SOUTHINGTON, Connecticut — With the Romani population in Hungary composed of 750,000 or 7.5%, the Romani Early Years Network is actively working to advocate and provide resources to marginalized Romani communities. The network works to help Romani communities through approximately 25 non-government organization (NGO) partnerships in Hungary. The REYN network covers 11 countries globally. Since its establishment, the network has focused on early childhood development in order to protect Roma and disadvantaged young children.
The network was established in Hungary in 2014 under the Partners Hungary Foundation umbrella. REYN Hungary Coordinator Zsuzsa Laszlo told The Borgen Project that the “partner is focusing more on either professional development or direct service” for Romani populations, while “REYN is supporting the professionals who work with the Roma children.”
Partners Hungary Foundation Network and REYN Hungary
REYN collaborates with a variety of professionals that directly aid Romani children 8 years and younger. REYN Hungary establishes training workshops and lectures for professionals to discuss how to implement aspects of early development programs for Romani disadvantaged children.
To do this, the REYN network receives funding from the International Step by Step Association (ISSA) and Open Society Foundations Early Childhood Program. These organizations work to eradicate poverty and social exclusion within Romani communities by training professionals in the fields of nursing, social work, inclusive education and other areas impacting Romani children. Recently, the ISSA collaborated with the REYN and the European Roma Grassroots Organization (ERGO) to host an online event on October 7, 2020, regarding the online human library and how Romani individuals became professionals.
REYN Hungary’s COVID-19 Response and Future Plans
In May 2020, the REYN network published a call for action. In it, the network acknowledged the challenges amid COVID-19, ranging from food shortage, the digital divide for Romani children and a lack of affordable healthcare for Roma and traveler communities. In response to these challenges, the organization recommended European governments disperse personal protective equipment (PPE), electronic resources for online learning and address the hate speech toward Roma communities.
Laszlo also told The Borgen Project that the REYN is initiating a new education project. The new project, entitled REYN Plus in 2021, began “by working with NGOs, and other service providers that work in the area of Roma population and education.”
Carpathian Foundation Hungary
The Carpathian Foundation Hungary is one of REYN Hungary’s partner organizations. It helps Romani children through the “Building Capacities for Effective Early Childhood Development of Marginalized Roma in Hungary” program. This program provides early ability care to approximately 300 to 400 young children below 8 years old by supporting more than 12 annual organization programs. The Carpathian Foundation Hungary program has supported Romani communities since 2018.
Carpathian Foundation Hungary Executive Director Boglarka Bata told The Borgen Project how the organization has been dealing with early Romani childhood development since 2017 in Northern Hungary. Bata explained that the organization provides 13 grants of approximately 10,000 euros to civil society organizations (CSOs) addressing childhood development for Romani communities. These grants include the request “to pilot and initiate early childhood development service programs to those communities they serve in.”
The program’s third cycle, entitled Early Years Matter, has helped Romani communities with mandated online education from March to May 2020. Bata told The Borgen Project that marginalized communities often lack internet connection, which is an additional challenge amid the pandemic and social distancing measures. Fortunately, Bata explained that the “organizations we are partnering with reacted to the situation very rapidly and started to collect donations.”
Workshops and Hungary Play Hubs
REYN Hungary provides its members with professional training opportunities in support of Romani children and families. Two professionals were able to engage with Romani communities online while supporting approximately 250 poverty-stricken Romani families across six villages. They provided laptop donations, food and cleaning products during the Spring 2020 COVID-19 lockdown in Hungary.
REYN Hungary also provides an inclusive play hub in Nagydobos and Csobanka, Hungary. Partners Hungary Foundation Executive Director Eva Deak told The Borgen Project that the Csobanka hub provided services to help Romani families work through problems related to COVID-19. The hub did this by starting live streams with professionals. The initiative was a success, bringing hope to online teaching for childhood development programs. To this, Deak said, “20,000 people saw the post, which is much beyond the population of that small village.”
COVID-19 has impacted Hungary by increasing unemployment from 3.4% to 4.3% as of October 2020. As a result, REYN Hungary has transitioned nearly all scheduled professional training and other services online. Laszlo stated that REYN Hungary appreciates its partnerships and “in 2021, we want to have it more united.”
Recently, the REYN host organizations initiated a project entitled “Inclusion and Equity for Roma children and families.” Starting on November 27, 2020, the project will aid Romani communities across 11 countries. In essence, this project aims to integrate inclusive early childhood services for Roma populations while strengthening the parental roles in Roma families.
– Evan Winslow