Roma, Egyptian and Ashkali professionals and paraprofessionals and non-Roma professionals who work in early childhood development (ECD) with children and their families in Kosovo could become the Ambassadors of Kosovo Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian Early Years Network (KRAEEYN) – the hosting organization of REYN Kosovo.
The main idea is to promote the work of professionals who have expertise and who contributed to raising and improving the quality of education in these communities with a special focus on early childhood education at the national level.
The ambassadors were nominated by the KRAEEYN network in cooperation with its Steering Council – local NGOs at the country level – that develop and implement programs in the field of early childhood education.
“Professionals and paraprofessionals in the field had to fill in their personal and professional data in questionnaires that we created. So we had a database with early childhood development professionals from the Roma, Egyptian and Ashkali communities and from the non-Roma professional’s community who work in ECD with children and their families,” says Sofije Toska, project manager of Kosova Education Center (KEC), hosting organization of KRAEEYN. “Among the respondents, eight Roma and non-Roma ECD professionals and para-professionals were selected”.
All of these ambassadors are successful leaders in their community. Their role is to promote the work of the KRAEEYN network in their communities and beyond. They are also committed to contribute to every activity, objective and needs addressed by the KRAEEYN network.
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.
Roma Professionals in Slovenian Preschools
A research that analysed the number of Roma professionals in Early Education and Care (ECEC) and their employment possibilities was conducted by Slovenian REYN Network in 2018. According to the results, there were 12 Roma professionals employed in preschools in Slovenia, among which one preschool teacher, three preschool teacher assistants, and eight Roma assistants (additional person in preschool groups, which includes Roma children).
No opportunity to enter the ECD workforce
REYN Slovenia interviewed different Roma professionals – preschool teacher assistants and Roma assistants – and asked about their roles at work, cooperation with children, parents, and other co-workers. Besides, REYN Slovenia was interested to hear about the opportunities for professional development they have and any potential challenges they face in finding a job. Their responses showed that they do not feel being treated the same way as their non-Roma colleagues.
“I wish that the society was aware that I am equally qualified for my job as other teacher assistants,” said one of them.
Moreover, many of them expressed frustration about the fact that there are educated Roma professionals who have difficulties finding a job in preschool.
“There are at least six girls with an adequate education in our settlement, who are interested in entering the ECD workforce, but they do not get the opportunity,” shared another Roma colleague.
REYN Slovenia gathered further information on the situation of Roma professionals in preschool through focus groups with 13 leaders from nine different preschools. Discussions were focused on the changes that need to be implemented to enable employment opportunities for Roma professionals and the role of preschool principals in this process.
The outcomes of these debates confirmed the significance of Roma professionals being present in the preschool group, in which the Roma children are also included during:
the introductory period when children are newly enrolled in a preschool group:
“When children enter preschool for the first time, they feel scared, uncomfortable. Some of them are not familiar with a new language. This can lead to shock, distress, which children do not understand. If there is at least one familiar person to whom they can return to and be comforted by, this transition can be much easier for them.”
the transition from preschool to school:
“The presence of Roma assistants in preschools can be mostly noticed in the phase of changing the learning environment from preschool to school. They know me already, our relationship is completely different, more relaxed, trustful.”
building trust with parents:
“My presence in the group has largely contributed to the fact that the parents trust us more, there are more children being enrolled in preschool than in the past.”
understanding the Roma language and culture.
Guidelines on tackling the challenges with employment
The research also indicated some challenges that Roma professionals are facing in their professional lives. They mainly refer to their limited possibilities of being involved in the whole process of work in preschool, in fewer opportunities for continuous professional development and fewer opportunities for acquiring the desired employment.
This research resulted in a developed report and guidelines on how to tackle the challenges in employing Roma professionals in our preschools, which was also presented to the authorities on the national level. Besides, a video was made to promote the awareness of the importance of employing Roma professionals in ECEC. Moreover, two Roma professionals conducted workshops in Roma settlements and presented their profession to Roma children, students and parents.
“We, the Roma, can also work in a preschool?” asked a very surprised local girl during one of these workshops.Such a question is an important signal for REYN Slovenia that they still need to put a lot of effort into promoting the profession of preschool teacher among the Roma. Furthermore, they should outline the positive impact of having Roma professionals in the preschool group and empower preschool leaders to be aware of giving equal opportunities for employment to the Roma professionals. All of these are priorities in the work that REYN Slovenia Network does now and in the next years.