It took a joint effort by government, the UN, and IKEA to open a kindergarten in one Moldovan Romani settlement. Perhaps the next 50 will go more smoothly.by Grigore Brinza 1 February 2012
SCHINOASA, Moldova | For years, life has not changed much for Pintilie Cozma, one of the oldest inhabitants of this village some 65 kilometers (40 miles) from the Moldovan capital, Chisinau. When he needs groceries he still has to walk two kilometers to the next village.
“We need a store. I walk to Tibirica for a kilo of fish or a pack of cigarettes. I have no choice. There’s a little valley and then come the hills, and I can’t do any more,” Cozma, 81, says.
There are signs of change in Schinoasa, though, and one of them can be seen in a little two-room house in Cozma’s yard. In December, a combined kindergarten and community center opened here, the first preschool facility in this village of about 300 people, most of them ethnic Roma. Two dozen or so youngsters aged from 3 to 7 will attend the kindergarten each morning, and the facility will be available for community activities in the afternoons.
One form of public transport operates in the village, but it is reserved for schoolchildren. A single minibus takes them to school in Tibirica in two shifts each day. When it rains they must catch the bus at the edge of the village because of the mud.
Until three years ago the village had a school for first through fourth grades, built in the Soviet period, but it was in poor condition and was closed. At that time, the few local children who attended school past the fourth grade had to walk to Tibirica, although a minibus service was provided by local authorities in 2008 and 2009.
In addition to the almost total lack of social services, the condition of the roads makes this village a kind of island.
“When it rains, neither an ambulance nor any other vehicle can get into or out of the village,” says Ion Mitu, the secretary of Tibirica town council, which has responsibility for the village of Schinoasa.
Another village resident, Lilia Cozma (no relation to Pintilie), says, “Life is hard in Schinoasa, very difficult.” Lilia Cozma, 43 and a mother of four, said it takes her two or three hours to walk to Tibirica and back for groceries.
Schinoasa is one of 50 or 60 isolated Romani communities in Moldova that lack almost all social services. That the village now has a kindergarten and a school bus is thanks to the combined efforts of Moldovan Romani activists and international donors.
Schinoasa’s combination kindergarten and community center is the first to open in a collaborative project launched by the Education Ministry with $500,000 from UNICEF Moldova and the Swedish furniture chain IKEA, Deputy Education Minister Tatiana Poting said.
Thirty to 50 such facilities are planned to open in the next 18 months to two years, Poting said.
Lilia Cozma’s three oldest children did not attend preschool because of the difficulty of getting to Tibirica, she says. She hopes to be able to find work once her youngest son, 4, starts attending the new kindergarten.
For now, the kindergarten will be open only in the mornings, because the building lacks a nap room and other facilities required for all-day operation, said Angela Buruiana, the school’s teacher. The small, windowless schoolroom has little more than tables and chairs and a few Lego sets and other toys.
Schinoasa has become a spearhead community for several internationally supported education projects. In addition to the kindergarten, the village now boasts a much higher school attendance rate, less than two years after Tarna Rom, a Moldovan Roma youth union, began working here and in six other communities. Also co-financed by UNICEF Moldova, Tarna Rom sought to improve school attendance and other social indicators by funding community mediators to liaise between the community and local authorities.
For the 2010-2011 school year nearly all school-aged Romani children in the seven localities were enrolled and today are attending school, UNICEF says.
The community mediator for Schinoasa, Ala Popov, says the kindergarten can help give village children a much-needed head start on their education. When the bus service to the Tibirica school began in September 2010 it was hard for pupils from Schinoasa to get used to school, she says.
“At first they attended classes, but they didn’t know what they were supposed to do, what was allowed and what not. The first-graders were not prepared for school. It was difficult for teachers as well.”
The minibus takes 53 children to Tibirica daily in two runs. Local authorities have promised to find a larger bus.
Everyone interviewed in Schinoasa agreed that lack of schooling is holding back Moldova’s Roma. Most men in the village travel regularly to Russia for work because none is available locally. Home-grown vegetables and livestock are the main source of food for many families.
Day labor on farms in different parts of Moldova is the only work available to local women, Lilia Cozma says. Another local woman, Valentina Ciobu, said she can earn no more than $5 a day from farm work, but she thinks life is less hard than before.
“Until now, all the children stayed in this area, but from now on they can go on to further study to become doctors and teachers,” he says. “We have to make them study, to push them.”