News

Spazio Baby Welcomes Roma Families in Rome

Spazio baby – a place for early childhood – is located in Polo Ex Fienile – a former barn turned into a polyfunctional building, located in the suburb of Tor Bella Monaca in Rome. It is open four mornings a week and welcomes children from 0 to 3 years old, accompanied by a family member, usually a mother, who also often participates in other activities and courses organized by Associazione 21 Luglio.

It is important for the mothers from the Roma community to have a place for early childhood where they play and discover new experiences with their children in a nurturing and welcoming context, where they can be supported by educators and by professionals – midwives, pediatricians, and nutritionists – who deal with early childhood and who periodically offer advice to the families. It is also important to share parenting experiences, doubts, and fears with other moms who may have very different cultural backgrounds. We talked to three educators and asked them to share more information about their activities.  

How do families spend their time at Spazio baby?

Marcella: We offer handling and free play activities with educational toys and on sunny days children can play in the garden. Thanks to the mobile play hub that contains games and teaching materials, we can bring a well-equipped playroom to the green spaces of the Polo Ex Fienile. For a few days a week the family members take part in small craft workshops together with their children. Families come from extremely diverse origins. There are both Italian and foreign families. Most of them come from Sub-Saharan and Northwest Africa. There are also families from South America and Eastern Europe. Sometimes some Roma mothers and children come to spend their morning with us as well. Outdoor activities became very essential in this pandemic period. That is why we offer to children and parents games, walks and sensory path in the green space and also in the vegetable garden.

Dzemila: When we are outdoors, we use lots of natural elements in our activities: twigs and leaves, sand, soil, and seeds. We use fruits and vegetables both to eat and to color or to do decoupage. We can see that children have fun doing these activities with their mothers, who also participate with enthusiasm. Besides, we have sown some vegetables, and it was also lots of fun. Recently we started to grow green bean seeds, and we already see the first sprouts.

How is your work team composed?

Dzemila: We work in shifts of three or four educators. We are five in total, and three of us are from Roma origin.

What is your career path?

Marcella: I have a degree in psychology, and for several years I have been working on a project with minors from 0 to 13 years.

Miriana: I am a Roma educator. I have participated in many training sessions on the subject of early childhood organized by Associazione 21 Luglio, with which I have been working for about 10 years.

What does being a Roma educator working on early childhood mean to you?

Miriana: I am a little more comfortable working with children outdoors. For me, it is essential to work and have experience exchange with colleagues, but above all with mothers who have no prejudices to me as a Roma woman. Seeing that mothers, with such different origins, trust us and bring their children to us is a nice compensation compared to some situations of discrimination that I experienced as a young girl. When I was little, the parents of the other children didn’t want them to spend their time with a Roma girl. As an educator, on the other hand, I never had problems with discrimination.

Dzemila: As a Roma who has worked for many years in the social sector, first in a refugee center, then in a foster home, and later with Associazione 21 Luglio, I find that the best thing is when the families we work with come from many different origins and backgrounds. On the contrary, I think doing an activity for mono-ethnic families is a form of racism. I believe that working with those who are different from you leads to a greater open-mindedness. My life experience as a Roma, but above all as a woman, has helped me a lot in my work. Being Roma helped me to avoid labels and prejudices.

Marcella, did you already work with Roma colleagues?

Marcella: No, it is the first time that I have Roma colleagues. I already knew Roma families, but I never worked together with them. Now I am delighted working with them. Maybe it’s a matter of personality… All three colleagues are very pragmatic, they find a solution for anything, they fix broken things, and, if needed, they even climb trees. Moreover, they are predisposed to listening. I see that they talk willingly with parents, giving good advice, perhaps learned in past experiences, when they lived surrounded by so many children.

Read more about REYN Italy and follow their Facebook page

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.

Read more about REYN Slovenia and follow their Facebook page

Inclusive Kindergartens in the 8th District in Budapest

A complex kindergarten development program was launched in the 8th District Municipality in Budapest at the beginning of this year. The program is implemented in partnership with Partners Hungary Foundation/REYN Hungary (PHA) and Rosa Parks Foundation that received a tender from the European Commission.

In recent years, large numbers of young people, including middle-class families with small children, have moved to Józsefváros (the 8th district), which for a long time was one of the most disadvantaged areas in Budapest. However, these newly arrived families do not enroll their children into the local kindergartens (in many cases with a Roma majority), which prevents the possibility of building a diverse and inclusive atmosphere.

The goal of the project “Inclusive kindergartens for the quality education of Roma” is to make 12 local kindergartens inclusive and attractive to middle-class parents who now send their children to kindergartens outside the district, reflecting on the diversity that characterizes the district. Keeping its own program and building on its strengths, each kindergarten will develop its own institutional inclusion program and attractive high-quality programs and services to invite middle-class families to the local kindergartens.

“You think you are doing perfect, but when a second eye sees your kindergarten, you realize you can always develop,” says Melinda, the kindergarten principal of the 8th district.

As part of the project, PHA will develop a complex methodology and an associated set of tools, which will be tested in the project. These tools will be available to all municipalities and other kindergartens who similarly want to make their kindergartens inclusive.

The tasks of the Partners Hungary Foundation and REYN in this project are to:

  • Develop institutional strategic planning in the kindergartens and its implementation with the involvement of all stakeholders.
  • Help the kindergartens to renew their methodological tools and offer new services in accordance with the mapping the needs of the kindergartens and parents.
  • Communicate the new services to the residents of the district, families, strengthening the district identity.
  • Modify the district boundaries for the optimal use of kindergartens and in order to ensure a proportional presence of Roma, children with special educational needs, and foreign children in each kindergarten.

Read more about REYN Hungary and follow their Facebook page.

Eleonora Kulchar, REYN-Ukraine: “A Child’s Best Interest is Our Primary Value”

Between 350 and 400 thousand Roma people live in Ukraine. Most of them are undocumented and are living in a difficult socio-economic situation, without proper conditions to support their children’s optimal development and growth. Parents are not always sufficiently educated to be able to help their child with homework, and they are usually simply unable to create a supportive home environment for learning and development. Since 2016, REYN Ukraine has been helping Roma parents and children to solve these issues. Now REYN Ukraine network includes 702 members. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the network members had 120 work meetings. Today we are talking with the REYN Ukraine national coordinator Eleonora Kulchar about the challenges and successes of their work.

What are the priorities of REYN Ukraine?

Our network priorities reflect values ​​and principles that are declared in our strategic development. Our values are: working in the best interest of a child, responsibility, professionalism, transparency, and respect for diversity. We also have several principles. For instance, a child’s best interest is the primary value of the REYN Ukraine. Therefore, all our activities are aimed at solving key challenges of the child, supporting education and early development. Besides, being a part of the REYN Ukraine network team means taking responsibility for a relationship, for action and result. Professional growth is also very important for us. Transparency is one more vital thing, and for us, it equals trust. Moreover, we accept diversity in people, and we respect their personalities and choices.

What are your short-time and long-time goals?

During the monitoring that we recently had, we have found that one of the main problems, obstacles to the successful training of Roma children in schools, is discrimination and stigmatization on a national basis, often manifested in bullying. Therefore, our short-term plan is to form and implement an advocacy program aiming at overcoming this problem and minimize its consequences. We also would like to attract new partners: state structures, national NGOs, international organizations, and experts who have experience in fighting against bullying. Besides, we would like to expand the network by including the new members who, as stakeholders, have the competence and relevant resources to change/influence the situation at the regional levels in Roma communities. Our long-term plan is to make the policies aimed at raising the level of education of Roma children and promoting these policies to the regional and national levels.

What is the current situation with young Roma children in your country, taking into consideration the COVID-19 situation?

Roma children in Ukraine were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic: quarantine and the transition of schools and universities to online learning. The level of education of Roma children was relatively low even before, and now, with the pandemic, the situation worsened.

What is your message to the policy-makers of your country – what would you ask them or tell them if you had 1 minute to talk to them?

I would ask them if their children were in the place where Roma children are now – what they would change in the country’s education system.

What is the dream of your national REYN for Roma children in your country?

Our dream is depicted in a vision of the REYN Ukraine network: the world of where Roma child is happy is the world where this child feels safety, care and has a chance to take a worthy place in the society and remain him- or herself at the same time.  

Read more about REYN Ukraine and follow their Facebook page

The lessons a trainer learns 6: the challenges and solutions of the COVID lockdown

The spring of 2020 was tough on everyone in Hungary. Especially it was tough on the most vulnerable groups, including poor Roma families. Many people who were already living in poverty lost their jobs and lots of families did not have any digital devices or the digital skills to help their children with distance learning. In my final blogpost, I would like to talk about three exemplary Roma professionals – all women – who really made a difference in the lives of poor Roma communities.

The first two professionals – Szilvia and Erzsébet – work for Partners Hungary Foundation, where we managed to continue our Roma programs online and find extra projects/support for Roma communities despite the lockdown. This became possible because in the programs that were already running, we had already managed to build trustful relationships which helped us get past the challenges of learning the usage of new online platforms. The transition to the online world was highly supported by our management who trusted their professionals with flexibility and autonomy and encouraged us to find alternative paths to maintain relationships with the vulnerable communities. Besides, our Roma professionals, both with rich intercultural mediation, leadership and field experience were relentlessly looking for funding opportunities within and outside of our foundation and who were in continuous contact with the Roma communities in need.

Szilvia and Erzsébet managed to provide support to more than 250 deprived Roma families in six villages altogether, either by themselves as individuals or with the help of the intercultural mediators trained by Partners Hungary or through their relationships with other formal and non-formal Roma communities/associations. These families were either provided with laptops or tablets and workshops in digital literacy so that their children do not drop out from school or food, sanitary and cleaning products. They were also involved in workshops, chat groups where they could exchange experience and learn about the new opportunities.

The third professional is a REYN mentee who was trained to become a kindergarten assistant – Laura, about whom you could read in the previous blog post. A strong-willed woman who calls a spade a spade, and who is willing to advocate for the basic human rights of being treated respctfully, no matter one’s background. She had been long dreaming of working with children in a kindergarten, but her ultimate goal was to get a further certificate which would enable her to work in a foster home. Most of the children living in foster homes are Roma, and Laura’s mission is to empower Roma children, to boost their poor self-esteem through love and attention. Through the past months, the lack of professionals working in foster homes became so big that application for a caregiver’s position was not restricted for those who have already completed the necessary training but positions were open for those who have any kind of qualification related to child care and those who would be admitted after the interview would receive the necessary training on the job. Laura applied for a caregiver position and was immediately admitted due to her interpersonal skills and also to her certification as a kindergarten assistant she earned during the REYN program. She started working in April, in the middle of the lockdown period, with no fear towards the virus. She felt that children needed attention and love more than ever since they could not meet their family due to the restrictions. The fact that she is Roma herself was very well received. Since most of the children were Roma too, they treated her as their aunt. Laura says she has a good relationship with her colleagues and her superior as well. She is looking forward to the official caregiver training which will be paid by the foster home.

These Roma professionals’ strong vision, stamina and their ability to find ways in the darkest times give hope to many of us for surviving a possible second wave. While it was not possible to help everyone in need and there is nothing that can compensate for this injustice, there were and are still ways to help many people. The more of us are inspired by such examples, the more of us can find the momentum and the possibility to help get vulnerable groups through tough times. I feel proud and honoured to get to work with such powerful Roma professionals. I hope to tell you further great stories soon. Until then: take care!

Roma Healthy Start: grant for community-based organizations

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The Open Society Foundations (OSFs) are offering a grant to support community-based organizations that use elements of the Nurturing Care Concept in their policy models. The aim is to improve pregnancy and birth outcomes, eliminate racial disparities in infant mortality, reduce low birth weight and preterm births, reduce maternal depression, and address the social determinants that affect Roma maternal and child health.

OSFs are looking for inspiring examples of collaborations across sectors designed to improve the health of Roma children and mothers in CEE countries with high Roma population, including but not limited to Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, and Serbia.

The deadline is March 30, 2018. Find more information on the Open Society Foundations’ website.

REYN Italy and REYN Croatia event: Comparing Educational Practices

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REYN Italy and REYN Croatia start the autumn season with a joint event called “The Romani child between school and family: comparing educational experiences in Italy and Croatia.”

The event will take place in Rome (Italy) on November 17-19, 2017, focusing on the exchange of innovative educational practices in the two countries.

Associazione 21 Luglio, REYN Italy‘s coordinator, will present some experiences of Italy’s education system. At the same event Sanja Brajković, Psychologist, Open Academy Step by Step Croatia and REYN Croatia, will share innovative practices of her country of origin.

Entrance is free of charge, seating is limited and available on a first come first serve basis.

Find out more in Italian here.