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Story telling mothers

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"Mothers are the first educators, the first mentors; and truly it is the mothers who determine the happiness, the future greatness, the understanding of their little ones. "
Abdu'l-Baha

learning

The Meséd (Meséló Édesanyák - Story Telling Mothers) project, originally concieved by Furugh and Raymond Switzer in 2003. Furugh then piloted it as a personal initiative with funds for materials provided by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Hungary. The project started expanding under the aegis of the "Unity in Diversity" Foundation in 2006. It has since been operating in many different localities in Hungary in cooperation with local governmental agencies and receiving further support from the Open Society Institute as well as the Roma Education Fund.

The Idea Behind Meséd
by Furugh Switzer

learning

readingMeséd is based on the well-established fact that parental engagement is essential for successful pre-primary education and that the academic performance of children is correlated to the attitudes and literacy skills of their parents. In order to improve the participation of Roma and other disadvantaged people in the edcational system at all levels - and thereby increase outcomes of readingequity - we need to provide support and training for the parents and, in particular, the mothers who, in most cases, stay at home with the children and have the most influence on them. Research has shown that if children are read to in their early years, they gain the required capacity to integrate into the life of the school system and therefore, perform better and remain in the system longer. The Meséd program attempts to reach the mothers of young children and to inculcate in them a friendly attitude towards books and reading which would be naturally and immediately transfered to their children. With reading story books to children under the age of six and beyond, the concentration and imagination capacities of young children are reinforced. At the same time, the vocabulary and language structures needed for school learning is developed. All this is achieved through the psychological impact of closeness and attachment to mothers and the safety and warmth that the child will come to associate with learning and reading. Research has shown that improvements in the literacy level of children is best achieved when the parents themselves are literate and are involved in their children’s educational life.

How Meséd Works

Based on the above mentioned facts and hypothesis, the Meséd project uses a non-formal adult education methodology, aiming to reach mothers who, in booksmost cases, had dropped out of school at an early age. The few years of schooling that these mothers had, mostly accompanied with feelings of failure and lack of competency, have in most cases left them with an avoiding posture towards reading and books. This negative association with book learning, when left unchecked, is passed onto their children and the pattern of educational failure continues.
meetingThrough use of attractive children story books, Meséd attempts to affect a change in this cycle by creating a positive experience in relation to books and reading which can immediately be put into practice with their children. Through weekly sessions, and with the help of trained faciltators, mothers are introduced to simple children story books. They regain and improve their skills of reading and are encouraged to discuss and use the stories in a meaningful manner. In an atmosphere of support and acceptance, mothers begin to enjoy reading and talking about the stories. This also leads to sharing of real life stories and talking about issues that concern them. The group members, in many cases from meetinga mixed ethnic background, start to develop a family-like closeness, learning more about each other and from each others’ experiences. In a short span of time, consciousness, a sense of community, and purpose is developed which is conducive to learning and growth. Meaningful and observable progress is made as the mothers learn to accept, honor and encourage each other and remain positive and expressive about the issues that challenge their everyday life.
Every week the mothers, after discussing and practising to read a new book, are given the book as a gift of the project. Their task begins at home by reading the story to their children every night and using the skills they have learned in discussing the stories with their children. Thus, children become the other immediate and natural beneficieries of the project.
Children are universally the most enthusiastic recepients of these books which, as a bonus, bring them into a closer relationship to their mother as well. In many cases, small children, too young to read, memorize these stories and are able to „read” by merely looking at the pictures. The children often feel proud of their new possession and take the books to the kindergarten to show their teachers and the other children.

Different phases of the project

The project includes three phases. The first phase concentrates on developing reading skills. In the second phase the element of writing is added and the use of arts including drawing and painting is encouraged. With greater proficency in reading and writing mothers engage in writing stories of their own. In the third phase through the use of drama pedagogy the participants develop skills in handling the challenging situations facing them in their daily life such as relating to the kindergarten teachers, doctors, employers, etc.
In this part of the project mothers also take on service projects to help with the development of community and society around them. One of the goals of Meséd is to eventually motivate and equip mothers to further their own further education.

Meséd as part of "A Good Start" project

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A project of the Roma Education Fund sponsored by the European Union
In 2010- 2011, as part of AGS, the Meséd Project was launched in Nyíregyháza and in the Máteszalka micro-region of Hungary. Six locations with the most pressing needs for programs for pre-primary education were targeted. By August 2010, a group of eight facilitators, mostly from Roma background, were trained and equipped with skills, books and other requirements to start the Meséd sessions. Another component of the AGS project – trained mentors - visited homes in these locations. Mothers were invited and enrolled in the Meséd program. 12 groups were formed, four in Nyíregyháza in Guszev and Kelleti, and 8 in Máteszalka region in Hodász, Nagyecsed, Nagydobos, Kántorjánosi and Nyírkáta that met regularly on a weekly basis.

Students from Teacher Training College

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The AGS in Hungary includes a complementry componant to the Meséd project that involves students from the teacher training college in Nyíregyháza. To promote better understanding and narrow the gap that presently exists between the teachers and Roma parents, these students, teachers to be, are invited to visit and join the Meséd sessions as a practical component to their course at the college. This has, in many cases, led to closer relationships and new understanding between the non-Roma students, on the one hand, and Roma and other disadvantaged mothers, on the other. Over 100 college students were involved in this component.

Home School Community Liason (HSCL)

 

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Meséd has been directly involved with another componant of the AGS project in Hungary, the HSCL - a project originally operated in Holland. Following the goal of creating better understanding and cooperation between the parents and the kindergarten teachers, in this program parents are invited to hold occassional lessons for children in the local kindergarten. Having gained the self-confidence and the skills needed, the Meséd mothers have taken the lead in these activities and have pioneered in presenting and holding activity sessions for children in the kindergartens in these locations.

Followings are a few personal accounts of the key participants in this project:

Balogh Szilvia, Meséd Facilitator in Nagyecsed

Balogh Szilvia

Unemployment and poverty bitterly affects people in Nagyecsed but in these difficult times, a door of hope has opened for these women who are at home meséd meetingwith a monotonous everyday life. The AGS project was introduced in our village through the Roma Education Fund meeting(REF). One of the components of this project is Meséd, in which I act as a facilitator. I have three groups which meet weekly and where we get story books to read and discuss.
Wondering in the world of tales as adults is quite different from that of a child. After reading a story we discuss and reflect on, relating it on our real life. As a result we have gained new insights that we use or can use in our daily lives. Since the beginning of this program in Sept 2010, out of 48 mothers who have been participating, five have already started working. Through this activity they become awake of their self worth and grow in self-confidence. They gain courage to speak up and to have an opinion. In a community event we presented two of these stories and it was a big success. The mothers have become highly motivated and read the stories to their children every day. Through this, their reading has improved greatly as well as their skills in speaking, communication and creativity. Two hours of relaxation and break from daily life waits for them every week. They like it very much and according to them they can hardly wait for the next session, something I can identify with myself.

Máté Istvánné Ági, Meséd Facilitator in Nyíregyháza

Máté Istvánné

The “Meséd” project is a real pearl in my view. The mothers are extremely meeting open and receptive. Honesty and love defines my relationship with them. From the beginning almost 90 percent of the mothers were willing to read. The rest had excuses of poor sight or hidden embarrassment for not reading well. What I have to pay close attention to is to treat them all equally. The mothers tell of their difficulties and share their thoughts and are very open to development. They have learnt from their own mistakes that the future of their children depends on education. They often say that they became pregnant too early and couldn’t study but for their children they wish a better life. The stories bring joy to mothers and children equally. The name of one of my groups is “Cinderella,” a befitting name because they also work a lot at home. Not only do they do cooking and cleaning, they bring water and cut wood as well. They are honourable people who struggle in difficult conditions.
I am personally grateful to all who helped create this project for the benefit of oppressed Roma mothers and children. The two-hour weekly sessions are an oasis in the desert for these mothers. For me too this has brought much development since I have to be present for the mothers every week with new activities and real devotion. It has brought out of me much more empathy and joy working with them. I hope that the positive impact continues to bring results in the Roma families.

Eszter Sipos, Student, College of Nyíregyhháza

Eszter Sipos

I have gained a lot from the MesÉd program and can certainly say that it has been a determining part of my life. I found the idea of helping the mothers quite favourable since I, too, believe that the integration of the disadvantaged and Roma families in our society is important so I was very eager to join the program. I really enjoyed the sessions that I attended. I learnt to appreciate life, to know who I am and my own worth and value as a human being. I was brought up to see all as equals but after this experience I was indeed awakened not to be prejudiced against the minorities ever and also to try help others get rid of their prejudices. After associating with these mothers I realized that, yes, they are human beings like me and you with similar thoughts. They have feelings of love, sadness or anger just like me. Their children are as important to them and they would give their all for them just as my mother would for me. Sometimes when I talked one-on-one with mothers I got a lump in my throat and was deeply touched in my heart. I believe mothers get a lot from this program. While having fun they learn a lot from the facilitator and from each other. They share things that perhaps they have not had an opportunity to express anywhere else. Here they can relax; they don’t need to measure up to anybody or anything. They can be themselves and accept each other and themselves as they are. I think this is so important.

Gréta Garai, Student, College of Nyíregyhháza

Gréta Garai

The Meséd program gives a lot but mostly it gives knowledge and a new outlook, the kind of knowledge that helps the mothers with their children since one of the most important points of the program is the children. The children get to become familiar with books from an early age so if they go to school they will not be strangers to books and they won’t mistreat them, rather they would value them because they will remember that “mum also read books to me that were interesting and fascinating.” The program has a deep effect on the parents as well. Here they learn to have a wider view of life, to appreciate and value what we have in life. While reading these story books they discover that little things count a lot in this fleeting life. If we notice these, we live a happier life. They share thoughts, concerns and experiences and learn from this exchange. Every parent is different but one thing is common in all of them and that is family, children and love.
What has it given me? Most importantly, I have decided that, when I graduate and start my profession as a teacher, I will arrange a parenting meeting like Meséd. I imagine that through this I can learn from parents what they expect from me, e.g.; child-centred selfless education through which I could give to each child the appropriate knowledge. Of course it depends on both me and the parents. I would like to see all mothers like the Meséd mothers who care for their children deeply. Together we can give a lot more to the children.

Érzsébet Emese Nagy, Meséd mother involved in HSCL:

A wonderful day at the kindergarten
Through the HSCL project on 21st of December 2010 I held a class at the Kindergarten. Inspired by my culture, meetingI decided to do something with basket weaving, an art that has been an ancient skill in Roma culture. In the first part of the lesson we prepared flowers with the straw while I talked about different parts and the importance of the flowers to children. They were very interested and happily participated actively. It brought us all a feeling of success to see the result. After handiwork we played a game to do with names of animals, their sounds and places of living and food. I was delighted to see that children knew a lot about the animal world. After that I read them a story. They were very interested. I used the skills I had learnt in Meséd sessions to analyse the story and relate it to their own everyday life. The drawings in the book reflected the feelings related to the content of the story beautifully and children could notice this in a smart way. To have a successful activity with children they need to be motivated and have a feeling of success and achievement. This session brought much joy not only to children but to me as well. It was uplifting to see my little girl who is part of the group being proud of her mother. It was a great experience and brought much joy and confidence for which I am thankful to all the organizers and sponsors.