Project activity began on January 5th, 2015 and will continue for 3 years. The total budget is 287 162.44 leva or 126,620 Euro.
The project is innovative because it offers a completely new model and fresh approaches to work in the Roma community based on 10 years of experience, observation and analysis drawn from working with different groups of these communities.
The project focuses on Early Childhood Development and its objective is to provoke motivation and develop knowledge and practical skills among parents in the Roma community to meet the needs of children in early childhood (0-3 years). We work with pregnant mothers preparing for the arrival of their babies and we encourage Roma woman to make healthy reproductive choices and practice family planning.
Our specific objectives are:
1. Development of parenting skills that ensure high quality care and education building a strong foundation for the intellectual, physical and social/emotional development of their infants so that they start life ready to learn and flourish.
2. Development of skills and knowledge of maternal and child health and improved awareness of how to access medical services
3. Development of knowledge and skills among Roma women to improve family planning and facilitate access to reproductive health services.
These objectives are realized mainly through field work in particular communities and neighborhoods – Selemetya and Sredna Kula.
We focus on working with children from 0 to 3 years and their families and also pregnant women from these communities. We are supported by GPs with practices in both the districts.
Our innovative approach involves facilitating 18 interactive group sessions within a 12 month period including children and parents from both districts. The groups will include parents of roughly 40 infants aged 0-3 years and approximately 20 pregnant women in total. Each target group – parents and pregnant women will participate in 6 group sessions.
Sessions include activities with children with using toys and books with a focus on creating playthings and sharing activities using objects and experiences that are common in any household. The sessions are designed to aid the development of motor skills and encourage social, emotional, cognitive and communicative development – autonomy (independence) and interaction.
Parents make stimulating and entertaining toys and books from materials that are found in the poorest families in the neighborhoods. For example –
- Books and puzzles from cartons and cardboard packaging cutting out pictures of the free catalogues distributed by major retailers;
- Hanging mobiles for babies from coloured paper, shoe laces, coat hangers, sponges for washing dishes, old ribbons bouquets etc.,
- Touchy-feely baby blankets from an old towels or pillow cases studied with buttons and other household items with a variety of shapes, colors and surfaces.
We will supplement group work by making intensive home visits during which team members reinforce the lessons learned to help parents meet the basic needs of children – to recognize different health problems and to provide a nutritional diet for infants, pregnant women and nursing mothers. We encourage breastfeeding and encourage healthy attachment debeloped through talking andf interacting closely with the baby from the moment of birth. In households in which Bulgarian is not the first language, it is important that infants are exposed to stories and songs in Bulgarian as well as their mother tongue to help prepare for kindergarten and school.
We provide material support to families who need medications to prevent hospitalization as the most common reason why Roma children are hospitalized is the inability of parents to buy prescribed medication.
Where necessary, we provide formula milk suitable for babies with different medical profiles (inappropriate feeding leads to health problems or exacerbates existing conditions). We supply baby gear – baths, potties, nappies, etc.
We help parents with medical issues including inoculations and related certification and preparation for kindergarten. There is often a shortage of places in facilities close to Roma neighbourhoods and the difficulties and costs related to transporting very young children across town using public transport is a significant barrier to kindergarten attendance. We do what we can to help.
Pregnant Roma women are often denied timely access to healthcare for bureaucratic reasons. We assist registration and access to an obstetrician to ensure that the pregnancy is properly monitorted. This reduces the risk of premature births and helps detect any medical problems issues that can often accompany first-time pregnancy in young mothers or can afflict women who have borne several children.
In each district, we conduct information campaigns and host informal discussions over coffee covering topics such as family planning, prevention of unwanted pregnancy, advantages and disadvantages of various methods of contraception and prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.
We have created a mobile team resourced with the necessary materials and toys to engage with young children during group sessions and to lend to parents on a rotational basis (like a toy library).
All this would not be possible without the intensive work in the community by Roma mediators and the support of their families. The rest of the project team were also especially selected – two team members speak Turkish the dominant language in Selemetya district and another social worker is fluent in the Roma language that prevails in Sredna Kula.
We have plans for the Roma festivals in each district devoted to motherhood and children.
A vital tool for working with families of children less than a year old is a revised edition of the EQ publication – “Personal Diary of Mother and Child”. This is very explicit and straightforward with simple words and images covering topics related to the health of the pregnant woman, caring for a baby in the early months, simple developmental milestones, advice on proper nutrition and safety, and a few simple children’s songs and rhymes.
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