University students visit Roma homes to give school children private
This month, a new mentoring project will be launched in the Moravian
capital Brno, in which university students visit the homes of Roma
schoolchildren to motivate them and help improve their grades. The
Association of Roma in Moravia has earmarked some 350,000 crowns (just
over 14,000 US dollars) for the project - enough for free private
tutorials until the end of next year.
Michaela Cenkova is a social worker in Brno. Her office is located in one
of the city's worst districts; dubbed by most residents the 'Roma, or
perhaps less kindly, 'Gypsy' ghetto'. The majority of Roma people in the
city were born and raised there. So why are they among the poorest?
"Before 1989, Czechs did not have to worry about employment, housing,
health care and other necessities. The Communist regime took care of
everything for them. Suddenly, after 1989, people were left on their own.
They found themselves faced with the task of finding a job, caring for
their children, having a place to stay and so on. The Roma community found
it hard to adapt to this change and still fails to understand that the
state will no longer give them what they fail to get themselves."
But those who do look for a job have little to offer. Only a fraction of
the community has finished secondary school, is computer literate or
speaks a foreign language. In order to lead a better life, says Michaela,
the Roma community will have to re-think its priorities. Several dozen
students from Brno's Masaryk University will be paid to visit Roma
families to act as mentors, help teenagers get into secondary school, and
give them lessons to help them pass their graduation exams:
"Only a small number (of Roma) integrate into the rest of society
mostly because education is very low on their list of priorities. This
attitude is so deeply rooted because it is handed down from generation to
generation. That's why we are hoping to persuade young Romanies of the
value of education. The children will be motivated by the students because
most of their parents can't even read or write. They do not care whether
their child comes home with a bad grade. To them other things such as
caring for elderly or sick family members come first."
This is not the first such mentoring project: A few years ago, a similar
but shorter-term project proved effective. The number of secondary school
drop-outs decreased and some families even joined forces to convince
others to accept help.