Date: 15-12-2021

Wide Open School: "Learning from ISSA Network is a Huge Added Value of our Membership"

ISSA Member in Slovakia Wide Open School is an open non-profit organization focused on community development and lifelong learning in socially disadvantaged groups with an emphasis on families, especially with children in early age, and with an ambition to become recognized internationally. As an active member of ISSA, involved in several of its projects and initiatives, we are interested in knowing how being part of ISSA network is helping them to build their impact in improving the lives of children. In the following lines, Wide Open School shares its reflections about their membership, as well as the work they do and their aspirations.

How your organization views the benefits of being a Member of ISSA – how did opportunities for learning and sharing influence your programmatic agenda?

Being a member of ISSA is definitely viewed as a huge benefit by our organization. We appreciate being able to gain all the knowledge, guidance and trainings of great quality in different topics. Communicating with other members, sharing our best practices, but also learning from their experience is a huge added value of our membership. All the knowledge and experience is then later utilized in our own activities – be it advocacy activities, awareness raising activities or field activities with our target groups and participants of our trainings.

ISSA supported activities our organization benefits from are especially:

  • Embracing Diversity Training Programs

Promoting diversity and understanding values of anti-discrimination, anti-bias, and respect for diversity in classrooms, in communities, at the workplace, and in society are a major part of each training we provide for educators (teachers and other professionals). Even though addressing and changing perceptions of people is not the easiest task, we do see significant results of this approach over time.

  • Romani Early Years Network

Our activities in this network - REYN Slovakia - stem from a long recognized dire situation of Roma children in Slovak marginalized communities. REYN network helps us to become more visible and have a stronger voice in communication and advocacy activities on local, national and European level. For example, in Slovakia, this network helps us to connect people and organizations from different parts of the country and with different expertise and use this unique force whenever we need to create solutions, tackle important questions, etc.

  • Toy for Inclusion

TOY for Inclusion is described as "the gateway to education and care for many young children of disadvantaged communities" and this is, indeed, what we have experienced in Slovakia, too. This European project, powered by ISSA and ICDI, helps us improve the transition experience of Roma children to schools. Thanks to TOY approach, Roma children are better prepared for school, and parents and other important adults from the communities we work with understand the importance of care and education, and their trust in local services, good intentions of teachers and other professionals has increased.

  • Supporting Families for Nurturing Care

Our organization has benefited not only from a high quality training of our members in this topic – thanks to all the knowledge gained our home visitors have been able to reach many families in marginalized communities and start building trust, improving communication and increasing their knowledge of the importance of healthy families. With children being the main and most important beneficiaries, home visitors provide care via easy, personalized and family-friendly activities.

What would you highlight from the benefits of Toy Play Hub in Slovakia?

Games and plays have always been seen as the easiest way of connecting people from different cultures, with different language, etc. Games and plays (and books and meaningful interaction) are also crucial for the development of children. We are happy that we have been able to combine all this knowledge and we have opened several of our Play Hubs. This has not happened on a whim – it required careful and thorough planning, lots of experience sharing, but also a leap of faith, that it can and will work out. All people visiting play hubs are happy about the possibility; many of them have never had access to anything they see in the hub, so some guidance is needed sometimes. But the active presence of parents and other adult members of families helps our colleagues to build connections with them, create an atmosphere of trust. Because this is what we aim for – not only building a physical space for meetings, not only handing out games and books, but also offering a helping hand and an open heart for the needs of Roma families and their children.    

What experiences and expertise Skola Dokoran is bringing in different initiatives of ISSA (e.g., REYN, Diversity+, etc.)  

Our organization is a member of several governmental advisory bodies and working groups. We have been involved in creating some important governmental documents – for example the Strategy for equality, inclusion and Roma participation 2030. We strongly emphasize the importance of bringing together Roma and non-Roma people in all our activities. Only by helping them understand their still quite separate worlds, by learning about their similarities and differences we are able to start building bridges – which is very important in our society. This approach is used in all our inclusive programmes, such as TOY for Inclusion. We are happy to have a strong and enthusiastic group of colleagues who work directly in the field. They are the "faces and hands" of our programmes, they help families, other adults and children get the most of what our activities of programmes such as "Parenting with confidence" have to offer. They also provide individual consultations – they visit families at home, spark interest in these activities in other families and this way create stronger, more empowered communities.