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Innovative Solutions: Working with and through the Community

Aliona is preparing herself to do the homework at a table where Cozma family members use to have their meals. The girl’s parents are too poor to offer her special conditions for that purpose.

In Ethiopia, the Department of International Development (DFID) funded a programme called 'Securing Access and Retention into Good Quality Transformative Education' lead by the organization ChildHope UK and the Organisation for Child Development and Transformation (CHADET). This project introduces innovative features, such as engaging bus drivers to identify girls at risk, strongly targeted activities with boys, and radio listening groups as a way of engaging men and getting them to listen to girls.

As a result, it addresses challenges such as extreme poverty, lack of quality teachers' skills, and low values attached to girls' education. The programme also incorporates mechanisms to support longevity of income generating activities (IGAs) and the gradual reduction of support to various committees, ensuring their independence.

DFID also funds a program in Afghanistan focused on empowering marginalized girls. This is accomplished through the support of formal primary school education, community based education (CBE) basic literacy courses in villages, and through the projects innovative Youth Development Centres (YDCs), which provide a unique female-only space for girls' social and self-development. Studies show that there is a clear correlation between increasing adult women's literacy and an increase in their children's chances of also being educated. The project builds on other women's education projects such as a major literacy programme, where functional literacy classes are offered to older women and those with children.

In Kenya the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) and Windle Trust Kenya (WTK) have received funding from DFID to implement a programme called 'Kenya Equity in Education Project (KEEP).' It works closely with men and boys, fully appreciating the need to extend educational benefits to boys and engage them as champions of gender equality. KEEP works with experts in the field of social change and community mobilisation, using participatory social media campaigns through SMS, radio and films, to build support for girls' education.

In India, Room to Read with support from Caterpillar Foundation and the Alwar Mewat Institute of Education and Development (AMIED), worked in the Rajasthan region to encourage more girls to join schools. Social mobilizers (popularly called didi) have been instrumental in the increasing number of girls joining school. They act as mentors to the girls, and impart life skills training on topics like confidence building and communication skills. These skills have helped the girls in negotiating with their parents and reasoning with them on how education will help improve their economic conditions, maintain better health and delay marriage. Didi’s also impart training on the forms of abuse - recognizing it, and who to contact if a problem arises.

In Moldova, UNICEF has been working to address the challenges faced by ethnic minority groups. Aliona Cozma is the first child of a Roma family who lives in a very small village called Schinoasa situated in the centre of Moldova. Her school is miles away from home and she wakes up every day at 6 o’clock to catch the bus in time. Miss it by 5 minutes and she’s missed the entire school day.

After her long journey to reach school however, she is often discriminated against by teachers, children and parents. Children sometimes shout after her “Ei, tziganii (this is how Roma are called in Moldova)…let’s not talk or play with her. “In the beginning I was very upset, I was crying during the nights, but starting all over again next morning,” she says.

Social exclusion is one of the undesirable results of our increasingly globalized world. Children of ethnic minority groups often find it challenging to access social services - including education. In Moldova, it is no different.

To address this, the Roma Community Mediator programme was created with UNICEF support. Through this initiative, Roma families select a person in the community whom they trust, to help them in their social inclusion process. Sessions with Roma and non-Roma parents and teachers are organized to understand Roma traditions and culture to overcome stereotypes and eliminate cultural barriers.

Ala Popcov, a Roma Community Mediator reflects, “When I became a Community mediator, two years ago, the situation was catastrophic –Roma children from our village didn’t go to school, get vaccinated or pass the medical examinations. Now the situation looks different: every morning I go and check if all 52 kids are in school, if not, I go to their home and talk to parents. I help them to get ID documents and obtain social cash benefits. There’s less discrimination now – the principle and the teachers no longer offend our children, they treat them equally to others”.

“Now I’m not crying anymore. I know I have another scope in my life. I want to become a lawyer. And I think half of the way to get my dream true is done”, said Aliona. Meetings with Roma parents help to emphasize the advantages of school education and the rights of their own children to receive an education through the public school system. Community mediators have helped Aliona and other Roma girls to go to school.


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