PLOVDIV: Small armies of teachers, social workers and police officers are swarming across Bulgaria to carry out a Herculean task — convince tens of thousands of Roma parents to send their children to school.
It is part of a new state initiative aimed at tackling soaring illiteracy and a high number of teenage pregnancies in the impoverished community, which accounts for 10% of Bulgaria’s seven million people.
An estimated 130,000 children do not attend school in Bulgaria, Education Minister Krasimir Valchev told reporters recently. A majority of them are Roma.
To reverse the trend, the government has mandated more than 1,000 teams of specialists to travel around the country, the European Union’s poorest member state, and talk to Roma families.
But the search for dropouts, or those who have never attended school at all, is an uphill battle.
Of seven homes visited by one of the teams AFP accompanied on a recent morning in Bulgaria’s largest Roma ghetto in the southern city of Plovdiv, Zatie Marinova was the only parent to open her door.
“We’ll enroll him in school here if his father doesn’t call us back to Germany,” she said, pointing to her son Orlin, 10.
Like many Romas, Marinova’s husband spends a large part of the year in wealthier EU countries to look for work and an escape from the ghetto’s grinding poverty.
“Many children quit school because they are engaged in the activities of the family,” sociologist Alexey Pamporov told AFP.
“The girls look after their younger siblings and the boys work with their fathers in construction for example.”
In other cases, parents may well be at home but hide behind closed curtains when the experts come calling.
“The children we’re looking for can just as well be next door,” said Teodora Krumova of the Amalipe organisation, a key Roma rights group.
“Many parents are…