Helping Roma mothers to raise healthy children and break the vicious cicle of poverty
Zorica isn’t quite a typical Roma mother of five. She works with NGO IBFAN as Coordinator for UNICEF’s Roma community project for some time and now she is hardly waiting to continue the training for young Roma mothers in her living room. “At the beginning of the project my neighbors in the Roma settlement were quite suspicious – they thought I am doing something for my benefit only. Later on, after only few sessions where they had a chance to talk directly to medical staff about breastfeeding, health care for pregnant women and immunization of young children, this has changed. My neighbors were joining us one by one, listening about the project from their neighbors” - she says. The community support was fully confirmed after they received basic hygienic packages. One of the major challenges for every attempt to improve basic hygiene and healthy living style in Roma communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina is poverty. “Participants in workshops often say to me – now we know pregnant women have to pay more attention to the quality of their food, but it makes no difference if we cannot afford more milk or eggs.” – explains Zorica. However, the knowledge they gain in parenting sessions is priceless.
After the sessions, young Roma mothers expressed their gratitude, written with untrained curly handwriting on pieces of paper provided by their trainers. “I am satisfied with the lecture and the description of upraising, breastfeeding and nutrition of pregnant women. I wouldn’t add anything”. – “We’ve had a nice time and a useful discussion. Trainers were good and patient with us “. - “Both trainers have performed well and I have learnt a lot from them. I wish we have this sort of lectures more often. - “I’ve been listening carefully because I am a mother but I’m also pregnant.” - Most of the participants are young, unemployed and uneducated mothers that have not much education and information on how to provide the best possible care for their children and how to cope with the challenges with their newborns.
Working with the NGO IBFAN, UNICEF supports better parenting classes organized in health centers and kindergartens for couples with young children throughout BH. Skilled professionals have developed the parenting education, using a holistic approach to young child development, to improve the knowledge of parents and their readiness to address the needs of children from birth to age six. Recently, this programme has been extended also to some Roma families, previously excluded from the basic services due to lack of information on how to access them.
Another alarming fact is that there are thousands of children, many of them Roma, whose birth has not been registered. Not reporting childbirth leads to denying children's right to health care, social welfare, education, refugee status and represents the negligence and irresponsible behavior of parents. At a very early age, this is related to the impossibility of immunization and later schooling. This story was told to a researcher by a Roma mother ”Almost immediately after birth the mothers leave the maternity clinic without paying the delivery costs because they have no money; because of this, they are not given a dismissal letter when they leave the maternity clinic but only when (and if) they have paid the costs.” However, the maternity clinic registration, the records of which are kept for each individual day, in fact includes all the information regarding the delivery itself, meaning the time of the delivery, the sex of the child, parents' details. But in reality, in order to give a name, not even a dismissal letter for the child is required, let alone that for the mother. Many of these facts were unknown in Roma communities, because no one cared to get in and explain it to them. Some of them speak only Roma language and are unreachable by classic communication channels. Therefore, the UNICEF-supported community based training was seen as a real advantage: “Not only that we had one-hour break from the housekeeping work, we also had the nurse to baby-sit our children in the improvised kindergarten! On top of that, we’ve learned a lot. This is really a perfect way to prove Roma mothers that somebody really cares for them.”