December 18, 2008


Increasingly feeling like this is where our energy is best put into action, Jillian and I have been spending more time at the Roma kindergarten these last few weeks. I wrote about this in some detail back in October--the Roma community in our town lives in squalor and is severely undereducated. Like many Roma communities throughout Europe, they face discrimination and suspicion. The kindergarten, operated by a one-man NGO, Safet, is an essential resource for these small children; if anything, it should be greatly expanded.

Recently Jillian has begun work on a grant to help with just that. [If nothing else, Jillian will leave the Peace Corps with some serious grant writing chops. She's already written two major grants and this one will be her third. She's got a real knack for organizational writing.] Our idea in writing the grant, in consultation with Safet, is to not only increase the number of children served at the kindergarten, but also to hold staff training for Safet and his assistant, organize parent information sessions, create a Saturday morning homework support program for those few Roma children enrolled in the public schools, develop a food bank at the center and purchase much-needed school supplies for the children as they enter the integrated public schools in first grade. It's a major project, one that we feel would be best served by having a PCV placed with Safet's organization next year.

Aside from logistics, it has been a real joy going to the kindergarten and working with the children. Recently the addition of a new little girl at the center has forced us to reconsider someone. The little girl's name is Nafia and her mother begs, usually outside our neighborhood market. From my vantage point the only thing this seems to accomplish is making the Roma community look bad (I realize she and her family live in abhorrent conditions and that state social services provide only token financial support...but still, she's the only Roma who begs and her brusque manner is completely off-putting). Kids in tow, this woman stalks customers as they exit the store. In our first few months in town we had some choice encounters with this woman, including the occasion in which she spit on me. What I've always found depressing about the woman, really, has been the manner in which she includes her children in this endeavor.

Then she brought her children to the center. Only Nafia is age-appropriate, but Safet allowed a younger and older child to attend for a couple of days as well. Simply put, these are the sweetest, nicest, most well-behaved children we've met at the center. Many of the little ones at the kindergarten are, well, brats, thanks to little in the way of supervision or parental education. A few of them simply scream at the top of their lungs when they're not getting their way, while others react with punches and kicks at anyone, everyone.

Nafia and her siblings, on the other hand, are miren, as Safet repeatedly tells us. Peaceful. Their interactions with each other are supportive and loving. Nafia never has to be told twice to put away a toy, wash her hands or move to the tiny tables for drawing time. And when the other kids in her group are howling like banshees and running around like chickens without heads, she sits quietly.

And so I look at her mother a little differently now. Maybe it's not fair, but I asked myself, incredulously, "These are her kids?" Now when we pass her outside the market she doesn't ask for money, but instead she asks when we'll be going back to the kindergarten. And sometimes Nafia is with her and she always runs over to us, smiles and says hello.

1 comment:

GS Counselor: said...

You really are making a difference. Truely you are.

It's wonderful!