When the only kindergarten in Skopje’s Shuto Orizari municipality burned down in 2017, over 300 young children had their care and education suddenly interrupted. For the predominantly Roma families living in one of the poorest parts of the city, this was a disaster. Parents who were already struggling to balance childcare with earning a living had to face yet another obstacle in securing quality preschool education. The temporary facilities in the local high school their children were transferred to did not have the conditions to serve as an adequate replacement for the kindergarten. Fortunately, they would not have to endure those conditions for too long.

In 2019, thanks to the support of the Kingdom of Norway through UNDP, the kindergarten was built back better than before and was reopened for the residents of Shuto Orizari. Now, the facility provides Roma children with equal opportunities for quality early childhood education by ensuring proper facilities for learning, recreation, care and hygiene. By helping more than 200 families secure quality care and education for their preschoolers, the reconstruction project had a much wider impact on the community.

"Forty years after the first kindergarten was built, which we unfortunately lost in a fire a few years ago, I feel like the proudest mayor because the Municipality of Shuto Orizari will have the most modern, energy efficient kindergarten built by european standards and the first such facility with a green rooftop. Our youngest deserve decent preschool conditions, which is the first step we must take if we want to expect their further involvement in the education system with an end goal to become proud and successful future builders of our society.” - said Kurto Dudush, the Mayor of Shuto Orizari.

But the work didn’t stop there. After months of intensive construction work, the second phase of the reconstruction project – expansion of the kindergarten with a second building – is nearing completion and is expected to open in May 2021. The new building will increase the capacity of the kindergarten and also house a care center that will provide care for some one hundred street children between the ages of 5 and 13 by offering all-day stays under the supervision of eight professional social workers.

Narine Sahakyan, UNDP Resident Representative in the country, noted that UNDP has supported Roma inclusion, both in the country and across the region, for more than a decade. “We strongly believe that expanding the provision of preschool care and education is a vital starting point for reversing Roma poverty and joblessness.”

During a recent visit to Shuto Orizari, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev spoke about the impact of rebuilding the municipality’s sole kindergarten: “I would like to thank the Kingdom of Norway and the UNDP office in North Macedonia for implementing this excellent project. The children in Shuto Orizari will have the opportunity to continue their education in a modern and energy efficient facility built according to the highest standards for preschool education.”

For the 17,000 residents of Shuto Orizari, the rebuilt “8th of April” kindergarten and care center provides a way out of the widespread discrimination and multiple forms of social exclusion faced by the Roma – a community with poorer access to education, healthcare and social protection, lower rates of employment and higher poverty rates than the rest of the country’s population. For street children in particular, the care center will provide a stable environment for continued education and an exit from the cycle of generational poverty.

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