers.

Ongoing Activities

  • Six Regional member events, supported by our institutional members.
  • REYN members consultation for updating on the municipal strategies for Roma inclusion through individual meetings and forums with stakeholders (municipal councilors, health experts, ECD experts, etc.)
  • Project-based learning program for fifth graders on the topic of how poverty affects children, with a focus on Roma children.
  • Translating, adapting and summarizing select materials from conferences and seminars, and subtitling videos. Producing two knowledge pieces per year.
  • Two one-day seminars on transformative discussions with children.
  • 10 learning trips per academic year.
  • Three regional roundtables with health experts.
  • Annual workshop on literacy skills for bilingual children and promoting a literacy-rich environment.
  • REYN internship program intended to award modest stipends to five Roma interns per year.

Main Outcomes

– The member base has grown to 200 members (100 institutional and 100 individual members) from across the country. From a recent member feedback survey, respondents ranked the ability to create new professional contacts and the ability to exchange good practices as the most valuable aspects of the network.

– During 2018-2019, young Roma professionals completed REYN-funded internships at kindergartens serving Roma communities. Of these, one is currently employed at a kindergarten, and in recent interviews, two others shared that they changed their career plans due to the internship, and they now plan to pursue employment in early childhood development.