“After 25 years I left my job to become the advocate of Roma children”

“A good education is the basis for the participation in the social economic and political life,” says Ali Daylam, Chief Executive of the Mediterranean Roma Associations Federation (AKROMFED). The organization has recently joined TOY for Inclusion.

“Roma deserve to leave a decent life. I fight for the equality of Roma people in Turkey,” says Ali Daylam.

“Everything started with my own children, who faced discrimination in school. I was happy we managed to overcome the issue but then I thought: what about all the other Roma children whose parents are not able to help?”

After 25 years, Mr. Daylam left his job as pharmacist “…and decided to become the advocate of Roma children.”

AKROMFED is a federation of six civil society organizations (CSOs), with the mission to support mainly Roma living in the city of Mersin. “Besides fighting against inequality and discrimination we support their housing and employment. We also want them to have a voice in the media, that’s why we finance a radio and a quarterly magazine,” Mr Daylam, continues.

The organization’s main priority is to collaborate with the government to prioritize Roma rights in the political agenda.

“If we compare our situation with the one in other European countries we lack real measures to support compulsory early child education and care” he says.

“Roma families are not encouraged to subscribe their children to kindergarten. The fees (from 30 to 250 Turkish Liras) are not affordable for unemployed parents and there is no financial support for low income families.” 

Roma in Turkey

An estimated four to five million Roma live in Turkey. Comprehensive statistics on Roma children education are lacking.

In 2017, AKROMFED has run a survey reaching out to one thousand Roma families in 17 Turkish towns. Poverty and exclusion from services are major problems for these families. The drop out of Roma children in primary school was 38% in 2017, compared to 3% of the majority population. The great majority of Roma parents (67%) in an average age of 50 are illiterate. Unemployment rate among parent is at 96%.

The organization has acted to reduce the gap between Roma and non-Roma. “With the project ‘Increase Opportunities for Roma’ we support education from early childhood until adulthood, giving support to families and children, but also scholarships and mentoring support.”

“We’re proud that we have increased significantly the awareness of the parents about the importance of early child education in our city.”

Mersin saw a decrease in the drop out rate of Roma children in primary school from 60% to 20%; also thanks to AKROMFED’s constant support to children and families from 2012 to 2018.

TOY for Inclusion

AKROMFED, will open a Play Hub in the town of Mersin. They hope to increase the access of Roma children to preschool, which is still limited compared to the majority population.

The Play Hub would add to a playground for young children that is already run by the organization.

“We hope to help Roma children connect with children from different cultural backgrounds – Mr Daylam, continues. We will monitor their development and their progress. Following, we will try to gain the municipality’s support to expand the project to at least five other cities by 2020.”

“If people ask why we are committed to work in so many fields, we say that for many years no one has been working for Roma rights in Turkey, so we feel the responsibility to support them,” he concludes.

Read more about TOY for Inclusion here.

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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