Spazio Baby Welcomes Roma Families in Rome

Spazio baby – a place for early childhood – is located in Polo Ex Fienile – a former barn turned into a polyfunctional building, located in the suburb of Tor Bella Monaca in Rome. It is open four mornings a week and welcomes children from 0 to 3 years old, accompanied by a family member, usually a mother, who also often participates in other activities and courses organized by Associazione 21 Luglio.

It is important for the mothers from the Roma community to have a place for early childhood where they play and discover new experiences with their children in a nurturing and welcoming context, where they can be supported by educators and by professionals – midwives, pediatricians, and nutritionists – who deal with early childhood and who periodically offer advice to the families. It is also important to share parenting experiences, doubts, and fears with other moms who may have very different cultural backgrounds. We talked to three educators and asked them to share more information about their activities.  

How do families spend their time at Spazio baby?

Marcella: We offer handling and free play activities with educational toys and on sunny days children can play in the garden. Thanks to the mobile play hub that contains games and teaching materials, we can bring a well-equipped playroom to the green spaces of the Polo Ex Fienile. For a few days a week the family members take part in small craft workshops together with their children. Families come from extremely diverse origins. There are both Italian and foreign families. Most of them come from Sub-Saharan and Northwest Africa. There are also families from South America and Eastern Europe. Sometimes some Roma mothers and children come to spend their morning with us as well. Outdoor activities became very essential in this pandemic period. That is why we offer to children and parents games, walks and sensory path in the green space and also in the vegetable garden.

Dzemila: When we are outdoors, we use lots of natural elements in our activities: twigs and leaves, sand, soil, and seeds. We use fruits and vegetables both to eat and to color or to do decoupage. We can see that children have fun doing these activities with their mothers, who also participate with enthusiasm. Besides, we have sown some vegetables, and it was also lots of fun. Recently we started to grow green bean seeds, and we already see the first sprouts.

How is your work team composed?

Dzemila: We work in shifts of three or four educators. We are five in total, and three of us are from Roma origin.

What is your career path?

Marcella: I have a degree in psychology, and for several years I have been working on a project with minors from 0 to 13 years.

Miriana: I am a Roma educator. I have participated in many training sessions on the subject of early childhood organized by Associazione 21 Luglio, with which I have been working for about 10 years.

What does being a Roma educator working on early childhood mean to you?

Miriana: I am a little more comfortable working with children outdoors. For me, it is essential to work and have experience exchange with colleagues, but above all with mothers who have no prejudices to me as a Roma woman. Seeing that mothers, with such different origins, trust us and bring their children to us is a nice compensation compared to some situations of discrimination that I experienced as a young girl. When I was little, the parents of the other children didn’t want them to spend their time with a Roma girl. As an educator, on the other hand, I never had problems with discrimination.

Dzemila: As a Roma who has worked for many years in the social sector, first in a refugee center, then in a foster home, and later with Associazione 21 Luglio, I find that the best thing is when the families we work with come from many different origins and backgrounds. On the contrary, I think doing an activity for mono-ethnic families is a form of racism. I believe that working with those who are different from you leads to a greater open-mindedness. My life experience as a Roma, but above all as a woman, has helped me a lot in my work. Being Roma helped me to avoid labels and prejudices.

Marcella, did you already work with Roma colleagues?

Marcella: No, it is the first time that I have Roma colleagues. I already knew Roma families, but I never worked together with them. Now I am delighted working with them. Maybe it’s a matter of personality… All three colleagues are very pragmatic, they find a solution for anything, they fix broken things, and, if needed, they even climb trees. Moreover, they are predisposed to listening. I see that they talk willingly with parents, giving good advice, perhaps learned in past experiences, when they lived surrounded by so many children.

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Early childhood exclusion strikes harder than pessimists thought

- News

Earlier this week, the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) published a report showing that only half of Romani children attend early childhood education. This is rather alarming as such, but what is even more important is that it only took into account children attending preschool (four years of age to age of compulsory education). Looking at particular countries, numbers are still alarming – for instance, with just 28% of Romani children attending preschool in Greece, while the national average reaches 84%.

The report ‘Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey, Roma – Selected findings‘ presents findings from nearly 8,000 face-to-face interviews with Roma, and their households, accounting for almost 34,000 persons. It has been highlighted during the launch of the report that the data needs to be interpreted carefully as it relied on self-identification of interviewees. Still, the findings present a very clear, yet very negative image of situation of Roma in nine EU member states – Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain.

Here is one major finding: only half of Romani children attend preschools. Unfortunately, the study does not specify how many children from Roma families have access to other forms of early childhood education and care, at younger age in particular. In many countries, education systems for children under three years of age are not well developed and are often inaccessible to most Romani families, especially those in excluded neighbourhoods, camps and ghettos.

At Romani Early Years Network (REYN), we work with comprehensive understanding of early childhood development. REYN is concerned about the situation of Romani children and their families as depicted by the study. FRA has also found that 80% of Roma families surveyed are at risk of poverty (EU average is 17%): 30% live in households with no tap water. One third of Romani children grow up in households where someone went to bed hungry at least once in the previous month. In Romania and Bulgaria, countries with the largest Roma populations in Europe, only 45% or 54% respectively have health insurance coverage.

The situation is clearly not positive. But what is the most worrying? These findings are from member states of the European Union, the most productive economy of the world. With vast majority of EU Roma facing risks of poverty there is no reason to be optimistic about countries below EU economic indicators. In poor countries, Roma are the poorer. When medical care in not available, it is definitely not available to Roma.

We all know that systemic measures are lagging behind, even where good practices exist. And we know that there is a need for more advocacy efforts at all levels. It is crucial to make use of data in our efforts. At REYN we benefit from a wide network of practitioners who use data and case studies to bring change at local level. And that makes our evidence based advocacy stronger.

Follow the channels of Romani Early Years Network, we will bring more.

Download FRA’s report ‘Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey, Roma – Selected findingshere.