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A way out of poverty for Roma

July 17, 2020
tags:#Roma, #omama, #discrimination
by:Zuzana Gogová
“I really enjoy my job and my real reason is that I can give someone, specifically our Roma children, what I did not experience in my childhood,” says omama Sandra from Zborov about the work in the community where she grew up and now raises her daughters.

I arrived in Zborov early one cold morning in May. Sandra was waiting for me in front of her house in the Roma settlement which I rarely happen to be around. She invited me to her house where already omama Inge is waiting for me too. They both took me through their work founded by the organisation Way Out.

Later during the day, I have also met with omama Vierka, who is the third omama in this location. Vierka, apart from being part-time omama in Zborov, works in a local kindergarten too. A few days later I will meet with omama Zuzka who lives and works in a Roma settlement in the village Chminianské Jakubovany. Finally, I get a clearer vision of what I can imagine when I hear the noun “Omama”.

Not all kids are born into an environment which could stimulate them positively during their childhood and omamas are aware of that fact. They talk directly that it's not a common thing to have toys or books in Roma's families. “I have never had toys when I was a little because we did not have money, it was not considered modern to have ones” Sandra explains.

Way out is the Slovak civic organisation behind the “Omama” project. Their main mission is to look for solutions for people affected by poverty while focused on the Roma community. Based on the studies from developmental neuroscience Way Out focuses on empowerment and a positive stimulation at an early age as an important prerequisite in a child's development and his or her future. The main goal of their work is to give the chance for kids to learn by playing and basically stimulate them the way many of these kids hardly get to experience in their home environments which are often affected by inappropriate living conditions, hunger, stress and generational poverty. Omamas stimulate kids through educational activities, games and counselling carried out directly in the families’ homes or homes of Omamas. Therefore, Omama is a woman directly from the local Roma's community who went through specific pedagogical and educational training, so she knows how to work with kids whose age ranges from newly born to five years old or until they can start to attend state primal educational institutions.

The first four Omamas started to operate in Zborov, Kecerovce and Muránska Dlhá Lúka in August 2018. Nowadays a total number of 17 Omamas works in a selected communities across eastern Slovakia. Overall 282 kids got a chance to be empowered the way probably nor their parents nor older siblings did get chance before. They are learning with their Omamas everything from gross to fine motor skills, then they learn colours, shapes, animals all in the Slovak language. Last but not least, they are praised for every little progress they do by Omamas. “It is not common for Roma's mothers to praise their kids. We, Omamas, praise these kids and we praise their mothers as well. Mothers have never been praised by somebody as well” Sandra makes clear. Omamas are supporting the relational bond between kid and mother, “so kid can create a strong emotional relationship with mother”, Vierka adds. 

Sandra admits that they were not sure if they will be able to convince the families to take part in the program. However, the first training for the Omamas helped them. Simply, when the women from the community saw their friends, future Omamas, on photos on social media, they started to ask more what it was about? “I have explained it to them in layman's terms. There is a form of learning through play. It was discovered that development thought play helps so if you want your kids to be more educated than you are, so they have a better life, this could help. To my surprise, I had so many candidates that some still waits to be accepted to the program.” Omama Zuzka from Chminianské Jakubovany emphasized to Romas's mothers in her community that “kids' brain from born till the age of three is as a sponge, it absorbs everything. Thank God, that mothers could notice kid's progress. They were happy and surprised that their kids knew this or that.”

Omamas work with kids individually until the age of three and they have so-called pre-school preparation with older kids in groups of three or four. Lessons last for about one an hour and are structured to activities related to cognitive development, fine and gross motor skills, emotional development and work with a book. They try to involve mothers in their activities and gradually teach them how to work with children at home. Omamas propose them easy ways how to stimulate kids even when they do not own toys or books. One of such example is letting the kid to sort out the socks by colors, the item which is in an every family. “It goes slowly, but we want mothers to learn how to pay attention to their kids” Inge say. “I see that mothers wants the best for their kids and that they understood what we try to accomplish by this work”Sandra finalises.

Omama can monitor the development and progress of the child since lessons are individual or in small groups. In fact, they take records on what the child knows and what he or she should already know at a specific age. It is basically a kind of monitoring screening kid's development.

Omama Sandra from Zborov is also trained by Michelle Fernandes from Oxford University to measure baby's development from 22 to 26 months old. They monitor not just babies in the program but also Roma's babies not taking part in the program and finally babies from the majority. The plan is to collect measures over two years period after which they will be able to evaluate the impact of their work in the community and compare the results between three types of differently stimulated kids.

1  The researches conclude that “early childhood is the most effective time to prevent inequalities before disparities widen, particularly for the poorest children” /

The Program Omama received SocialMarie Price for social innovation in 2019. 

Article written by:
Zuzana Gogová
Gogová_01 © Zuzana Gogová
© Zuzana Gogová
Gogová_04 © Zuzana Gogová
© Zuzana Gogová
Gogová_02 © Zuzana Gogová
© Zuzana Gogová
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© Zuzana Gogová
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