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A statement of Donka Panayotova (BTA Press Conference)

There have been 12 years already since the democratic changes first took place in the country.
Bulgaria took on the road of democracy and guaranteed equal rights to all Bulgarian citizens by signing a range of international legal human rights documents.
For the moment, all Roma are categorical that a well-defined national policy on the “desired” Roma integration into the society DOES NOT EXIST.
For all these years, we have initiated a number of programs for improving the status of the Roma community, while trying to apply the “The Framework Programm for Equal Integration of Roma in the Bulgarian society”. However, we never managed to unite ourselves around a common initiative. Only the desegregation initiative became national and this is not just a happening.
The road of education is the shortest. Education makes us competitive on the market, it gives us choice and freedom.
By the process of desegregation we the Roma are going to another stage in our development of looking for the meaning and the assessment of the Roma coummunity in Bulgaria.
The process of desegregation does not only provide transport means to children from the Roma neighborhoods to all town schools. It also gives opportunities to Roma and non-Roma pupils to interact with each other and develop friendships.
It is necessary to continue to work towards building a sense of tolerance in the school setting, tolerance towards Roma culture and traditions.
This is all possible when the desegregation team includes people who believe in the idea, people who are responsible, systemic and organized in their work and people who will gain the trust of the Roma in the neighborhoods.
For already a third year, “Organization Drom”, Vidin implements the initiative on desegregation of the Roma education.
Currently, there are 600 children involved in the program. They all receive their education outside the segregated local Roma school in “Nov Pat” neighborhood, and are distributed among six schools in Vidin.
We, as the team responsible for the project, are proud to say that we have created a working model of desegregation of the Roma education in Bulgaria.
This model is successful because we have managed to unite the efforts of all actors involved in the process, i. e. children, parents, teachers, school principals, the Regional Inspectorate on Education and Science and the Ministry of Education and Science.
At the beginning of each school year, we conduct interviews in all partner schools. Throughout the course of the year, the children achieve results, which we carefully record and analyze.
These competitions unite the efforts of Roma and non-Roma children in building a spirit of tolerance, and get to know the Roma culture.
This year, we have pioneered and worked on the campaign “Different but together”, and the award is a summer camp to the Black Sea.
Designated tutors selected from the Roma neighborhood are distributed across the schools after a selection process. The selection criteria were as follows: high school diploma, communication skills and ability to work with children.
It has to be noted that for the past two years since the start of this initiative, the children have grown greatly accustomed to their tutors and have built good trust in them.
These tutors can be potential teachers because their mentorship experience will be half-the-job to becoming qualified pedagogues.
Along with tracking the pupil’ attendance patterns, these tutors follow their progress and record the results as the school year progresses. The children experiencing academic challenges are referred to special preparatory academic classes for individual work with teachers and mentors, where each child can make recordable progress, and when ready, to go back to the classroom.
With the help of the parents we created a special club “SOS PARENTS”. In this club three parents from each school are selected at a special parent meeting – in total they are 18. This are the parents, who have authority in the neighbourhood and can influence positivly on the other parents in their communication with the children.
Active discussions are taking place in the club whereby parents and specially hired psychologists work together in solving potential problems.
We have also created club “Unity” where two elementary school teachers and two teachers on Bulgarian Language and Literature from each partner school hold memberships.
At the beginning of the program, we were sure of the need to prepare and work closely with the teachers.
At the beginning of each school year, we conduct an inquiry into themes and topics that teachers see as vital and would like incorporated in the program.
We have worked with lectors from the Sofia University on the topics of active learning and have utilized them in the process of preparing teachers for work in a multicultural setting.
Once a month we participate in program “Ethno calendar” on channel “Vidin”. In the the program broadcasts public discussions about the problems and succeses of the program using a telephnone connection. We have several publications in the local media-newspapers “Vidin” and “Nie”.
National media and channel correspondents keep track of our activities and make regular broadcasts, showing successful practices and statements made on various social issues. It is of extreme importance that the successes of the program “Desegregation of the Roma Education” is noted in the context of cooperation and collaborative work between all actors and on all levels of government. This is all for the cause of “DESEGREGATION”.