To be born deaf mute is hard enough. To be born deaf mute into a Roma family adds another layer of difficulty. And if that family is mostly illiterate, that’s down right impossible. Yet, this is the life of Kerim*, 6 year-old boy from industrial and mining city of Kakanj, central Bosnia and Herzegovina (B-H).
Once an area from which Bosnian Kingdom rulers managed their affairs, Kakanj municipality today has over 38,000 residents and unemployment rate higher than 50%. This is also one of the municipalities with large Roma community, the biggest ethnic minority in B-H.
Kerim's story is already tough, but chances are it will only become tougher. In pre-school classes Kerim attends he shows great enthusiasm and completes most of the tasks by only watching what other children are doing and mimicking them. He is all smiles and „can-do“ attitude, but this is where his progress will abruptly stop. Namely, his mother Sabina tells us she was told Kerim* can't go to primary school in Kakanj, as they have no capacity to work with him, so they were told he has to go to school in Sarajevo, 50 kilometres away. In a family with five children, where two already dropped out of school before even completing the first grade, with no employed adults, chances are that he will stay at home.
“If the social welfare centre doesn’t help me, how will I send him to school? And he needs to go to school to learn his language (sign language), so he can communicate. I wish he could at least learn how to write, he will need that, wherever he goes, no one will be able to understand what he wants unless he can communicate,” says Sabina. The only steady income their family has is a disability pension Kerim* receives, in the amount of 109 Convertible Marks, approximately 50 Euros per month.
Sabina can’t read or write. She was enrolled in school in the early ‘90s, but then the war started and she dropped out. She had four underage children and only her 11 year old son Mustafa* is enrolled in primary school. Her daughter Sanela* (13) and son Haris* (16) were enrolled together several years ago, but they soon dropped out because their parents couldn’t bear the expenses of their schooling. They also say both children were treated harshly by their teacher and other students because of their Roma origin.
Primary education is obligatory for all children in B-H. School staff and other professionals working with children are obliged to report cases of children not attending primary school, but in practice this is rarely the case, for several reasons. Firstly, there are widespread stereotypes about Roma people as nomadic people, not interested in educating their children, so child protection services opt not to report such cases. Also, professionals that reported such cases in many situations experienced that they caused additional harm to these families and children, as the law only prescribes financial fines for parents who fail to enrol their children in primary school. Majority of Roma families live in poverty and financial fine is only additional burden they cannot cope with.
Kerim’s* story is not unique – to help children from Roma and other vulnerable families to realize their right to primary education, Save the Children commenced in 2016 with implementation of the three-year project “Inclusive and Quality Education for Roma Girls and Boys”. The Project aims to create the necessary preconditions, supporting systems and enabling environment to improve access, inclusiveness and quality of education for the most deprived groups of children, especially Roma girls and boys. The intervention plans to create efficient and cost effective models and mechanisms that will identify out-of-school Roma children, enrol and support children to catch-up with the missing years of education and support children to integrate into regular education with their peers once caught-up with their generation.
“The project focuses on accelerated learning program, which in contexts of B-H and Serbia translates into education according to shortened curricula. The shortened curricula provide and require a minimum of 40% of knowledge from the regular curricula. This model was originally developed by Save the Children in B-H and it includes instructive classes held within shortened period of time, where effectively one academic year lasting nine months is condensed and implemented in four months. In addition, the intervention includes capacity building of relevant of professionals, parents and community members that surround and interact with Roma children to jointly assume an active role in maintaining and sustaining children’s learning and development of their potential. Lastly and most importantly, the intervention encompasses the establishment of effective referral mechanisms with representatives of various related sectors - education, health, social welfare, interior security, etc. - that will contribute to a system-wide identification and continued support to children, from inclusion to completion of relevant education,” explains Save the Children in North West Balkans Director, Andrea Zeravcic.
Project activities also include assistance and training on educational and parental skills for 300 Roma families in 10 target settlements, with a particular focus on women and young mothers. Beneficiaries will receive adjusted and individually appropriate parental education and support e.g. individual family visits with tailor-made plan and support with their specific needs, consultative/advisory meetings, workshops/seminars for mothers/fathers, trainings of young mothers receiving knowledge on age-specific child development and acquiring skills to improve communication with children to better understand, monitor and support their learning. This way, families like Kerim’s* will be given support in realisation of their basic rights.
While targeting primarily Roma settlements, project activities will be applicable to all Roma and other vulnerable groups. Key non-governmental organisations in B-H (Centre for Educational Initiatives Step by Step) and Serbia (Centre for Interactive Pedagogy) will deliver educational/family support and participate in preparing and implementing baseline studies, training of parents and awareness raising activities.
*Names are changed in order to protect identity.