Elma Šahman is 32 years old, lives in Bijelo Polje and has been teaching assistant for Roma-Egyptian (RE) children from the first to fourth grade at Pavle Žižić elementary school in Njegnjevo for six years.
She loves working with children whom she visits regularly during the coronavirus epidemic and the Ministry of Education program #Learnfromhome, brought them homework and helped them study at home. Due to the material status of their parents, not all Roma-Egyptian children were able to take part in the online teaching program. Therefore, under the new circumstances, Elma is a teaching assistant who visits children while adhering to distance rules and individually helps each child who needs support.
When she was four, Elma went to Germany with her family and stayed there until the ninth grade. When she returned to Bijelo Polje, she was faced with the problem of learning the language so that she could continue her school education. Complications and early school leaving followed, and then she returned to the education sector with her work.
“It was not easy and I missed a lot of things, but there is always someone who is willing to help you. I have had the support of my school from the start. The headmaster Olivera Markovic is a great support for me. From the beginning she gave me the right guidelines and was always ready to help, and this also applies to the others at school. I would also like to highlight Professor Gordana Prebiračević Đurović, who is a great support and help in continuing my education and training. ”
From the beginning, she worked well with everyone in the “Pavle Žižić” school, with teachers and educators, everyone had always helped and supported her. Elma Šahman emphasizes that a lot has changed in her community in the past ten years.
“Ten or more years ago, it was not the case that the RE population had the support we have had in recent years when it came to access to institutions, education and other things. For many members of the RE population continuing education when there was an interruption in secondary school was not possible without payment, often high tuition fees for us. Today there are different types of support from different sides. The situation really changes for the better.
As Elma notes, a lot has changed institutionally, but it is still important that there are as many people as possible who are genuinely interested in the well-being of the Roma-Egyptian community and who are willing to work with and support them.
“It is the kind of support I have, as I said, but this support is needed by everyone, I would say especially when it comes to progress in education, because that is the key to everything.”
Elma Shahman does not set long-term goals, but for many reasons she goes step by step, but she says she would like to continue working with children.
“I would like to continue working with children because it is a great pleasure for me to help them every day as they progress. It is really a great pleasure, especially when you see that more children of your people are making progress every day and you are there to help them along the way. It is a great pleasure to see that more and more RE children go to school every day and that not everything ends in elementary school. ”
A lot is changing both in terms of regular school attendance and in terms of acquiring knowledge that will one day pay off, which is particularly important.
“Because it is slowly becoming clear that the RE population and young generations can and must do a lot more. In contrast to the past, they are now working not only to get a formal paper about their school leaving certificate, but also that they really do learn something with every step. In the past, it was not uncommon for Roma children to go to school and finish school, for example, not even learning the basics – reading and writing correctly, which of course made it impossible for them, among other problems, to continue their education or to get a job other than garbage disposal and the like. This is changing now too. The priority, of course, is that all Roma children are enrolled and go to kindergarten and then to school, but now it is essential that they really learn something and achieve results that make it easier for them to continue their education and get a better job. ”
Bijelo Polje has two settlements inhabited by the Roma-Egyptian population, Rakonje and Strojtanica.
According to Elma Šahman, who has been a teaching assistant for children from first to fourth grades for six years, the majority of members of the RE community are now sending children to school, all in Rakonje, while a small part of the Strojtanica community, she says, because of the really bad material circumstances, says they cannot send them to school regularly because there is no school transport.
Now that there are teaching assistants for Roma children, parents send their children to school with much more enthusiasm than before.
“Parents are confident that we will always be there to help children overcome obstacles they may face, both due to a possible language barrier and for other reasons, such as problems with other children and the like. I’m also open to collaboration for my part. It happens to me that parents call me and say that they can’t prepare their children for school and then ask me to get them. The same goes for children, who can call me as soon as they have a problem. It’s really not difficult for me, we have built a relationship of trust and progress can be seen. Transport, on the other hand, is a major problem for some Roma students to get to school. It is said that a permanent solution for transportation is being sought, but we are still waiting and time is passing, “says Elma.
Based on her personal experience, she says that the institute of teaching assistants for RE children is really important and necessary and delivers good results. The problem in her case is that the current law provides that a teaching assistant is in the Ministry of Education’s budget if it meets the norm to support 70 students; Elma doesn’t have that many children – her work to date has been financed through various projects.
In some Montenegrin schools and municipalities, teaching assistants are an essential part of the education system. She hopes that this practice will change, i.e. the norm for the number of children will decrease and that she and her colleagues who are committed to the inclusion of Roma-Egyptian children will continue their important work more relaxed.
We are working on the portrait of Elma Šahman as part of the project “Civil society in action to promote and protect the rights of Roma and Egyptians in Montenegro”, in which we promote role models for women. The project is funded by the EU and carried out by Help and the Roma youth organization Walk with us – Pyrenean Amenza.