All children from Makiš Roma settlement regularly attend school!

A joint project of the Roma Education Fund, the Belgrade Education Department, and Little Prince Children’s Center continues this year through activities aimed at providing learning support, preparing children for preschool education, and empowering mothers to take charge of their children’s early development in Roma settlements in and around Belgrade, Serbia.

Photo © Bojana Andric

Photo © Bojana Andric


Ibrahima’s eight years old and has finished the second grade of elementary school. Ibrahima lives in Makiš, a container settlement about eight kilometers from Belgrade’s city center.

”After school we come here and do our homework. I always do mine with my brother. But we also have an assistant who helps us. She comes here and then we do homework together.” Ibrahima points to one of the containers where children study together.

Ibrahima is just one of many children participating in a new school integration program for relocated Romani families in Belgrade. The second phase of the project has started this autumn in five new settlements (Makiš, Barajevo, Boljevci, Kijevo, and Mladenovac) where Roma were resettled after being evicted from their homes under Belgrade’s Gazela bridge. Three years later, their living standards have improved, but the greatest progress has been made in terms of children’s education.

Apart from support provided by the City of Belgrade– school buses, school supplies, and pedagogical assistants assigned to each of the seven schools that these children attend – the program provides continual learning support: five mediators who help the children with school assignments, language learning, and studying.

Slavica Lola Vasić, from the Little Prince NGO, emphasizes three key elements of the new project: empowerment of mothers for their children’s early education, additional support to preschool children in learning concepts and subject-matter needed for the elementary school entrance exam, as well as providing support to pupils in learning the language and studying.

“The importance of the support and preparation for the regular school attendance is best illustrated by the fact that, after three years of working with the children displaced from Gazela settlement and settled in Makis, all of them now attend school regularly . . . all children in the world are the same and have the same needs. They need adult support, so that one day they can become adults as well.”

Gordana Cvetković, Head of the Education Department, says, “It’s very important when the school gets a message from the Education Department that this is a project that the school should take part in, that the project is important, because this is how synergy is made that gives good results. Good contact with families and access to Roma settlements were crucial for the schools, as they can communicate with both the children and their parents.”

Svetlana Marinković, a pedagogical assistant at “Braca Jerkovic” elementary school, says that what is important is not only to help children, but also to establish communication with the parents who, more often than not, need an explanation why education is so important. “It is crucial that the children get to like their mediators. We had one girl for school testing, and she was really well-prepared. When asked who had prepared her so well, she replied, ‘My teacher Mersida, she comes to our home and then we all study together.’”

Žaklina Jašarević, leader of the Makis Roma settlement, lives in one of the containers and she represents the interests of the Makiš Roma at Belgrade City Hall. She says that the children’s education program is an excellent opportunity that the parents of the children included in the program have never had.

“Although we’re far from the city,” Žaklina says, “School buses take the children to and from school, which helped our children’s regular attendance.”

Many children have taken the project very seriously. Nazifa, who is seven and who does not speak Serbian well enough, still goes to school regularly; even if she has a fever, she doesn’t want to miss school, says Žaklina.

“I like to go to school, to draw and write,” Nazifa says shyly. Then she adds, “I’ve learnt how to write letters!” Then she becomes shy again and runs back to the container where she lives with her family.

Regular school attendance, education of both parents and children, and working with teachers and learning support were among the REF’s top priorities in the last school year. They remain the same this year, too, but also include an additional program to work with mothers whose children are under age five to reach the milestones of early childhood development.

“We teach the mothers to be their children’s first teachers. For children from marginalized groups, the compulsory preparatory preschool program, which lasts one year, is not enough. It must be longer and start with their parents. We believe that we could start a campaign to extend the preschool training to last two years, and to include more Roma children in the preschool institutions. If a child improves by the time he/she starts school, it means that the child will be able to do other things as well. He/she will be able to show what they can do,” concludes Slavica Vasić from the Little Prince NGO. “The children displaced from the unhygienic settlement Gazela will continue with their programs this year. We hope that their new neighbors relocated from Belville will soon start with similar programs of integration and education.”

Photo © Bojana Andric

Photo © Bojana Andric




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