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.
One year of the war in Ukraine: REYN Ukraine’s work with children
Converting a child center into a shelter and serving the needs of internally displaced persons, this has been the main work of Transcarpathian Regional Charitable Foundation “Blaho” (the host organization of REYN in Ukraine), for the last year. Today, 24 February 2023, marking one year of war in Ukraine, we ask the head of Blaho, Eleonora Kulchar, how their work has changed and what are they doing differently now, after a year living under the war conditions.
Since February 2022, Blaho has worked to develop a Station of Hope by converting their early learning center for Roma children in Uzhhorod (in Western Ukraine) into a shelter. Many people fled from the east of Ukraine in search of a safe environment and found refuge at theStation of Hope, where Blaho builds community and creates a sense of normalcy for children and their families.
“We provide support for Roma children and their families, as well as for non-Roma people, affected by war,” tells us Eleonora Kulchar. “Now there are about 80 internally displaced persons in the shelter, including about 20 children. In the shelter we can host 155 people maximum, and there were times when we reached that number.”
ISSA training on psychological aid
The shelter operated within the child center’s building until May 2022, and then, after the need for renovations, it was turned back into a learning center. Now two age groups of Roma children aged from two to six, and from six to 10 are getting ready for school through a preschool program at the center. In addition, the current war context has required Blaho to add a psychosocial support component to the services they provide both for the learning center and for the shelter.
“Before the war we provided educational and social assistance to Roma children, and now, in addition, we also have psychological support. We also work with children in the shelter as they continue their education with the teacher and get art therapy from a psychologists. If needed, all children from the shelter can have individual classes with the teacher,” says Eleonora Kulchar. “The training of trainers on psychological first aid and trauma-informed practices we at Blaho received from ISSA last year showed us practical steps on how to deal with stressful situations and how to help children. It was great that materials were translated into Ukrainian so that we could use them in our work the right away. Our psychologist and art-therapist use some parts of what we received from ISSA.”
Roma children before and during the war
During the last year, Blaho monitors of the situation of Roma children and families in Ukraine, analyzing their needs and conditions in the times of the war. They have recently complied a 70-page report covering eight Ukrainian regions. A similar study was conducted before the war, when the REYN Early Childhood Research was investigating the status and needs of young Roma children and their parents throughout Europe. The study on Ukraine can be found here. The report presenting findings during the war will soon be made available in English.
“We can see that availability and inclusiveness of Early Childhood Development (ECD) services welcoming Roma children is very low,” says Blaho’s director. “We will present the results of the study conducted during the war during several round tables and invite representatives of the Ministry of Education so that they can also work with the results.”
Roma and non-Roma together
A shelter for internally displaced persons that Blaho runs is now located in a separate building. Renting it now, Eleonora Kulchar dreams they can soon buy the premises and ensure that people who stay there can receive proper, stable, and continuous assistance.
The shelter provides complex support to the families that live there. People are receiving three meals per day and hygienic products for free. Teachers work with children, and psychologists provide support to those in need. Medical and legal support is also provided. Roma families live in the shelter together with non-Roma families, building up an inclusive community and adjusting to the needs of children together. A Station of Hope is a place that nurtures a sense of community and promotes diversity and inclusion, paving the road toward peace and unity.
The photos in this article show the Blaho center and are Courtesy of War Child
How to support young children and families in Ukraine
Since the first day of the war in Ukraine, the ISSA Network has mobilized to support young children and their families, both in Ukraine and in the countries receiving refugees. ISSA is a network of organizations dedicated to creating societies where families, communities, and professionals work together to empower each child to reach their unique potential and embrace values of social justice and equity.
If you wish to support our Member Organizations who work to mitigate the consequences of the devastating war, you can donate here.
Facilitating a language-friendly environment for Roma children in Croatia
Human language is much more than a means of communicating — it creates a sense of belonging. Children learn very early that the language they speak identifies them as a member of a particular group. According to Piper (1998) children acquire their first language within their society of language users. They learn language in order to become a part of that society, and their learning is influenced by a variety of social factors.
When children experience a discontinuity between the language and culture of the family or community and the culture of the school (which is often modelled on the majority or mainstream culture) this can disrupt their learning. Language discontinuity between the home or community, and preschool or school can be a problem for many Roma children, and has been identified as one of the key reasons for the low educational performance, failure, exclusion, or self-exclusion of minority groups like the Roma.
The precise number of Roma who today live in the Republic of Croatia and their territorial distribution is difficult to ascertain. This is because of their territorial distribution and the fact that they are not a homogenous population — with differences in language, socioeconomic status and religion. However, the latest available data, obtained by mapping Roma sites in 15 counties of Croatia in 2017 (Klasnić et all, 2020.), suggests that there are about 24,524 members of the Roma national minority living in the Republic of Croatia.
The importance of multilingualism
Recently, the Open Academy Step by Step Croatia organised a focus group with educators from public primary schools on the topic of multilingualism. The group explored the importance of language development and the challenges that Roma children face when entering school, as well as the increase in the diversity of languages and cultures in Croatia. This article will explore language development based on insights gained from the educators practice, and the theory of language development.
Language is the main component of early literacy development, but including children from different languages and cultures involves more than just teaching them the alphabet. According to Nemeth K. (2021), five factors combining the social/emotional as well as cognitive domains need to be considered in diverse early childhood education programs. These are:
Identity and self-esteem
Tolerance and acceptance of diversity
Supporting the home language
Support for teachers
1. Identity and self-esteem
In the process of developing language, it is important that Roma children are not denied the right to enjoy their own culture, and religion or to use their own language. However, educators should also be aware when they develop activities using the Roma language, that this does not serve to exclude Roma children from the culture and language of the wider community, and that the educational activities delivered in the Roma language are of the same quality as those delivered in the mainstream language.
During the focus group that was organised on the topic of multilingual learning, educators suggested that interactions between minority children with others provide an opportunity for the minority children to show respect for their culture and language. This is illustrated by one of the teachers who mentioned that “When Roma children say something in their own language or show some of their subjects to non-Roma Croatian children, they feel important and accepted.”
A child’s home language is the language of his family. It is the language used to love and nurture him from the time he is born and it is the language in which he learns about the world and how he fits into it. It is so important to support and honour this powerful beginning and to help the child see that this part of his life is valued and understood.
2. Tolerance and acceptance of diversity
Rather than using the word “tolerance” which suggests enduring someone’s existence and nothing more, the educators prefer the word “inclusion” in the true sense of the word, and emphasize that, “Opportunities for this need to be created.” From their experience, the educators added that “Children in a classroom benefit by learning to make friends with others who may look or sound or behave differently and to interact without fear or judgment.”
Even if the adults in the classroom are not bilingual, each child’s language and culture should be reflected throughout the classroom (Espinosa, 2009). In practice, educators use various strategies to address diversity in early childhood like sharing books about the similarities and differences between people, enjoying music from different countries, and inviting families to come in and share aspects of their culture and life. When educators were asked about the benefits of minority students’ plurilingualism and the benefits this has for other students, one educator said that “Non-Roma Croatian children really love to hear about Roma culture and they are interested in learning more.”
3. Family strength
The idea of family strength comes from the fact that parents are the child’s first teacher and are critically important in supporting teachers. To help parents become aware of how they can be effective partners in the education process, teachers should talk with them as early as possible about the parents’ hopes and aspirations for their child, their sense of what the child needs and suggestions about ways teachers can help.
In the Croatian case, the biggest challenge is changing people’s opinion that Roma parents. Many teachers assume that Roma parents are disinterested in their children’s education, as illustrated by one educator who stated that, “To the parents of migrants and minority children, school is very low on the scale of importance.”
It is arguable that because many Roma parents, particularly mothers, have not been to school and are illiterate themselves this restricts their ability to support their children’s education. Community-based programs are therefore necessary to help parents to improve their own literacy in order to break the cycle of poor educational outcomes across generations. Parents should be recognized and supported as advocates for their children’s right to education and the value that it has for them.
4. Supporting the home language
While supporting the use of the home language at the same time as encouraging the learning of Croatian can seem rather complicated, children already have some knowledge of how language works. This means that in learning Croatian, they need only grasp how the new language works and how it differs from their first language. It is important that educators are aware that children from different cultural backgrounds may have different ways of expressing themselves. Instead of judging these as wrong or in need of fixing, the teacher must use information obtained through observation as the relevant starting point for that child.
5. Support for teachers
Teaching in a diverse and inclusive classroom place many demands on the teacher. In order for the teacher to be successful, a number of program supports should be in place.
Children need to be stimulated to develop and use their mother tongue skills. Parents, schools and the community have been shown to play an effective part in this. Opportunities for children to use and develop their mother tongue skills enable them to gain recognition for skills and see that they are of equal value to other language skills. Informal programs for learning mother tongues should be provided and encouraged.
As Croatia becomes more and more diverse, educators play a pivotal role in helping the new generation of children grow up bilingual, culturally aware, and ready to get along with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations. What a wonderful opportunity to give every young child — an advantage for a lifetime!
Iva Sviben, program coordinator, Open Academy Step by Step Croatia
Photos: Taken in Orehovica, a municipality in Međimurje, July 22, 2021.
European commission (2015). Language teaching and learning in multilingual classrooms.Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
Espinosa, L. (2009(. Getting it Right for Young Children from Diverse Backgrounds: Applying Research to Practice, Pearson
Klasnić, K., Kunac, S., Rodik, P. (2020.) Uključivanje Roma u hrvatsko društvo: žene, mladi i djeca. Ured za ljudska prava i prava nacionalnih manjina Vlade Republike Hrvatske. Zagreb, page. 68
Piper, T. (1998). Language and learning: The home and school years. III edition. Upper Saddle River, N. J: Merrill Prentice Hall
The condition of Roma and Sinti early childhood in Italy
The position of Roma and Sinti communities in Italy is a direct consequence of various migratory flows that have affected the country from the 15th century to the early 2000s. As a result of these flows, it is possible to identify 22 communities of Roma and Sinti populations.
As it is impossible to carry out censuses on an ethnic basis in Italy, there are no concrete numbers about the members of the different groups. According to the Council of Europe, the number of Roma and Sinti living in Italy could be between 110,000 and 170,000. However, only a small proportion of them live in a condition of hypervisibility because they reside in formal camps —settlements designed, built and managed by local authorities according to ethnic criteria — and informal settlements.
Formal and informal settlements
The latest report presented last November 4th in the Senate by Associazione 21 Luglio states that 11,300 people live in the 109 formal camps on national soil — half of them hailing from former Yugoslavia. Of these, some have Italian citizenship and others have Romanian citizenship. There are also 6,500 people, with Romanian or Bulgarian citizenship, living in informal settlements.
Without precise data relating to those Roma and Sinti people who have ostensibly integrated into Italian society (who live in conventional homes, do not wear traditional clothing, speak fluent Italian, and send their children to school), the only studies and analyses about the condition of Roma and Sinti early childhood in Italy refer to the 15% of Roma and Sinti living in mono-ethnic settlements — in conditions of extreme segregation, exclusion, physical and relational isolation. As a result, this group cannot be considered representative of the majority.
Since 2000, Italy has been referred to by the European Roma Rights Center as “The Campland” because it has used by far the most economic and human resources to maintain ethnic-based housing arrangements of any country in Europe. The daily realities of life in these formal and informal settlements makes the promotion of actions that affect childcare particularly complex. The absence of electricity and drinking water, air pollution, living inside a caravan or container, the absence of safe spaces for play, economic precariousness, real and perceived exclusion, distance from the school, are all elements that hinder the healthy growth and development of a child from birth.
In such residential contexts the social elevator remains stuck. From birth, the fate of Roma and Sinti children is influenced and guided by these harsh statistics. According to a study conducted in 2016 by Associazione 21 Luglio, the life of a child born within a mono-ethnic settlement immediately appears to be an “obstacle race”.
A Roma child who lives in a formal or informal settlement in the city of Rome is 30-40% more likely to be estranged from their family and declared adoptable that a non-Roma child.
The practice of early marriage has strong physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional repercussions among the adolescents involved;
Children, known as “white orphans” — who are left behind in Romania when their parents emigrate to Italy in search of jobs and resources that will help give their children a better future — experience strong repercussions on nutrition, sanitation and psycho-physical development in the absence of a maternal care giver.
In 2015 in Italy, an average of 40 children, aged between 0 and 3, led a life as “prisoners” in jail with their mothers. The majority of these were of Roma origin.
From the limited data available, it appears that children in “Roma camps” have a shorter life expectancy and higher infant mortality than the reference populations. They are born underweight more often than other children and suffer from respiratory diseases in greater numbers than their non-Roma peers. Moreover, these children are often affected by poisoning, burns and domestic accidents. Discomfort or degradation diseases or “diseases of poverty” are increasing — such as tuberculosis, scabies, pediculosis, as well as viral, fungal, and venereal infections, which occur with ever greater frequency than in the past.
Associazione 21 Luglio has developed a full website to present the state of affairs of the camps in Italy. Navigate throughout Il Paesi dei Campi (The Campland).
How is REYN Italy responding to these challenges?
The work of REYN Italy and other organizations in this network has been pivotal in promoting equal rights for Roma children over the past few years. However, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the cohesion, sense of belonging and functionality of the Italian network. It is, therefore, necessary to reinforce and rebuild the REYN Italy which, in turn, will have a significant impact on the lives of Roma children living in Italy.
That’s why we plan to:
build cohesion and participation inside the REYN Italy network while increasing the number of its members. REYN Italy aims at revitalizing, reinforcing and broadening its membership, and engaging institutions such as municipalities, schools, health and family counselling centers.
advocate for access to inclusive, quality and non-discriminatory early childhood development for Roma children. In the Italian context, these objectives are crucial in continuing to promote and facilitate the social change that we are seeing in regards to Roma settlements with knock-on effects on their standards of living, and the protection of the rights of Roma children.
In order to support the rights and lives of Roma children, REYN Italy activities will highlight among decision-makers the need to guarantee, protect and promote the rights of Roma children.
 The Sinti are to be found primarily in the German-speaking regions (Germany, Switzerland, Austria) where they settled in the 15th century, and in Benelux and Sweden. There is a southern sub-branch of the Sinti in northern Italy (Piemont, Lombardy) and in southeastern France (Provence), whose language comprises a partly Italian-based vocabulary. In France, they are also called Manush. Sinti/Manush represent 2 to 3% of the total Roma population (generic sense) in Europe.
 Associazione 21 luglio, Uscire per sognare, 2016.
 Some Roma in Italy live in a state of separation from mainstream Italian society. These Roma live segregated on ethnic basis in some areas, excluded and ignored, in filthy and squalid conditions, without basic infrastructure. They “squat” abandoned buildings or set up camps along the road or in open spaces with tents, caravans or shacks. They can be evicted at any moment, their settlements are often called “illegal” or “unauthorised”. Other Roma live in “camps” or squalid ghettos that are “authorised and provided with caravans or prefebricated buildings”. The smaller camps, home to only fifteen to thirty people, are generally unauthorised. Authorised camps tend to comprise at least one hundred people.
UNAR, Strategia Nazionale per l’Inclusione dei Rom sinti e caminanti, Roma, 2012.
Smoothing the Transition of Roma Children from the Trailer Park to School
In the city of Leuven, Belgium, many initiatives have been taken over the years to increase the participation of children of the Rom Travellerfamilies in the nearby schools. The efforts of different welfare organizations ensured that by September of 2021 90% of the Rom children were present by the start of the new school year. Various efforts contributed to this success, including exchange visits organized by REYN Belgium and providing insights and inspiration from the REYN network. The strength of the experience in Leuven is that different social organizations work together towards the same purpose: to ensure that Roma children attend school regularly and feel comfortable there, and that there is good school-parent cooperation.
At the residential trailer park in Leuven, 30 Rom Traveller families are living permanently. The city of Leuven has made a conscious decision to invest in the establishment of social support services for the Rom families. In concrete terms, this means that two employees of the city are responsible for the entire functioning of the trailer park in consultation with the Rom families. As the employees of the city of Leuven are regularly present at the trailer park, trust has been formed between the families and them over time. Two staff members are the Roma families’ point of contact for support questions in different areas of life. Because of the diversity of questions, there was the need to start a broader network of social professionals. This network – the so-called ROL team – consists of staff from Agency Child and Family, staff from the family support organization ‘De Mobil’ and social workers from the public centre for social welfare . With this group, two times a week they organize on-site consultations. In this way, they can take concrete action with regard to the families’ requests for support on different life domains, each on the basis of their own expertise. They work together with partners on housing, health, leisure activities for the youngsters. More and more parents by now are convinced that these services might be beneficial for them and their children and are willing to make contact.
Involving parents in the transition
These partners are also involved in creating smooth and warm transitions from home to the schools in the neighborhoud, and they do it by motivating and reassuring families along the process.
A couple of years ago, members from the family support organization ‘De Mobil’ started to regularly organize a play-and-meet-moment for young parents and their young children (0-5 years). These pre-school activities are still going on where children can play with toys and games, while parents chat and discuss topics on education and family life. Parents can work out a picture book on their families, as a starting point for conversation. In the future, they will be able to lend the toys for a certain period.
In organizing these activities on a regular basis, the professionals of ‘De Mobil’ have built a strong relationship with the families and have gained their trust. They also support the conversations between the parents themselves. One of the topics is going to school. Parents have many questions: how does it work, a school day? What do children there? How will the teachers react on children’s needs?
The staff of the local Agency Child an Family, who are also members of the ‘ROL team’ are involved in motivating and reassuring the families for school.
“While parents come to our consultation office for the medical check-up of their babies and toddlers, we talk about schooling. At first they think it’s too early for their child, but later they change their mind. We provide information on how to register, when school starts etc. Because they are not familiar with our education system, you’ve got to give them time.”
Hanne, nurse from Child and Family Agency
To put further trust in going to school and as an action due to the pandemic, two schools in Leuven took the initiative to organize temporarily ‘homeschooling’. Two teachers came to the trailer park with lots of toys and playing-learning materials that are usually present in a toddler’s classroom.
“Parents have many concerns about the school: ‘What if my child is hungry or thirsty? Will somebody notice it and take care?’ By showing in their own environment how a toddler’s class is organized – with lots of toys and playful learning moments – they get acquainted with the benefits of schooling: ‘Look, it seems that he is just playing with little boxes, but he’s learning to count at the same time!’”
Lies, homeschooling teacher
Homeschooling had a positive effect. Parents and children got a better idea of what happens at school. They started to foster the idea of sending their children to school more regular and were more and more reassured that early school participation was important and an added value.
“The homeschooling period was a very good warming up, building positive experiences and gaining more trust in ‘the real thing’. Because of the support of many services and people, this was successful. Other practical problems still remain, such transportation to the school.”
Tim, social worker, city of Leuven
Due to these actions, the school supporting part of the project has been very successful: 90% of the children of the trailer park were attending school on September 1st, 2021. This is the result of many persistent actions of the ROL-team, two homeschooling teachers, other school teachers and directors.
“In August I went to visit all the families at the trailer park. You can call it a ‘motivation visit’. I wanted to prepare them that the first school day is coming. That helps a lot. On the first school days it is important to take away the worries of parents. We send them pictures and texts to show them that their child is happy here and he’s got a lot of friends. Many parents can’t imagine their children sitting next to non-Travellers-children…”
Annick, school director
Thanks to the efforts of many, the transition from the trailer park to school is now much better. Still, it remains a precarious process, partly due to the corona pandemic, but there is much motivation among all partners to keep up the efforts when children talk about their experiences at school positively.
 Rom is one of the three groups of Roma population in Belgium. The other two are Travellers and Manouches/Sinti.
Toy Libraries in Kosovo Help Children’s Development
Toy Libraries are a stimulating environment promoting early learning, and child development were established in Kosovo to increase the participation of Roma children in early education.
Toy Libraries were established in two schools in the municipality of Prizren – the second most populous city and municipality of Kosovo. The classrooms that were designated for learning center activities have been adjusted and redesigned to serve as Toy Libraries. In those classrooms, Roma parents can borrow high-quality educational toys and other materials – books, sound books, geometric shapes – for their children to use at home.
“Considering that during the day I am busy with household obligations, I spend up to two hours, 3-4 times a week playing with toys with my children. We also read books from the Toy Librarywith fairy tales and stories. In class, we read fairy tales twice a week, for one hour, according to the schedule planned for the use of the Toy Library,” says Elvan Galushi – a mother of two sons from Prizren. “Toy Library has had a positive impact on my relationship with my children. Through this activity, I have given my children and myself the time to learn and play together. Our family is unable to buy these toys because of the difficult economic conditions, and borrowing helped us a lot. My son has the opportunity to borrow his favorite toy and plays with them every day after school.”
So far, Toy Libraries have 85 members who are Roma parents and 87 Roma children aged 0-8 years. There are 397 toys and 12 books available in total. KRAEEYN project has donated 149 of the items and also provided hygienic materials.
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.