Helping Disadvantaged Children in Bucharest, Romania
Project location: ROMANIA, Bucharest
Project start date: September 2016 - Project end date: September 2017
Project number: 2016-043
Beneficiary: Valentina Romania
VALENTINA ROMANIA is a Rumanian NGO dedicated to the poor children of Bucharest, living more specifically in the derelict FERENTARI district.
Initially created by French individuals to take care of the many orphans „discovered“ in Rumania in the late nineties, the association turned in 2002 to focusing on children living in BUCHAREST in hapless families and squalid environment (meaning a mix of broken families, early pregnancies, absent fathers, extreme poverty, squatting, ugly sanitary conditions, etc).
In 2006, it opened a day-centre, called CASA VALENTINA, located on the fringe of the Ferentari district, from where it has been deploying and consolidating its activities for 100 children and their families.
VALENTINA’s overarching objective is to help these destitute children towards a responsible future, through:
Education: the challenge is perseverance: poor families do not object in principle to schooling, but assiduousness is their last worry!
Alimentation: nutrition is a prime concern, i.e. making sure that the children get a mid-day meal (the only one of the day for some of them);
Health: occasional medical or specialised check-up and follow-up, visit to the in-house psychologist, education to hygiene and self-control;
Social integration: opening to outside world, professional and cultural.
This is achieved through 4 programmes “Kindergarten”, “After-school”, “Help to families”, “the Sewing workshop” described here below.
VALENTINA’s action rests on 5 facts or convictions:
- there are schools in the Ferentari district! The difficulty is getting the children taking advantage of them!
- Parents must remain co-responsible of their children’s education;
- Some balance may be brought back to the family through small improvements of the day-to-day life;
- “Casa Valentina”, the day-centre, is a place where the families can find and share comfort;
- Educating children and helping parents is a source of hope for all.
Two more statements make particular sense to VALENTINA:
- these children, in the heart of Bucharest, are and must realize they are young European citizens;
- in this action, salaried persons and free volunteers, from Rumania and out, develop everyday simultaneously solidarity and professionalism.
(1) The “Kindergarten” programme:
There are fine kindergartens (for the 4 to 6) in the FERENTARI district. But how to make sure that the children of poor families come and remain in them? It happens that some children are not even registered at birth or simply nobody takes care! VALENTINA sends 60 boys and girls (selected by our social workers in liaison with social services or the schools headmasters). The association monitors closely their attendance and behaviour in school and pays for their mid-day meal in the canteen and for little stationary.
This programme is truly essential because, particularly for these children, it is their first contact with the organised society!
(2) The “After-school” program:
This concerns 40 children (boys and girls) aged 7 to 16, who go to primary school/college (on a half-day basis, as per the current system official in Rumania). They spend the other half-day in “Casa Valentina” for a meal and after-school work (or the reverse), under the supervision of a professional team of social or pedagogical workers, assisted by voluntary helpers (retired persons or students) . They are proposed many other educational or playful activities. Yearly, a summer camp is also organised.
In complement, since 2017, the association has run for all 100 children medical controls on teeth and eyes – plus sessions of education to hygiene, where parents are invited too.
(3) Helping families to improve their housing conditions:
Their families’ living conditions are often a handicap for the children.
VALENTINA România helps the families renovating their homes. It provides the necessary supplies and invites the families to help each other.
These families – or what stands for it - are unable to meet any fee or expense for their children attending Casa Valentina but their contribution is expected in:
- volunteering for cleaning, little repairs or gardening in the centre,
- keeping “pressure” on their children to be assiduous (parents sign for it),
- participating to solidarity actions and accepting vocational training.
(4) The sewing workshop
A sewing work-shop (MIA for Mama In Actiune) has been installed in the basement of the Valentina centre; it may accommodate up to 10 trainees (mostly mothers of children in the care of the association). Some of them have now become proficient enough to produce articles which are sold via various channels.
The association subsidises regularly other professional trainings for jobs such as nurse, cook, etc.
Educating people durably out of poverty, over generations, is a difficult task. Its failures but also its successes can be measured through:
- the perseverance and success in school and the professional orientation of teenagers: more precisely, some 20 children join the programme Nr 1 each year while 20 older ones - i.e. exceptions are rare - join the primary school. Not all come to the day-centre, notably because they do not need it! In the day-centre, many children will come several years: there should remain something of it!
- the cooperation of parents, i.e. not only taking renewed interest in the performance of their children but also involving themselves in form of professional training and interacting solidarity,
- the share of support obtained in Rumania, be it media coverage or financial or other support from companies or individuals, thereby showing consciousness about the left out part of the society.
The main cost in education is time - as much as people with the right skills can give, by paid contract or freely. VALENTINA employs 9 persons (1 executive manager, 2 social workers, 2 educationists, 1 psychologist and 3 part-time staff). Moreover 2 persons are in charge of the sewing workshop (which generates sales) and the sewers are paid on part-time basis. VALENTINA is also helped, in many respects, by over 30 volunteers.
SOME ADVANTAGES OR DIFFICULTIES:
Location: the day-centre (the base for the staff and a second home for the children) is close to Ferentari, where the children live, and near the metro station convenient to staff and volunteers.
Place: the day-centre occupies a rented house, which has charm but is a bit small. Currently, the work-shop occupies the basement; this situation is unsatisfactory; the association is looking for an extension.
Reputation: the association is well recognised; coordination with municipal services is good (though no public financing of any sort). Thanks to many personal contacts, it gets effective support (in various forms) from many companies operating in Rumania.
Finances: thanks to efforts in many directions (fund-raising events in Rumania, visits to companies’ management and staff to promote tax deductible donations, regular communication to various philanthropic or corporate foundations, etc), VALENTINA has secured appropriate funding compared to its expenses which remain tightly controlled.
The major difficulty for VALENTINA is in the inhibitions of the parents and children, coming from generations in poverty or “tribal” traditions (remark: the concerned population is mainly but not exclusively Rom).
Another difficulty is particular to Romania and neighbouring European countries where skilled persons are in short number.
Last but not least: education is a long-term challenge – it takes years to raise children and, as they grow up, the needs change. In 2018, among 40 children attending the day-centre, 15 have been there for 2 to 4 years and 5 for 6 years and more. By age, they are 5 aged 7 to 9, 23 aged 10 to 12, 12 aged 13 to 17. It is satisfactory to see a large proportion of children keeping pace with the scholar cursus. Yet, nearly none will go higher up. The association is keen not to let them go “back to the street” and to arrange for their transition to vocational training, in liaison with the professional world.
It is not expected that poverty will disappear soon in the Ferentari district despite the general progress observed in Rumania. And VALENTINA‘s efforts for the very poor cannot produce spectacular changes. However, it may be said that, thanks to all its sponsors and benefactors, internal progress has indeed been achieved:
- more professionalism of the educating team and better monitoring and management procedures, which translate into children’s higher confidence in their future;
- improved communication to various entities in Rumania (notably large employers) which integrate VALENTINA as a partner in Corporate Social Responsibility.