We had a great morning at the Ruth School. We saw MDG 2 (Achieve universal primary education) at work firsthand. The Ruth School is a primary school for Roma children, and while school is not in session during the summer, the neighborhood children are never too far from the building. We shared a morning with those children, singing songs about the parts of the body, teaching them to play baseball, learning about the uniqueness of our fingerprints, and seeing MDG 2 at work. Being in the Ruth School facility today was a great opportunity to put places and faces with an idea I’ve been hearing about for so long.
Yesterday our team visited the home of a very traditional Roma family of the Gábor tribe. The father, a very kind man with obvious love for God, his family, his heritage, shared with us that he didn’t want his children to go to school. While this may seem strange, a conventional education isn’t relevant to the Roma lifestyle. He challenged us with the question, “What is the use of a general education? It places no value on our heritage and does nothing to prepare you for future work within the family’s tribe.” I saw the father’s point. I began to wonder if the MDG of Universal Primary Education was really that important. Who should impose this value on a culture that wants to preserve its current way of life?
Today changed that for me. We spent the afternoon in a meeting with Romania’s UNICEF office. The two staff persons provided wonderful insight into the Roma community, their struggles, and informed us of the ways that UNICEF is working to eliminate education inequality and close gender gaps between the Roma and Romanian cultures. Our meeting opened my eyes to the potential of primary education, not to defeat a culture, but to empower it. A primary education, when attentive to the needs of a community, is no longer a threat to a person’s heritage or identity. Rather, it can be an opportunity.
In our meeting today we learned about UNICEF’s efforts through the Integrated and Comprehensive Approach to Education. This pilot program seeks to integrate Roma teachers into the education system so that they can be role models for the Roma community. We learned that the number one cause of dropout among the Roma is the poor command of the Romanian language, which prevents the Roma children from thriving beyond the 1st or 2nd grade. To address this issue, UNICEF has developed a Romany language manual and ABC books for preschool and kindergarten children in an effort to close this gap. We learned that if a child is living in poverty, you can’t just address the education issues. Instead, you must address the systems that create these problems. This UNICEF pilot program addresses not only education, but also Health, Hunger/Malnourishment, Parent Involvement, and Integration of Community Services. This comprehensive approach is a hopeful step forward in the journey to bridge the gap between the Roma tradition and the value of a primary school education. It seeks to answer yes to the question, “Will what I learn in school be relevant to what I’ll do with my life?” This was the problem we saw firsthand yesterday.
We also addressed MDG 7 (Ensure environmental sustainability). Through UNICEF’s Rural Community Model, they work to address the issue of access to clean water, as they found many children missed school because of water-borne illnesses. The Rural Community Program addresses issues that affect a child’s ability to succeed, not just through curriculum and facilities, but with access to safe drinking water, too. As Eugen from UNICEF challenged us, “Who would have thought that clean water could advance education? Sometimes you have to think outside the box!”
This trip is an incredible challenge. And an incredible opportunity. I ask for your continued prayers on behalf of our team as we close out our time in Romania and prepare for travel to Ethiopia Wednesday morning. Your love and prayers are appreciated and felt, even though we are far away