Mr Palm's speech during the Open Forum “Every Roma Child in Kindergarten" which took place at "Breg Lumi" kindergarten on 15 July 2014
Thank you for the opportunity to give the UNICEF perspective on this.
The future of a person is not determined by the time you hold a university degree in your hands. Whether you succeed in life, whether you will be able to learn, how you socialize and whether you will find a job - all of this is decided before you enter school.
When the child is small and it grows, the brain develops. During these years, we learn how to solve conflicts, or whether we will become a confident person or not. The school mainly adds knowledge and skills. The experience during up to the age of 6 determines how much knowledge we will absorb. The brain of a child is like a computer, and the computer is built during the early years. In school we only fill the computer with information.
Most of us here have sent our own children to kindergarten, or will do so. Because we know that this is good for our children and our future.
The integration of members of the Roma community is what everyone says he wants. It is better for everyone if we understand each other, if we can be friends with each other, and work and live in peace. The integration of Roma children in our kindergarten is not only good for Roma children, but for all our children and all of us. All of us.
What is surprising is that the number of Roma children out of kindergarten is very small. There are only a few hundred children nationwide. 2 children here and 5 children there. In most cases, this doesn’t need a lot of resources. Kindergarten are locally managed – with meals or without meals. To integrate these children into the local community – and local kindergartens, is a local responsibility. I do not want to hear anymore from any local official that they need extra budget to ensure that the most vulnerable children go to kindergarten. Waive the fees; ask local business for help; use the municipal budget.
There must be no separate kindergartens. We don’t want poor kindergartens for poor people, and fantastic kindergartens for the rich. We cannot hope to integrate Roma children, if they have to manage with the leftovers from other kindergartens, and if they send the children home before lunch, while the others stay and eat.
Teachers need to explain this to other parents, who often resent Roma mixing with their own children. Teachers must stand up for the right of Roma to go kindergarten. You want to change Albania? You want to join Europe? Then stand up and make sure that Roma children are welcome in your kindergarten. Regional authorities need to actively pursue this and ask for progress.
We also need the engagement of social workers. Because social workers have to go out and tell Roma parents, that the future of their children is not in begging, but in kindergarten, school and a job. If we want to take street children off the street, we need to give them a place to go. This is the public kindergarten and the school.
We have some new guidelines from the Ministry, which is very good. This will encourage and instruct all professionals and local officials how to make all children welcome. We need similar instructions from the Ministry of Social Welfare.
Importantly, this is doable. The numbers are small. We need a good set of instructions, and the collective will to make it happen. We have the support from some of the best Albania NGOS that are available for this cause. If we together can’t make it happen, who will? So, let us not stop until all Roma children are in kindergarten.