The social integration of Roma and other vulnerable groups in Bulgaria is proven to be successful when it is based on day-to-day work with children and young families, whereby education and health activities target simultaneously one and the same group and are supported by the commitment of state institutions, municipalities and NGOs, educational and health mediators. Over the past five years, this model has been developed and successfully implemented by the ZOV Programme (Health and Education for All) in six regional centers in Bulgaria, with the financial support of the Swiss government.
On 25 June 2019, the ZOV model will be discussed at a national conference in Sofia. Swiss Ambassador Muriel Berset Kohen and two Deputy Ministers - of Labour and Social Policy (Mrs. Zornitsa Roussinova) and Education and Science (Mrs. Denitsa Sacheva) - will open the event.
The Programme’s efforts were focused on children and young families from vulnerable groups in Plovdiv, Ruse, Burgas, Montana, Sliven and Shumen who live in extreme poverty and in isolated communities. On the Bulgarian side, the main partner of ZOV is the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, with the close involvement of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education and Science. The ZOV budget amounts to 8, 088, 500 CHF, of which 6, 920, 000 is the Swiss contribution and 15% is the co-financing by the three partnering ministries.
Six integrated projects were implemented with 30 partners, such as kindergartens, schools, health centers, NGOs, etc. ZOV has endorsed its strategic approach as the most efficient tool for tackling the problems of vulnerable groups: simultaneously targeting education and health activities in the same communities, and working with and through central and local institutions.
Elena, Assen, Assie and Jesus are kids from the first kindergarten “Nadezhda”, in Nadezhda, the Roma neighbourhood in Sliven, which opened doors at the end of 2018. More than 100 children, aged 3-5 attend the kindergarten and participate in learning Bulgarian, and in arts and sports activities. „They have dreams as all the children across the world: to become a driver, a princess, a dinosaur hunter or a teacher”, says Kindergarten Principal Katya Valeva who is quite impressed by the rapid progress of her children. Those parents who have earlier dropped out from school, see their dreams come true: kids have a chance to learn and have a better future. Next to the kindergarten, there is a health center hosting GP, paediatric and gynaecological medical offices.
Under ZOV , in the period 2016-2018, around 2,500 new children aged 3-6, attend kindergarten and pre-school regular classes and additional Bulgarian language training, and 2,113 new children attend 1-4 grades and additional Bulgarian language training. 10,276 educational consultations and motivational meetings with parents were carried out by educational mediators in the 6 regions. In the same period, 23,471 general, paediatric and gynaecological check-ups and screenings took place in the 6 ZOV locations. 15,012 informational health-related consultations were carried out by ZOV health mediators.
„I believe we achieved many sustainable results with relatively small funding, spent efficiently. Strategically, ZOV focused on practical and reasonable goals, careful planning leading to sustainability and joint work with central and local institutions”, says Irina Faion, ZOV Team Leader. “We do not expect our local partners to be just implementers of the Programme, we jointly addressed and resolved strategic issues. In the course of work, we helped create new skills, motivated them and I hope we did contribute to building up a more positive attitude to vulnerable groups.”
Thanks to the joint work with state institutions and municipal authorities, most ZOV activities are already sustained, by the support of central budgets allocated to local institutions. Most of the other activities will be supported by national programmes, the EU social and educational operational programmes after 2020 and the Norway/EEA grants mechanism.