Mentoring programme: creating a better future for Roma children

Article, 23.04.2015

The Roma population in Slovakia suffers from high levels of unemployment. Many of them cannot find work, as they have a lower level of education and often cannot speak Slovak. Within the framework of a mentoring programme run by the organisation ETP Slovenkso, non-Roma adults help Roma children with their career and personal development. It is a strategy that shows much promise, geared at improving the school performance of Roma children and thus enabling them to pursue a secondary education. Switzerland's enlargement contribution is supporting ETP Slovenkso.

The picture shows three girls who are smiling.
The mentors help Roma children with their career and personal development. DEZA/SECO

Denis Cziszar is 16 and lives in the Roma settlement of Veľká Ida. He is one of the Roma children taking part in the mentoring programme. Thanks to support from his mentor Rita Ferencziová (41, head of the school canteen in Veľká Ida) Denis now attends secondary school. Rita believes Denis has become more open and communicative since starting the programme and is now attempting to take charge of his own life and future. Another example is Dávid Korčkovský, who grew up in the Roma settlement of Podsadek and is now studying social work at university. He was one of the first young people to have a mentor under the programme. Denis and Dávid's stories demonstrate the positive effects a mentoring programme can have on Roma children's future prospects. 

The programme aims to improve the academic performance of the child, because many Roma children have weaknesses in mathematics and the national language. Another goal of the programme is to discuss with the children the opportunities available to them and their career aspirations, so as to motivate them to continue with secondary school. In fact, only very few Roma children go on to secondary education after primary school, which would allow them to pursue vocational training or go to university later on. An improvement in school performance can have a positive impact on the children's self-confidence and give them more ambition regarding their future careers. 

The meeting with the mentor normally takes place once a week and includes a number of things designed to arouse the child's interest, including educational activities, nature trips, visits to the theatre and concerts, and computer tutoring. The mentors come from varied backgrounds. They might be students or pensioners, for example. At a minimum they must however have completed secondary education, so as to set an example for the child. 

According to a survey of the participants, 67% of the children believe that their performance has improved and 72% of mentors have the impression that the academic performance of the children has increased. In addition, 76% of the children stated in the questionnaire that they wished to pursue a secondary education. The mentors feel the programme is a success because through it, to a certain extent, they are able to help change the course of another person's life for the better. 

One of the biggest challenges in eastern Slovakia is poverty and the lack of social participation of minorities. The largest marginal group are the Roma, accounting for 8.5% of the Slovakian population. The mentoring programme is one of several activities that are carried out by the organisation ETP Slovenkso as part of the "Community on its way to prosperity" project, supported through the Swiss enlargement contribution. These activities in the areas of social assistance, health and financial advice are provided in ten Roma communities in Slovakia, with the aim of improving the living conditions and level of education of all those taking part.