Early Years wins Serbia preschool services contract
A Northern Ireland group with expertise in the effects of violence on children has won an EU contract to work with pre-school children in Serbia.
Early Years has been awarded 2m euro (£1.7m) to support the Serbian Ministry of Education in developing and improving preschool services over the next three years.
The group has been working in Serbia since 2004, sharing its experience in providing services in Northern Ireland with Serbian organisations.
The Serbian government has been particularly interested in how support for the early years sector has helped it make a significant contribution to creating a more peaceful and prosperous society in Northern Ireland.
Early Years chief executive officer Siobhan Fitzpatrick said the contract was a "very significant development" for the organisation.
"We have been involved in a number of small scale projects in Eastern Europe over the past 10 years, but this was a major tender to win," she said.
"This project will sustain at least five jobs in Northern Ireland over the next three years and will position Early Years to bid for similar significant contracts across the European Union and beyond."
Early Years, which employs 158 staff, has been part of community and educational life in Northern Ireland for the past 50 years.
Ms Fitzpatrick said this successful history helped convince the Serbian government to award it the contract.
"I think when the ministry of education looked at our track record in Northern Ireland and the support that we had had from the special support programme for peace and reconciliation they felt that the strategy of investing in pre-school services for the long term was a good one for Serbia," she said.
The Early Years organisation has already been running a pilot project in southern Serbia for the last seven years helping integrate disabled children and children of Roma families who traditionally have been excluded from mainstream education.
"What we know from our own research in Northern Ireland is that if we deal with that issue of respecting those who are different, understanding the other's culture, being comfortable and confident in our own identity then there is less likelihood of a violent outcome later on," said Ms Fitzpatrick.