Will the Western Balkan Summit be an important breakthrough for Roma integration?

At the Sixth Western Balkan Summit national head of state and European representatives pledged to speed up Roma integration on subjects like education, health and housing.

Potentially, an important breakthrough for Roma integration. The Western Balkan Summit in Poznan brought together policy makers, civil society organizations, experts and entrepreneurs on July 4th – 5th 2019.

The meeting ended on July 5th with a national and European Union (EU) leaders summit that reiterated the importance of Roma inclusion for the EU enlargement process.

The declaration

The summit produced a key document called “Declaration of Western Balkans Partners on Roma Integration within the EU Enlargement Process”.

The document pledged commitment to achieve the following objectives:

  • Education: Increase the enrolment and completion rate of Roma in primary education to 90 per cent and the enrolment and completion rate of Roma in secondary education to 50 per cent;
  • Health: Ensure universal health insurance coverage among Roma of at least 95 per cent or to the rate equal to the rest of the population;
  • Housing: Wherever possible, legalize all informal settlements where Roma live; or provide permanent, decent, affordable and desegregated housing for Roma currently living in informal settlements that cannot be legalized for justified reasons;
  • Employment: Increase the employment rate of Roma in the public sector to the rate proportional of the participation of Roma in the overall population; Increase the employment rate among Roma to at least 25 per cent;
  • Civil registration: ensure all Roma are registered in the civil registries;
  • Non-discrimination: Strengthen the government structures to protect against discrimination and establish a specific sub-division for non-discrimination of Roma within the formal non-discrimination bodies to process complaints by Roma, provide legal support to alleged victims and identify discrimination schemes, including institutional and hidden discrimination.

Our stand

Our stand is that policy makers should focus more on early childhood development to achieve real change; read our position here.

At the same time we see this declaration as a strong signal in the right direction, especially because it’s quoting the 2017 Western Balkans Regional Roma Survey that reports comparable data on pre-primary education.

Also, the presence of important figures as Angela Merkel and Theresa May, together with the High Representative of the EU Commission Federica Mogherini encourages the hope of a real European commitment.

Participants thanked the government of North Macedonia for initiating the process and welcomed the proposal of Albania to host a follow-up ministerial meeting in 2020 to assess the progress made.

Download the declaration here.

What children say about TOY for Inclusion in Slovakia

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The TOY for Inclusion Play Hub in Slovakia keeps receiving appraisals! Recently we reported about Thorbjørn Jagland, the Council of Europe Secretary General and other high level politicians who applauded the project. Today we are happy to share some cheerful quotes that children who attend the Play Hub have told us!

The TOY for Inclusion Play Hub in Spišský Hrhov (Slovakia) is placed in the local kindergarten and school and it’s visited every day by dozens of children.

This is what they say.

“I was amazed to see the colors of the room… We don’t play at home because we don’t have such modern and new toys. My father left us when I was a baby, so my mom takes care of me on her own. Last time before going home, Tatiana [a volunteer], told my mom we could take some toys with us at home. I could not simply believe that! We took a Lego set home and I spent long time constructing it until I fell asleep.” Zuzana, 8 years old.

“We come in and make ourselves comfortable. There is no day without Play Hub, I can’t wait to come again tomorrow!” Sonia, 6 years old.

What parents say

“A unique place for us Roma mothers. I have never seen a place where so many different children play together like in our Play Hub.” Monika, mother of 4 children.

“I have never felt so welcome and respected before. My boys are happy to play with other children of the village and nobody treats them any different. They even have the chance to use books and toys I could not afford. What a perfect place!” Anna Dirdova, Roma mother of six children.

Learn more about the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs here.

New TOY for Inclusion resource: What Works Guide

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The TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs for Romani and non-Romani children are a powerful integration infrastructure at the local level. We have released a guide on how to get the best out of it.

The guide gives recommendations to practitioners and to local authorities on how to implement Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) Play Hubs at best. The Play Hubs are a great community-based service that support the integration of Roma at the local level.

Download the publication here.

What are the Play Hubs?

They are are inclusive spaces where children and families from different backgrounds are encouraged to play and learn: while children are allowed to borrow toys, information about childrearing, health, early learning and development is passed on informally to (grand)parents.

So far, the project has created eight Play Hubs for young children in seven EU countries: one in Belgium, Croatia, Latvia, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and two in Italy.

Attend our event

On November 19th, 2018, an international event in Ghent (Belgium) will take stock of the first two years of TOY for Inclusion.  There, some of the project’s promising practices will be discussed. If you wish to attend register here.

Using native language in early childhood settings to tackle inequalities

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A research review sheds light on the use of language based support to reducing the gaps between native students and students with an immigrant or ethnic minority background.

ISOTIS project research conducted an inventory of promising interventions in early childhood settings attended by immigrant, Roma, and low-income children. It gathered actions taken in the Czech Republic, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal.

Results show that “while 79% of the interventions provided some type of language support, only 32% considered children’s heritage language, even though 72% of the interventions targeted either immigrant, Roma, or mixed groups of children.”

As stated in the study’s executive summary, language support has a significant role in reducing the gaps between native students and students with an immigrant or ethnic minority background.

According to the review, these type of interventions could be developed considerably.

Read more about this study on the ISOTIS website.


INTERVIEW – Art Aktivista uses colors to fight Roma segregation

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They have “the largest canvas and the widest palette of colors”, “they paint the pavement, public spaces and have a lot of fun”. These are some of the words that Romani children from Sečovce (Slovakia) have used to describe Art Aktivista – an NGO that empowers children in segregated communities by using art. The REYN Coordinator, Stanislav Daniel has interviewed two team members Tomáš Rafa and Jana Pohanková.

How does an artist come to the idea of redesigning public spaces in Roma communities?

“At the beginning I wanted bring the attention on a wall that was built in Michalovce (Slovakia) to segregate Roma people” – says Art Aktivista founder Tomáš Rafa. “According to the town representatives it was a “sport wall” not a segregating wall. Back then, as a student of the Academy of Arts, I decided to go and play football there. There is a video recording of me playing with children that I posted on YouTube. Later, I decided to fund Art Aktivista to continue working with children, as we see in them a lot of potential and a huge dose of creativity that we are keen to develop further.”

Your creative workshops are called art therapy. Are you healing the relationships between communities?

“Our artistic workshops are mostly aimed on the creative processes and spontaneous interactions with children. The course of action is coordinated with a social worker and an art therapist. Art therapy is one of the tools we use in our work with children. In addition, there is a social aspect: we put stress on building relationships and mutual trust. By encouraging their artistic vibes, we nurture the children’s creative potential and self-realization.”


Should we assume that painting is a road to something else?

“We believe that this helps in releasing some tensions and through the colors, they speak about the world they live in. These children lead their daily fight against social exclusion and poverty. We learn about things they might normally be ashamed to talk about. The non-verbal communication brings a new energy in the few days of happenings.”

You have been going to the village of Sečovce for several years now.

Photo by Tomáš Rafa

“Since 2012, we have been organizing painting workshops near segregating walls in several places Ostrovany, Veľká Ida and Sečovce. In the latter, we painted the wall that bounded the settlement in the neighborhood of Habeš.
The children were keen to participate and were very active. It was also interesting for us to spend a week there. We realized what it means to live in a settlement. After that, we came back to Sečovce every year. We kept fundraising for the project and this year, we have come with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic. Among other things, we created painting workshops and helped the children to revitalize the shared spaces of the flats.”

What changes do you see among the youngest children as a result of your activities?

“We think they are more courageous and more communicative. It happened that some pre-teenage children were creating conflicts but we saw those children growing and collaborating much better in the following years.”

Isolation plays a big role in the status of the local Roma community. Do you get to talk to the local non-Roma?

“We managed to organize a public exhibition from one of the painting workshops in the nearby town Trebišov. Children from the settlement came, too. They were very happy to see that the people from the town appreciated their work.

In our projects we highlight some key matters: support to children and their development, building mutual relationships, getting to know the specifics of each community and creating spaces for the self-realization of children and for the whole community. But most importantly we stress out that cooperation is the way to go.”

Visit to learn more.

ISOTIS project: how inter-agency work can help minorities in Europe

The ISOTIS project is about the integration of services. A new publication shares successful inter-agency work for disadvantaged minorities, immigrant and Romani families in Belgium, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal and the UK. The study asks poignant questions about the success of the selected case studies; it focuses on their models, impact, challenges and good practices.

The starting point

Many scholars agree that innovative practices involving inter-agency working to increase the efficiency of childhood services (including education systems), could play an important role in improving equity and addressing all the needs of the most disadvantaged.

Outcomes of the literature review

Suggestions from the publication focus on the importance of ensuring political will and commitment at multiple levels, strong leadership and management systems, joint inter-agency training and additional studies testing the longer-term impact of such work. These suggestions are aimed at aiding the development of policies for inter-agency work in various contexts.

The research, which incorporates findings from the case studies of good practice in interagency working with young children and their families within Europe, was authored by Jacqueline Barnes with contributions from colleagues, including the REYN Coordinator Stanislav Daniel.

ISOTIS is an initiative of REYN International’s partner ISSA – International Step by Step Association. Read more about the project on their website.

EDITORIAL – A Clear Compass for a Forgotten People (longread)

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We are happy to share some extracts of a longread that our host, the International Step by Step Association (ISSA), recently published on their website.

ISSA, tackled the issue of why people suddenly feel less interested or less compelled when it concerns the fate or betterment of the lives of Roma & Traveller people.

“The past doesn’t lie, but important happenings are sometimes forgotten or diminished. As a continent with clear messages of inclusion, and a post war history of fighting the front line for the betterment of its people, one people surely fell off Europe’s map. It is hard to figure out why, since when it comes to exclusion – or simply forgetting people – one rarely asks themselves why…”

in line with REYN’s strategy, ISSA supportS QUality in early childhood education and care and diversity in the workforce:

“REYN advocates for the betterment of all people – especially the tiny ones – and advocates passionately with and for the Roma and Traveller people to be included in such improvements. With and for. An important distinction to all involved! We make sure policies are being designed with them in the room, part of plan and process, for they are the ones who will advocate the new policies amongst their ranks and take ownership of the following steps. And in addition, we do not only share knowledge on quality improvement in Early Year systems, we teach them how to do it themselves.

We are closing in on the twentieth anniversary of ISSA’s careful first steps to help Romani gain a better future, and neigh on the sixth anniversary of the REYN initiative. It has become a growing network of enthusiast, passionate advocates and practical teachers from within and outside the Roma and Traveller communities. The many small victories justify the path ahead. The struggles have made us wiser, more consistent. And as we are steadily breaking through this negative cycle, learning every step of the way, a clear and shiny compass is emerging from all of it. It is pointing away from thoughtless behaviors and forgetful minds, leading towards fully engaged equity and inclusion. And though we still have a long way to travel, we are without a doubt in the right company to do so.”

Read the whole editorial here.