Supporting Roma Families in Eastern Slovakia in this time of Covid-19

June 22, 2021 |

The Nano Nagle Pre-School in Spišské Podhradie, located in the East of Slovakia, was founded in 2004. Roma children attend this Pre-School, which is  run by the Municipal authority of Spišské Podhradie. It has been supported since its beginnings by the Presentation Sisters. From 2004 – 2013 Sr Louise Eustace (North East Province, Ireland) was the first Director of the Nano Nagle Centre, where the pre-school was then located.

The Nano Nagle Pre-School opened as usual on 2nd September 2020 with 20 Roma children enrolled. Throughout the year, despite the many challenges of Covid-19, the pre-school has remained open, except for the month of February 2021 when there was complete lockdown and quarantine in the Roma settlement. The on-going support by the Nano Nagle Ministry takes the form of family support – documentation, transport and other material needs – enabling the children´s participation in the pre-school.

The children continue, as in previous years, to be collected by me each morning and taken to the pre-school and taken back to their homes in Rybníček Roma settlement, 3.5km from the town. Parents are very committed to having their children in pre-school and attendance levels varied during the year between 70% and 80%. It is very obvious that the concentrated support and guidance they receive – and transport is a big part of this – supports these children, most of whom are from vulnerable families. Further support is given through the provision of overall management and help with material needs. All this serves to help families (particularly new and single mothers) to get set up for a successful future.

Since September, 2020 we have had to live with weekly testing for Covid-19, municipal policies and measures have been put in place to increase hygiene levels, and face masks are worn by all children. Classroom activities have been restricted as have educational outings and gatherings. The children have been excellent at wearing their masks, washing their hands and keeping a distance from others.

Primary Schools have been closed for most of the year. On-line learning has been in place with many resources available. Educators realised that Roma settlements do not have Internet or Wi-Fi. I was the liaison person for the Rybníček Roma settlement and took homework (physically) to the Primary children each day and returned it to the school the next day. It was a way of keeping the children in touch with school when there is such a low level of internet connectivity. May 2021 saw the gradual re-opening of Primary Schools in Slovakia.

On Thursday 20th May, 2021 the pre-school class celebrated World Bee Day. They learned the value of bees, the flowers that attract bees (lavender and sunflowers) and drew pictures. The final part of the celebration of bees was the adoption of a beehive by the Nano Nagle Pre-School Class.  This was our effort also at celebrating Laudato Si’, knowing that without bees our civilization would become extinct. This programme of adoption of a beehive is new in Slovakia, even though Slovakia has a rich beekeeping tradition and its Union of Slovak Beekeepers was founded in 1869. In Slovakia honey is described as “the wine of wines”.

In the overall context of our ministry, Covid-19 has taken its toll in Slovakia. The country has had to date (31st May) 774,351 cases of Covid-19 and 12,339 deaths, in a population of 5.5 million. (Source European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control). The situation is similar in all the countries surrounding Slovakia.

We have lived through a very difficult year here in Slovakia and, as is universally recognised, the hardship has had the greatest effect on the poorest sections of our society. There has been a particular sense of isolation among Roma families. One parent said: “It is like we are prisoners in our own homes, we are afraid to mix with others and they with us“.

This disease knows no boundaries and one of the major difficulties is uncertainty. The presence of Covid-19 means that Slovakia, with many countries world-wide, faces great challenges.

Submitted by: Sr Anne McNamara pbvm (South West Province, Ireland)