Support for an easier beginning for Roma children

After two years in Germany, the Ristic family is back in their home village of Izvor, Serbia.

Ivana Miljkovic
A family with four children
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Vas
01 October 2019

“I have everything I need. I wish we had electricity in the new house, so that I could study and read at night as well. I have good grades. I like the English language classes the most. When I grow up I’ll be a hairdresser. There is a secondary school for that in Pirot”, says Anja, a smiling and cheerful eleven-year-old girl.

She has a younger sister, two-year-old Jana, and two brothers: first-grader Zoran and five-month-old Ognjen. 

Four years ago, Anja moved to Germany with her mom Kristina, dad Misel and younger brother Zoran. Misel recalls what their life was like before they left. 

We had a hard time. We lived with my extended family. Back then, I just had two surgeries on my spine and I couldn't work. So we lived on social assistance and child allowance. It wasn’t enough, and we had to try our luck somewhere else. 

Misel Ristic

After two years, as readmission returnees, the Ristic family was back where they started - in the village of Izvor, near Pirot in south-eastern Serbia. This time with one more member, their daughter Jana.

They managed to buy a house, but with a pre-existing electricity debt, so they spend their nights by candlelight. 

They received help when they needed it the most, when they already had three children and the fourth one on the way. 

Mother and daughter
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Vas
Two-year-old Jana likes to eat the vegetables from the family’s garden

Just when they had returned to Serbia, Bibija - the Roma Women’s Centre, UNICEF and the City Institute of Public Health started implementing the project “All for Children: Mobilizing the Community to Support the Early Childhood Development of Roma Children”, within the Programme for Early Childhood Development.

“We identified the Ristic family as a family that needs support, and immediately included them in our workshops. We also connected them to other organizations that provided them with building materials to repair their house, as well as shoes and clothes for the children. We are also trying to resolve their problem with the electricity”, explains Elizabeta from the Association of Citizens “Ternipe” and a member of the Local early childhood development support team, which has been providing support to the family since 2018.

This support is based on an individualized plan of support for the child and family. The Local team was established by expanding the Mobile team for the social inclusion of Roma people, with visiting nurses and health mediators joining the team. 

Health mediator is visiting the family
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Vas
Elizabeta, from the Association of Citizens "Ternipe", and health mediator Maja often visit the Ristic family

Kristina, a mother of four, welcomes any help. 
“They gave us hygiene kits, laundry detergent, shampoos, nappies. We always need that”, says Kristina.

Health mediator Maja Durmisevic visits them at least once a month. "We made sure that all children are vaccinated, and that Anja and Zoran regularly attend school. We also explain to the mom, Kristina, that she should go for gynaecological check-ups once a year, and not only when she has a problem. She also knows now why babies must be breastfed in the first six months, but also which foods she can later gradually introduce. We also encourage her, because of the importance of early childhood development, to find the time to play with them, talk and read to them”, says Maja.  

Since they have no electricity, and therefore no refrigerator, she also explained how to properly prepare and store food, improve their habits and ensure healthy nutrition, with less sugars and fats. 

Now we have our little garden. We planted tomatoes, potatoes and onions. It’s all healthy and not sprayed with anything. It tastes better that the vegetables from the farmers market.

Misel Ristic
Family with a pumpkin
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Vas

At one of the workshops, the Ristic family learned about gardening. They received tools and seeds as gifts to start growing their own vegetables.  

While Anja, Zoran, Jana and little Ognjen play in their warm home, Misel and Kristina are convinced that, despite all the problems, they have a better life now and that one day their children will become healthy, educated, and most importantly, good people.

UNICEF’s project “ALL FOR CHILDREN: mobilizing the community to support early childhood development of Roma children” is implemented thanks to the financial support by the company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which is committed to improving the health of Roma children in the Republic of Serbia and the Region through the “Together for Better Health” initiative.