REYN: 10 years of keeping Roma children in the spotlight

On 9 December 2022, ISSA organised “ISSA Connects to Celebrate: 10 years of REYN“, a special event that provided an opportunity to learn from the 10 years of existence of ISSA’s REYN initiative, about its unique contribution to creating quality environments for young Roma children to develop, learn and thrive.

The program featured REYN’s Footprints: building blocks for long-term impact showcasing achievements and examples of good practices from different European countries and provided a platform for discussions about the status of young Roma children, highlighting existing challenges and responsive solutions.

During the two-hour session, relevant Roma and non-Roma experts and professionals, National REYNs and ECD professionals involved in REYN’s success—including those who spearheaded the initiative— explored potential avenues forward to provide young Roma children with equal and quality developmental opportunities.

Watch the recording of the online celebratory event

Celebrating 10 years of REYN

The Romani Early Years Network was established in 2012 as an initiative of ISSA in partnership and with financial support from the Roma ‘Kopaçi’ Initiatives at the Open Society Foundations (OSF) Early Childhood Programme, in response to the growing demand for professional development opportunities for practitioners working with young Roma and Traveller children. REYN aimed to address the issues informed by the Roma Early Childhood Inclusion studies and other reports, pinpointing a scarcity of Romani ECD professionals, pedagogues and paraprofessionals, a lack of adequate and culturally sensitive resources for those working in this area, and few mechanisms for professional development opportunities to support those working in early years settings with Romani families and their children.

Over the ten years of bringing together Roma and non-Roma professionals, Roma and pro-Roma civil society organizations, as well as engaging with relevant stakeholders, both at national and international levels, as an initiative, REYN grew and expanded its programmatic portfolio. 

Starting from building capacity at the country level for Roma professionals and enabling national REYNs to connect professionals at country levels around specific topics and actions, over the years, REYN became a platform for learning, sharing, knowledge creation, advocacy and joining efforts around specific actions and issues related to the status of young Roma children.    

Since 2012, REYN creates quality environments for young Roma children to develop, learn and thrive!

Celebrating the ten years of REYN is at the same time the celebration of ten years of visibility of the needs of young Roma children and their families and the iteration of REYN’s commitment to bringing the early childhood development of young Roma children into Roma discourse into the European policy agenda.  

Learn more about ISSA Connects

ISSA Connects for Ukraine event

Since the war in Ukraine started, ISSA Network’s efforts have provided timely and meaningful support to children and families affected by the war and in countries where they fled.

ISSA Connects for Ukraine is a special event where ISSA Members, including the Transcarpathian Regional Charitable Fund “Blaho” (REYN Ukraine), will share the challenges they face, as well as the solutions they are providing to support the children and families they work with throughout the devastating impacts of war.

Click here for more information and registration.

ISSA members & REYN National Networks partner across Europe

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REYN National Networks actions have been featured in the 2018 Peer Learning Activities Overview of the International Step by Step Association (ISSA).

Several REYN members throughout Europe have joined the ISSA Peer Learning Activities (PLAs) in 2018. Today the organization has launched its Overview of last year’s PLAs, which features our network too.

The idea is simple. We are keen to exchange promising early childhood development practices and lessons learned, especially with international peers. So every year ISSA supports new PLAs.

The REYN National Networks involved

Among the REYN National Networks involved there is Ukraine, which has organized a series of events to build the capacity of Roma civil society in the country. Participants learned to promote equal and non-discriminative education for Roma children and youth. It was attended by young Roma advocates, local REYN members and early childhood development professionals. REYN National Networks from Italy, Serbia and Slovakia joined to share their campaign experience with the Ukrainian members of REYN.

During another activity, the REYN Slovakia members, visited early childhood care settings in Ghent (Belgium) and met the local Roma community.

Read all the ISSA Peer Learning Activities 2018 here.

To most Romani children, it was the first time outside their settlement

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The Know How Centre has worked with Roma communities for the past 6 years. This year’s program however was their most successful until now: they managed to motivate and support Roma parents of 29 children to apply for kindergarten. A huge milestone and a great motivation to endure their support and empowerment of parents in their pursuit of better futures for their little ones. As a result, the Know How Centre widened their program scope and offered new services.

One of these services was a community picnic in the city center of Novi Sad (Serbia), where children and parents could explore the historical city sights. The Know How Centre offered a short guided tour to the most important places and organized a creative workshop in the park where children could interact with peers of all standings. To most the children, it was the first time they were outside of their settlement, and this needs to be added: their settlement is only five minutes from the city center. It turned out to be a positive and highly valuable experience that will play an important role during their adaptation to kindergarten, when school begins.

Interhuman skillS

The Know How Center (also CPZV) is a voluntary NGO/NPO that aims to improve social development and emancipation on several levels. In addition to executing programs to help Roma inclusion, they roll out programs for families, children and youth (prevention of early school departure). Their applied methodology is to activate different types of beneficiaries through polite human contact, in combination with expert interhuman knowledge and skills.
But they primarily and continuously work with (and for) members of Roma communities of all ages. They endorse their search for knowledge and skills, and strive towards a community where all members have equal opportunities. One of their main goals is to ensure a healthy and stimulating early childhood development for the little ones. So as they reach out to families and children, they organize compelling activities that emphasize the importance of education and schooling in a positive and contagious way.

Start-up procedures and workshops

But the Know How Centre has a lot to share with other ISSA members also. They are an organization founded by five women whom are all experts in the field of social politics. They can share a fair deal of experiences in the preparation of project proposals, project management, evaluation and (periodical) reporting. On offer are also helpful procedures for establishing intersectoral cooperation and advocacy. And they have a well-developed methodology for fieldwork and a huge base of educative workshops for early childhood development.

Seeking evaluation methods

They recognize however that there is still room for improvement on evaluation methodologies for the work in informal Roma settlements. They do seek support through education and training in the field of fundraising. Their team is very open for improvements and acquisition of new knowledge which could improve their work.
Some great words from Novi Sad: ‘Whatever you do, always remember that personal happiness and satisfaction is multiplied by sharing those same things with others, especially with people who are in a position of need. Keep in mind that even the smallest progress you have made can make huge differences (instant or delayed) in the lives of our beneficiaries.’

The Know How Centre (also CPZV) is a member of ISSA, you can find their profile HERE

ISSA is the driving force behind Romani Early Years Network. We commit ourselves to the development of every child, across all domains. Ever since ISSA was founded as a network in 1999 we have grown significantly – sharing knowledge and tools to improve the quality of Early Childhood Development and its workforce. In (pre)schools, crèches, kindergartens and daycare centers across Europe, and in other services for all young children and their families. As a network, we gather and generate prominent studies and insights on child development and learning and convey them to our peers, member organizations and policy makers, so they can put them to good use.



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.

TOY for Inclusion at ISSA Conference 2017

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Giulia Cortellesi (ICDI) and Francesca Petrucci (Associazione 21 Luglio) participated in the ISSA Conference 2017 in Ghent (Belgium). They presented the TOY for Inclusion approach to an audience of early childhood education and care researchers, practitioners and policy makers from more than 60 countries. This year’s title was “Local Responses, Global Advances: Towards Competent Early Childhood Systems”.

TOY for Inclusion is creating non-segregated intergenerational play spaces in seven European countries: Belgium, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Slovakia and Slovenia. These spaces are what we call early childhood education and care (ECEC) Play Hubs. Read more about the project here.

Giulia’s and Francesca’s presented the case of an ECEC Play Hub in Roma communities in Rome (Italy). They also discussed potential opportunities and challenges when applying the TOY intergenerational approach to Roma communities to promote social inclusion, intercultural dialogue and access to ECEC settings and primary schools. The presentation also shared different ways in which the TOY for Inclusion approach could be implemented in different contexts and countries.

The project’s Belgian partner VBJK (Center for Innovation in the Early Years) organized a surprise for Giulia and Francesca: they brought some of the children who joined the project in Belgium to the conference! They had a day out in Ghent.

Learn more about the conference here.

Promoting inclusion of Romani children – through TOY project

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Combatting segregation of young Romani children and enhancing social cohesion of local communities are the core principles of TOY for Inclusion project, implementation of which starts in the beginning of 2017. Toy libraries and intergenerational learning in early education are the key concepts the project employs. Consortium, led by ICDI – International Child Development Initiatives and involving international Romani Early Years Network as well as four coordinating organizations of national REYNs, will implement the project locally in six EU countries.

The TOY Project (Together Young and Old) was designed and implemented by ICDI (2012-2014) and was unique amongst European intergenerational learning projects with its explicit focus on children in the childhood from 0 to 8 years.

For many years now, NGOs as well as international organizations have been reporting about low level of participation of Romani children in early childhood education and care. At the same time, the same reports often highlight strong benefits of early-years’ interventions for children from low socio-economic status families, including Romani children.

This Project aims to provide boosts in early childhood development to 400 Romani and 100 non-Romani children between zero and eight years of age in six countries of the European Union: Belgium, Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia and Slovenia, with support from ICDI and ISSA based in the Netherlands. Practitioners, and eventually children and families, from other countries are expected to benefit from dissemination phase of the project, which will be coordinated by ISSA. Results of project activities will be shared through a new website, a “how to” guide, leaflets, videos and more.

Two innovative approaches combined in the project are, the toy libraries and intergenerational learning. Toy libraries are aimed to support the lack of toys in families experiencing poverty. In addition, parents receive training in how to best use the toys to develop child’s skills. In intergenerational learning the project will aim to nurture multigenerational involvement through joint activities between Romani and non-Romani families.

The project was awarded a grant from Action grants to support national and transnational projects on non-discrimination and Roma integration launched earlier this year by European Commission and is planned to start in the beginning of 2017.

In October 2016, ICDI collected the Lifelong Learning Award for their work on the Toy Project.

Creating Equitable Societies through Personal Transformation

- Blog | REYN Admin

Embracing Diversity – Creating Equitable Societies through Personal Transformation

Diversity RomaUnder the auspices of ISSA and the Bernard van Leer Foundation’s (BVLF) partnership project, “Capacity Building of Roma Supporting Partners”, ISSA Senior Program Manager Zorica Trikic, and Professor Jelena Vranjesevic from the University of Belgrade delivered training on “Embracing Diversity – Creating Equitable Societies through Personal Transformation”, in Rome in early November.

Embracing Diversity training promotes anti-discrimination and demonstrates how to build a society respectful of diversity. Hosted by ISSA’s Italian member, Associazione 21 Luglio, the three-day event welcomed 30 Roma and non-Roma trainees from all over the country, including some young Roma and Sinti activists.

The training was a poignant and rewarding experience both for trainees and trainers. Based on the honest exchange of first-hand experiences participants unpacked their personal stories highlighting how bias and stereotypes are taught, reinforced and perpetuated before working on how to uses their experiences to promote a more equitable society where diversity is valued, respected and protected.

Professionals from different universities and NGOs, including OsservAzione Popica Onlus, ABCittà, Mops (Movement for International Cooperation), ASCE (Association of Sardinia against marginalization) and University of Salento also participated.

ISSA trainers are available to delivering Embracing Diversity Training throughout the network.