How 2 hours can change life
I am entering an old, ugly, dirty and a little scary house. The light in the first floor doesn’t work. I can’t see anything, but I can hear two people having an argument. I want to use a lift. I open the door, but it is full of rubbish and doesn’t work either. It is my first day of volunteering. I am going to tutor a 14-year-old girl, who lives in this scary part of building. The third floor is very dirty and I have to cross two old fridges and another trash. Two doors are open and I can see a guy smoking and wearing just underwear. I hope he doesn’t notice me. The last floor is mine. I’m curious, but I worry what to expect.
Suddenly a young, smiling woman opens the door, shakes my hand and I know that this is the right place. I find myself in a nice and extremely clean small flat. The woman offers me a cup of tea and introduces me her daughter. “This is Stefani, she needs help with math. I have tried helping her, but it’s impossible for me. I have 2 more children and I don’t understand math at all,” says Stefani’s mother.
Stefani’s family is the Roma family. They don’t like the house, where they live, but it is really difficult as the Roma family find something better. “There are so many deep-rooted prejudices about us. But it’s very easy to generalize us,” she continues.
The Roma people are an issue the Czech Republic, but nobody ask about their problems. Roma minority can feel very uncomfortable and sometimes in danger. The number of the Roma in the Czech republic is according to the last census from 2011 - 13 150 inhabitants. Czechs have antipathy towards the Roma. 82 percent of Czechs refuse any form of a care for Roma rights. Czechs consider the Roma asocial, and 45 percent of them would expel them out of the Czech Republic.
It is very easy to abuse this minority. “If employers find out that I am Roma girl, they usually prefer another job applicant,” tells Stefani’s mother her problem with finding job as a Roma woman.
To find a new flat for rent is even worse. “We had to move out of our house and it seemed like an unreal wish to find a new one,” continues Stefani’s mother. Finally she and her family rented this small flat.
Many of Roma people are unemployed and have to take the welfare benefits. Some of them live in horrible ghettos and don’t even have primary education. But not so many people ask why it is so.
Media assure us there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The most important role plays education. There is an increasing tendency to settle special classes for the Roma children or send them directly to school for children with special needs. They often hardly finish the primary school, sometimes not even that. The children from these classes rarely continue to study at the secondary school. It was shown that if the classes are mixed and Roma children attend the school with “white” children – the results and grades of Roma children and are better in comparison with a class full of the Roma students.
A nonprofit, non-governmental, Czech organization People in Need came up with a remarkable project, how to support and help to learn and organize studying not only for the Roma children, but all children from socially weak families. They support education, tutoring and make catch-up classes in the families. The project called “Give two hours” and is based on volunteers. Each volunteer takes care about one or more children and every week goes to the family and tutors a child or children.
“It is a rewarding experience for me,” explains Klara, who volunteers first year. Every week she tutored Lucka. They spend together 2 hours and Klara helps her with math.
“Lucka is a very clever girl, but I had to motivate her for studying a lot. She didn’t realize why it is so important to finish school at least with A level,” said Klara. The catch-up classes bring benefits for Klara as well.“ I learned to be more tolerant and patient,” she admits after one year of tutoring.
“Therefore is motivation the most important, without it we can’t do anything,” said Samuel Wlaschinský, one of the coordinators of the project. Its main benefit is a connection between children and volunteers. The volunteers should motivate the children to study and they show them the basics of how to learn and how to prepare themselves for classes.
“One parent asked me, how can just 2 hours help? I’m sure that it helps. The volunteer becomes very often a good example for the children, teach them how to learn, the children are open for education, learn to discuss and somebody to listen to,” explains Wlaschinský. Quite often the volunteer also connects the family and teachers at schools. Coordinators cooperate with schools and it is approved that children with tutoring have better attitude to school and education, don’t miss classes so much as usual.
The grades aren’t the main criterion for the coordinators. The main aim is to improve relation between children and schools. But it is common, that the children have better results at schools and are more successful after tutorials.
The project “Give 2 hours” runs since 2005 and came into existence as a reaction of social workers. “We have seen reality and got this idea. Now we are operating at 9 regions, have 320 volunteers and 520 children,” said Petra Sedláčková, the Methodist of Education program in families. Sedláčková considers a cooperation between school and parents for very important pattern and this project helps a lot.
Vlasta is another volunteer. She tutors Vanesa, 11 years old girl from Prague in everything that is necessary. “We do not focus on one special subject, sometimes she needs help with Czech then with math”, says Vlasta. Vanesa and her family also had a problem with finding accommodation. They moved around a lot and right now Vanesa attends her fourth primary school. The studying plan is different at every school and the fail threats her almost every year.
“Vanesa has 3 older siblings and her parents have no patience any more to study with her. Their flat is so small and we usually study together at the sofa. She writes her home works at a small coffee table, said Vlasta. Why Vlasta became a volunteer?
“I wanted to be useful and I wanted to see results of my work. I realized that the purpose of the project doesn’t include only studying. Vanesa is happy for attention and we talk about music, books or sports”, continues Vlasta.
Bara needed first catch-up classes 3 years ago. She had 3 teachers since then and she and her mother praise it.
“The first year of my tutoring was really difficult, we had to get used to each other. The second year was perfect! I improved my grades at school and my tutor recommended me to sing in a choir, I like that a lot. My parents are delighted as well,” said Bara. Bara is 14 years old girl from Prague. She admits that she had no system and she did not known how to learn.“ I hated the books but my tutor brought me some really intersting. At the beginning we read together and I found out the magic of reading,” adds Bara.
“When I met Bara 3 years ago, she had no idea how to organize her studying. Everything was a mess and her parents did not know what to do. We met every week for 2-3 hours, sometimes more. For instance Skype is a perfect tool, because I could check and help her more. After 3 months something inside Bara had changed and she started to cooperate a lot. Since then it has been perfect,” said her tutor Sam. Bara’s parents would like to help her, but they can’t even test her in math, because they don’t have sufficient knowledge.
“I am very glad that Sam helps us so much. I worry as it is impossible for me to check Bara every day. Additionally, I can call Sam and ask him about Bara’s results at school and he knows. I feel certainty,”said Bara’s mother.
It is common, that tutors and children become friends. Three times a year the coordinators organize a trip to ZOO or a visit to a theater. Sometimes it is the first bigger trip or the first visit of theater in the children’s life.
The best and the most successful children are invited to summer camp, which is a highlight of the year for all.
Finally we can say, that the project “Give 2 hours” is successful and more and more children and parents ask about it. The project helps both sides – children from social lower families and volunteers as well, because they could learn, understand and integrate more into the Roma society and mostly it is enjoyable and enriching experience.