A Video with Young Roma Bulgarian Teacher Generates Over a Million Views
The Trust for Social Achievement Foundation, the host organization of REYN Bulgaria, is actively involved in implementing the Young Roma Teachers program, which aims to support young individuals of Roma origin who aspire to become kindergarten teachers. By building successful role models, the program contributes to the development of Roma children, fostering their motivation and desire to learn. This year, a series of videos were created to promote the program and showcase its successes.
The main goal of this initiative is to address the shortage of pedagogical professionals in kindergartens and to reduce unemployment among the Roma population in several Bulgarian municipalities. The program encompasses more than 60 talented Roma youths who have received financial assistance to pursue pedagogical education and have already enrolled in universities. By the summer of this year, 10 of them are expected to successfully graduate with bachelor’s degrees, while the number of students already working as teachers and teacher-assistants in kindergartens affiliated with the program is nearly twice as high.
Desi, an eager Roma student enrolled in the program, is set to embark on her journey as a teacher this autumn. “Today, I find myself in an entirely different environment – a working, independent woman,” she says.
Desi’s inspiring success story has garnered significant attention on social media platforms, creating additional publicity and raising awareness. Notably, the Bulgarian video showcasing her achievements has surpassed one million views and was even featured on national television.
Trust for Social Achievement Foundation – ISSA Member and REYN Bulgaria coordinator – supports professionals working with minority children in increasing the scope and quality of the services provided and unites the advocacy efforts of its members.
A dream to work with children became reality for a Roma woman
Growing up in one of the poorest regions in Bulgaria, it might seem that there are only a few directions one’s life could take. Marrying young, having children, staying in a small town, and being close to the family, is where life usually takes you. Moving away from this pattern is hard, and requires great support from one’s family, peers, teachers or from the community. This is a story of a young Roma woman, who grew up being told what her life would look like, but never gave up on her dreams, despite all difficulties she had to face.
For Radostina Kamenova from the town of Montana in Bulgaria, life did not look much different than that pre-set path. Since childhood, she would always dream about what life could be like.
“Being a schoolgirl, I dreamed of working with children. In my teenage years, I danced in the Roma folk ensemble “Sham” and imagined how my little students and I would sing together and learn the rhythms and how I would read them fairy tales”, she shares. “The tradition that exists among the Roma population sets the path for the girls to marry young and become mothers and housewives. This is also how my adult life started”.
After graduating from high school, getting married and having a child, Radostina never gave up on her dream of working with young children.
“At first, my husband and my family did not fully support me, as they thought I am not able to study at the university or work and continue with my duties as a mother, wife and housewife at the same time”, says young Roma woman.
Six years ago Radostina started working at a Family-Consultation Center in Montana. Seeing that work does not interfere with her day-to-day tasks, but mostly realizing how important education is for a person’s growth, Radostina’s husband and family encouraged her to apply to university.
“I admit that four years of university were not easy for me”, she shares. “I had to combine my studies with work and take care of children, but I never gave up on my dream, thanks to my family who supported me the whole time.”
Last year, the representative of a local NGO “Association Stars”, Orlin Orlinov told Radostina Kamenova about the REYN Internships, and that they are a great opportunity for young people from various fields of study. Having this possibility would mean completing an internship in a kindergarten to gain practical experience in the field.
With Orlin’s help, Radostina applied for the internship and got it. She participated in the Program in the summer of 2022 at the kindergarten “Sun” in Montana. Its principal, Natalia Tsvetanova, welcomed two additional interns simultaneously and shared that she was very happy with the opportunity to work with young, motivated people who were amazing role models for the children. In 2022 Radostina Kamenova graduated from the university with a Bachelor in Preschool Pedagogy in English degree and was hired by Ms Tsvetanova as an English teacher, after successfully completing the internship.
The REYN Internship program is an initiative of REYN Bulgaria, hosted by the Trust for Social Achievement Foundation. The program aims to give an opportunity to Roma university students from different fields of study to gain practical experience in working in kindergartens and working with disadvantaged children. The length of the internships is usually between 20 and 50 working days, and they are conducted as a triparty agreement between REYN Bulgaria, a local NGO that supports the interns locally, and a kindergarten that hosts the interns for the duration of the internship.
REYN Bulgaria Role Models: Three Young Roma Women on Achieving their Dreams
Established in 2018, REYN Bulgaria offers positive role models in the field of early childhood development, improves the quality of education, integrates health care and education more effectively in the early years, with an emphasis on nutrition. Bulgarian REYN unites efforts for the advocacy in the field of early childhood development with a focus on improving access, quality, and results in health care for children from the Roma community. To emphasize the efforts and work in promoting successful role models, REYN Bulgaria interviewed three active participants of the REYN Bulgaria Network, who told more about their experience in the field of early childhood development.
The video stories present the personal journeys of Roma women Raya, Toshka and Mariela. They are active members of the REYN Bulgaria Network and participate in the “Young Roma Teachers” project.
“The stories of Raya, Toshka and Mariela are crucial examples of the impact of role models on motivating young children to continue their personal development and to not give up on their dreams. On the screen, the audience can see three young women who chose the difficult path towards becoming kindergarten teachers. They are ready to face possible hardships and challenges they might encounter during their personal and professional development journey. The stories of Raya, Toshka and Mariela prove that successful role models can positively impact the development of children at an early age,” says Ivan Ivanov, the REYN Bulgaria coordinator.
The REYN Bulgaria Network supports young and ambitious people of Roma origin in achieving their dreams for professional and educational realization. The Trust for Social Achievement implements the “Young Roma Teachers” project, and supports young people of Roma origin who wish to become kindergarten teachers. In this way, it also helps build successful role models that contribute to the better development of Roma children and increase their motivation and desire to learn.
Ivan Ivanov, REYN Bulgaria: “We Can Achieve More Together”
Established in 2018, REYN Bulgaria offers positive role models in the field of early childhood development, improves the quality of education, to more effectively integrate health care and education in the early years, with an emphasis on nutrition. Bulgarian REYN is uniting efforts for advocacy in the field of early childhood development with a focus on improving access, quality, and results in health care for children from the Roma community. Today we are talking about this with REYN Bulgaria coordinator Ivan Ivanov.
– What are REYN’s priorities? What are the short-time and long-time goals?
– The short-time priorities of REYN Bulgaria are to provide regular opportunities for professionals to exchange good teaching practices and methods for working with Roma children and parents.
The long-term priorities of REYN Bulgaria are to become an informational platform for professionals and to develop successful Role models at an early age who can increase the trust of Roma parents in educational institutions and improve the educational achievement of the Roma children and students.
One of the long-term priorities of REYN Bulgaria is to support the process of creating a professional community that develops active advocacy measures and actions which may positively reflect on improving the conditions for working with Roma children and parents.
– What is the current situation with young Roma children in your country, taking into consideration the COVID-19 pandemic?
– The current situation is not stable at all. The mortality in Bulgaria has become increasingly higher during the past month. The percentage of vaccinated people is really low, around 20%. Right now, we are on the edge of a full lockdown of the entire country. Most of the children in Bulgaria, not only the Roma kids, face a lot of challenges in many aspects. The kindergartens and schools are closed, and all children are being homeschooled. The main communication channel with the most vulnerable children and families are the educational mediators. The educational mediators are working mainly in the neighborhoods, as well as in the remote rural areas with children from vulnerable groups – children at risk of dropping out of the education system, children from ethnic minorities, children from socially disadvantaged families.
The lack of social contact has had a largely negative impact on the educational progress of children who usually hear Bulgarian only at school. In some cases, the older children take care of their younger siblings who, after closing the educational institutions, are left at home, as well as to help the younger ones in the distance learning process at school.
We are trying to be flexible as much as we can, in order to meet some of the main needs – of the teachers and professionals who work with Roma children and the needs of the Roma children and parents.
– What is the most recent intervention that REYN carried out?
– One of the recent interventions is the program for small grants of REYN, “How to raise smart and strong children,” which aims to improve the efficiency and capacity of specialists focusing on early learning and care. Тhe project connects REYN and a local NGO. It raises awareness on the importance of preparing healthy and nutritious meals as a prerequisite for solid brain development, which affects later success in school. The initiative has already included more than 700 parents.
– What is one success of REYN that you are (most) proud of?
– We are really proud that during the last two years, within the REYN Internship program, which supports the process of introducing positive role models, we have recruited almost 20 interns, 10 NGOs on a national level, and more than 10 kindergartens which have been involved in the implementation of these project activities.
We also managed to implement more than 30 REYN regional member events both ( in-person and online), sharing good teaching practices for working with Roma parents and children, based on the REYN resources and videos created or translated during the year.
– What is your message to the policy-makers of your country – what would you ask them or tell them if you had one minute to talk to them?
– Based on our professional experience, I believe we can learn and work together. When I visit Roma kindergartens and schools, I’m always shocked, and the only thing that goes through my mind is: do we really do anything to help these children? Do all these actions, strategies, and plans meet the real need of these children and their families? Can we find a way to work together in these difficult times in order to support the most vulnerable ones amongst us? What do you think?
– How does REYN engage with the members (individual and organizational)? How many members do you have?
– At the moment, REYN Bulgaria consists of 249 REYN members (109 institutional and 140 individual). One of the main channels we use for our communication is our REYN website, where we post updates about our activities and news generated on behalf of TSA and the REYN members. In order to recruit new REYN members, we publish updates and blog articles on the Trust for Social Achievement’s website, which is the host organization of REYN Bulgaria.
– What is REYN’s dream for Roma children in your country?
– Our dream is that all Roma children could receive the support and additional resources they need to reach their full potential. We also dream of having more positive role models and ambassadors for an actual change in the country.
– Why should someone join REYN?
– We believe that we can achieve more together, especially now, when we have the strongest need for support and new perspectives. When we broaden the REYN community, we also broaden our horizon of professional insights, beliefs, and hopes.
Radka from Bulgaria Got the Opportunity to Learn and Grow
Radka’s 4-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter were among 28 children who started their pre-school group at the kindergarten “Spring” in the city of Yambol in Bulgaria. It was the first pre-school group in 20 years for the kindergarten because the eastern wing of the building was closed and needed complete renovation.
Restoring one of the pre-school groups in 2019, so that all children could have the chance to enroll, was the decision of the kindergarten principal Svetlana Zlateva. She was convinced she could find the funding for this task. She also wanted to involve parents, increase their motivation and improve attendance of children.
After several month of negotiations with the municipality of Yambol, as well as renovations, the building was renovated and ready to be opened. That is where Svetlana Zlateva met Radka and her children.
Meeting the kindergarten principal was very important for Radka. The mother had many problems, and dealing with the documentation in the municipality was one of them. Soon after the principal found out that Radka had financial difficulties and could not afford to buy new clothes for her children or pay for their medical examinations, required for attending kindergarten, Svetlana Zlateva decided to help Radka, lending her some money and arranging clothes for her children. Svetlana lent Radka money and arranged clothes for her son and daughter. Moreover, she offered the young mother a position as health officer at the kindergarten.
While working together, Svetlana Zlateva and Radka got close and the principal learnt more about Radka’s past. Radka was born in the village of Ravnets in the Burgas municipality. She dreamt about finishing her education and finding a job. However, at the age of 14, after finishing the 7th grade, Radka was faced with the unfortunate path of many Roma girls – she was stolen and married against her will.
With the support of the kindergarten staff, Radka has a job now. She also has motivation to continue her education after so many years. Now she is a student of the 8th grade.
This story was shared by Svetlana Zlateva, who, together with kindergarten “Spring” and its staff, is a long-term member of the REYN Bulgaria Network. Over the years, the kindergarten, led by Svetlana Zlateva, has taken part in many projects developed and initiated by REYN Bulgaria, and thus managed to help many Roma in Bulgaria and the Yambol region. Mrs. Zlateva continues to work towards helping as many people and children as possible, as she believes that everyone should be given the opportunity to learn and grow.
REYN’s trip to Sofia, Bulgaria
REYN partners and National Networks met last week in Sofia, Bulgaria. About thirty REYN advocates from eleven countries attended a three-day advocacy training. Together we enriched our campaign strategies, shared lessons learned and best practices. REYN National Networks prepared plans to support the achievement of the network’s objectives in their respective countries.
At the same our international partners, the Open Society Foundations (OSF) and the International Step by Step Association (ISSA), renewed their commitment to advocate for the education and care of Romani and Traveller children at national and at international level.
All united, the participants echoed the REYN slogan and mission: no more lost Romani and traveller children!
The coordinator of REYN Bulgaria and host of the meeting, the Trust for Social Achievement (TSA), also brought us to Fakulteta one of the largest Roma settlements in Europe. According to estimations between 25 thousand and 50 thousand Roma live there.
REYN National Networks had the chance to meet some Romani mothers and children. Interestingly, TSA showcased one of their projects, the Nurse-Family Partnership, which brings direct support to young mothers and their children by improving pregnancy outcomes, increasing the parent’s economic self-sufficiency and by nurturing the child’s health and development.
Slovakia: arguments for compulsory preschool sound loud again
- Blog | Stanislav Daniel
Politicians want preschool attendance compulsory for Romani children, however they should probably make education accessible and affordable first.
Not long ago, there have been many discussions about compulsory preschool attendance as one of the measures supporting Roma inclusion in Slovakia. After getting off the agenda for some time and possibly inspired by practices from nearby countries, policymakers are putting the topic back on the table.
On Wednesday, May 2, EduRoma – a leading NGO promoting inclusive education for Roma in the country – organized a public discussion on the topic trying to answer some of the key questions. Is preschool available to all children today? Are preschools ready to co-educate Romani and non-Roma children?
Once and forever
There is a solid pool of evidence showing that building kindergarten capacities without investing in quality of provided services does not boost the potential of the children. While academia continues to build knowledge base for quality inclusive and affordable service, policymakers stick to the argument of obligation. Several EU Member States included it in their national Roma integration strategies.
So where did this obligation come from? We can only assume it emerged from the negative stereotypes against Romani parents. Local anecdotal experience shows that where service was provided and Romani parents were actively engaged, attendance increased and parents were happy to benefit from the service. In a situation, when the services are not even accessible, it sounds weird to discuss its obligatory character. And who says that the obligation will increase the educational achievements?
For Roma only
The most dangerous arguments in the discussion are connected to limiting of the obligation only to Roma or the so-called “marginalized Roma communities”, i.e. segregated Roma settlements and ghettoes. In fact, research indeed shows that the most disadvantaged benefit from early childhood services the most. However, there is no justification for introducing an obligation for one disadvantaged group and actually punishing and stigmatizing them for their situation once more.
Zuzana Havirova, founder of the Roma Advocacy and Research Center and a panelist at the event said: “There is no sense in targeting Romani children. If there is an agreement on decreasing compulsory school age, then the key benefit is in bringing the children together so that they can learn from each other and learn to live together in diversity since early childhood.” She sees preschool mostly as a tool to fight segregation: “This may help in dealing with disadvantages and exclusion of Romani children as there is potential that this would put them on track with mainstream quality education.”
Cost free and not free
Accessible and affordable are the terms that are often mentioned in connection to early childhood services. In many countries, including Slovakia, the last year before entering into primary education is without kindergarten fees and policymakers promote this as a measure to help the most disadvantaged. However, in this case the cost free may not be free in fact.
In Bulgaria, the Trust for Social Achievement (TSA) – host of the REYN National Network in the country– conducted a study which reveals that while the service may be free on paper, there are many financial or in-kind contributions families are required to provide to the kindergarten. TSA found that parents contribute in total €30 million to the system annually and there is not much reason to think it is different in other countries, including Slovakia. Instead of pushing for obligations, states should first focus on the available and affordable.
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