Social inclusion through community mediators in Moldova
In the lead up to the International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October, UNICEF is publishing a series of stories highlighting innovations for girls’ education around the globe.
© UNICEF Moldova / 2013 /Aliona
Smart and creative use of technology is one route to overcoming gender barriers to girls’ learning and achievement. But innovation in partnerships, policies, resource utilization, community mobilization, and most of all, the engagement of girls and young people themselves, can be important catalyzing forces. UNICEF and its partners in all regions of the world are leading the way in innovative projects to accelerate progress for girls, particularly the most marginalized. Countries are exploring new education delivery systems and infrastructures, transforming curriculum to promote gender-sensitive pedagogy, and finding new ways to engage both traditional and non-traditional partners.SCHINOASA, Moldova, 7 October 2013 - "Ei, tziganii…” Aliona Cozma is the first child of a Roma family who lives in a very small village called Schinoasa situated in the centre of Moldova. Her school is miles away from home and she wakes up every day at 6 o’clock to catch the bus in time. Miss it by 5 minutes and she’s missed the entire school day.
Stereotypes and cultural discrimination are invisible barriers to girls’ education that need innovative solutions and community involvement
After her long journey to reach school however, she is often discriminated against by teachers, children and parents. Children sometimes shout after her “Ei, tziganii (this is how Roma are called in Moldova)… let’s not talk or play with her."
“In the beginning I was very upset, I was crying during the nights, but starting all over again next morning,” she says. Social exclusion is one of the undesirable results of our increasingly globalized world. Children of ethnic minority groups often find it challenging to access social services - including education. In Moldova, it is no different.
Mediation by trusted community members
To address this, UNICEF supported the creation of the Roma Community Mediator programme. Through this initiative, Roma families select a person in the community whom they trust, to help them in their social inclusion process. The mediator has helped Aliona and other Roma girls to go to school. Sessions with Roma and non-Roma parents and teachers are organized to understand Roma traditions and culture to overcome stereotypes and eliminate cultural barriers.
Ala Popcov, a Roma Community Mediator reflects, “When I became a Community mediator, two years ago, the situation was catastrophic – Roma children from our village didn’t go to school, get vaccinated or pass the medical examinations. Now the situation looks different: every morning I go and check if all 52 kids are in school, if not, I go to their home and talk to parents. I help them to get ID documents and obtain social cash benefits. There’s less discrimination now – the principle and the teachers no longer offend our children, they treat them equally to others”.
Ala is supporting Aliona on the way to realizing her dreams. “Now I’m not crying anymore. I know I have another scope in my life. I want to become a lawyer. And I think half of the way to get my dream true is done”, said Aliona. Meetings with Roma parents help to emphasize the advantages of school education and the rights of their own children to receive an education through the public school system.
This innovative programme has proven both effective and scalable; UNICEF advocated for incorporating the Roma Community Mediators in the Action Plan to support Roma ethnic group in the Republic of Moldova 2011-2015.