Date: 29-08-2023

Role models in the early years: Young Roma Teachers in Bulgaria

Role models in the early years: Young Roma Teachers in Bulgaria 

On 13-14 July 2023, ISSA Member, the Trust for Social Achievement (TSA) held a two-day Peer Learning Activity (PLA) on "Role models in early childhood" in the town of Lukovit, Bulgaria. This international exchange of experience was attended by ISSA Member organizations from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Belgium, as well as several representatives from Bulgarian educational institutions and other stakeholders.

ISSA's PLAs are an opportunity for members of the network to explore new initiatives, enrich, and inspire new practices. This particular PLA was funded by the Bernard van Leer Foundation.

The Young Roma Teachers Program

Trust for Social Achievement's Young Roma Teachers program employs Roma student-teachers in local kindergartens both to provide opportunities for the professional development of youths in the community and to create role models for the young children. Alongside creating employment opportunities for young Roma professionals, the program contributes to easing the problem of not having enough pedagogical practitioners in the kindergartens. Six Roma youths have participated in the program and received financial support to gain a pedagogical education. By the beginning of 2024, all the Roma youths who participated in the program will have started working in the kindergartens which are partners on the program.

TSA’s initiatives promoting role models in the early years 

On the first day of the event, TSA outlined the design of several of its projects aimed at developing role models and shared some results about how these projects have impacted young Roma children and their families. This included discussion of the “Role Models in the Early Years” internship, which is facilitated by REYN Bulgaria and panel discussions with the participants and stakeholders of the Trust for Social Achievement’s initiatives promoting role models in the early years.  

The first panel discussion featured students Raya, Toshka, Desislava, Ilia and Emilian, who have become role models in their localities because of their drive, dedication, and perseverance. They shared with the audience what has motivated them to gain an education, what challenges they have had to overcome along the way, and how the support of the projects they are involved in has helped them deal with these difficulties.

The second panel was attended by Evgeniya Popivanova, Director of the "Happy Childhood" Kindergarten (Plovdiv), Anahid Mihailova, Director of the "Sun" Kindergarten (Lukovit), Spaska Mihailova, New Road Association (Khayredin), and Tsvetenka Khadzhieva, Deputy Mayor of Lukovit Municipality. The panelists expressed their belief that projects such as "Young Roma Teachers" make a significant contribution not only to the development of the individuals supported, but also their peers, and the children and families in the kindergartens.

The benefits of Roma role models in practice

One of the highlights of the PLA was a visit to the kindergarten "Sun" on the second day, where all participants were cordially invited by the director Mrs. Mihailova. During the visit, the group had the pleasure of attending a celebration of the children's graduation, experiencing the joy and pride radiated by the young graduates and their families. After the celebration, a special meeting with the parents took place to discuss the effects of the presence of Roma professionals in the kindergarten.

Participants engaged in open discussions focused on the language, integration and socialization of children in the kindergarten, the trusting relationship between educators and families, and the dynamics in the community. The conversations shed light on the importance of representation and positive role models in the form of young Roma teachers, and revealed the profound transformative effect that the presence of Roma professionals in the kindergarten has had on the sense of pride, belonging, and educational aspiration among Roma children and their families.

Key takeaways from the PLA

Reflecting on the experience of participating in the PLA, Bojana Gotlin, Director of ISSA Member Open Academy Step by Step noted that,

"Our study visit to the Bulgarian REYN partners was especially useful to us at this point when REYN Croatia is initiating a new project on supporting Roma professionalization in ECEC. Learning from our Bulgarian colleagues how to best encourage, support and empower future professionals within Roma communities through a program of Roma role models was very useful for us as it is one of the very few existing examples of successful recruitment, support and career development for future Roma professionals. Both Roma and other children living in shared communities will benefit immensely from having motivated and trained professionals of Roma heritage providing not only quality child-care and education but also multiculturalism and diversity."

To consolidate the learnings of this event, the TSA team is arranging an online meeting for all ISSA Members in early autumn to reflect on the key lessons of the PLA, discuss how similar projects could be initiated in other countries, and follow up on any new ideas.