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Our Romanian Partners
GLUE CLUBS and HIGH SCHOOL SCHOLARSHIPS
This is a report by our long serving Director
of Programmes, Julia Smyth, who retired a few years ago but recently kindly agreed to visit the projects in Romania - most of which
she had set up - and report on their progress.
Introduction and History
Over the years in reading FSC’s newsletters, I did not fully grasp the scope of this project. The impact did not really hit home. These projects are also sometimes called "Integrated Services for Children from Disadvantaged Areas of Bacau County" which though accurate is hardly inspiring. Apparently the "Glue.." title works well in Romanian.
In any event, whatever the titles, these projects are dynamic, effective and very impressive with far reaching results for many rural poor families and their children.
When I was working in these villages in the early 1990’s with the Mobile Health Centre, on the journeys back to Bacau, I was usually preoccupied with some ill old person or child, or thinking about drug supplies or vehicle breakdowns. Gabi Achihai on the other hand would very often talk about EDUCATION saying "These poor children have no hope, absolutely none, of improving things in the future if they do not get to high school. They have no education beyond the age of 14 years, there are no jobs and their parents are only interested in getting help in the fields". The problems seemed insurmountable. Little did I think back then that FSC could actually put together programmes that would make a dramatic difference to the opportunities and experiences for these rural children in areas with no resources or infrastructure.
In Godinesti there was a great lad of 14 called Costel who cheerfully used to help us set up the Mobile Health Centre, connect the gas, fetch water and suchlike. He was bored and there was nothing to do. One day when I said to the children "Where’s Costel to-day?" they replied "Oh, he’s gone to prison" and that was the last we ever saw or heard of him. He was a talented, quick, intelligent boy with a lovely sense of humour and one assumes that that was the end of any bright future for him.
From small beginnings
The first RFFR/FSC project that addressed, in a very small way, the issue of rural poverty was "Out of the Poverty Trap" which operated firstly in the large and remote village of Panu (called Slobozia Noa on the activity graph). With only a small budget the project provided chickens, goats, basic foodstuffs etc and some educational grants, school books or uniforms.
The first Summer School was a small affair in the school of this same village in Panu. But they did have one huge asset there. An enthusiastic head teacher who was dedicated to improving the lives of and opportunities for the children in his care. I remember meeting him myself many years ago when he showed us the meagre equipment in his school – some benches and a few books, it was very spartan. It was good to meet this inspiring man again when I visited the new Glue Club in Panu this September.
Next they started another small Summer School in Godinesti in the school building there. This eventually, but directly, led to the mayor of Vultureni applying for an EU ‘Structural Fund for Rural Development Romania’ grant to build a new children’s Day Centre in Godinesti for the FSC Glue Club to operate. FSC were the operating partners for the grant application to the EU.
When FSC were able to apply for larger grants from the National Lottery, EU, Norway etc, it was Gabi who early on introduced educational aspects to the project plans for rural development with Summer Schools in isolated villages. I feel that Gabi’s personal passion for education, together with FSC’s experience with street children and their in-depth knowledge of the lives of the rural poor have been directly responsible for the success of these "Glue Clubs" and the High School Scholarship programmes.
How many Glue Clubs Programmes are there now?
There are now eight Glue Clubs Programmes. Five in rural villages of Bacau County, one on the ground floor of the FSC office Mosaic building and one in a Bacau school, Domnita Maria, in their poor area of the town. There are 461 children aged 4 – 12 years regularly attending with 11 families receiving social care and counselling.
A new Club has recently opened in Letea Veche on the outskirts of Bacau at the request of the mayor. He had a grant to open a day centre but did not know how to go about it. FSC agreed to help him with the "Glue Club" model. The mayor covers the costs and FSC provided training, accreditation, ongoing supervision and reporting acting as an "umbrella" organisation to enable the mayor to operate the programme. This is another good example of FSC spreading seed projects to motivated personnel in other areas.
The buildings themselves have been variously funded: two with EU grants with FSC acting as partners, the one in Panu by OMV Petrom, an FSC donor, and two buildings are supplied by the local authorities on a free lease.
What happens in them?
Children in Romania attend school in one of two sessions, morning or afternoon. This means that they have a lot of free time when their parents may be at work or working on the land. The children attend the Glue Clubs either in the morning or afternoon for four hours when they are not in school and all day during the Summer School sessions. There are many activities including:
- Art, music, song and dance
- Handicrafts, origami, model making, contributing to FSC’s Mosaic programme with Christmas decorations etc
- Games and sports
- Computer and IT skills
- Some food is provided in the form of a nourishing snack meal
As well as all the activities in the Day Centres, there is an ongoing system of social support, counselling and problem solving. In the last year of secondary school children are advised about the scholarship to High School programme.
There are also special outings, seaside holidays and Santa Christmas campaigns whereby FSC fundraise to send presents with Santa to all the children and of course the marvellous Summer Schools. This year the Summer Schools operated in Rachitoasa, Motoseni, Podu Turcului, Godinesti, Panu, Dealu Morii, and Colonesti. Over 1300 children participated with the support of 107 volunteers, 50 of them from FSC and 57 from the UK. (see Volunteers Programme report for details and statistics).
The Project Coordinators
1. Danut Darie
2. Vivi Raba
The High School Scholarship Programme
If the ethos of the Glue Clubs programmes can be summed up as:
Early educational and practical intervention for poor, rural dwelling children
the High School Scholarship Programme can be summarised as:
Achieving long term results for them with continuing support
The High School Scholarship Programme started in 2008 and there are currently 107 children attending High School in Bacau who are supported by FSC. The Programme is a complex series of partnerships with:
- Local authorities
- Social Services
- The Roma Association
Many of the scholars in the scheme are referred from the Glue Clubs and Summer Schools but some are referred by Social Services and the Roma Association.
There is an allocated budget of 200lei (£40.00) per month for each child. During the assessment period
an agreement is set up with the families as to how much the family can contribute. FSC have found that if they insist on some contribution from the families, commitment and results are much better and they have stopped giving 100% funding. Every agreement is different and exceptions are sometimes made in dire circumstances.
Transport is mainly provided by the schools who will reimburse 8 bus tickets per term which is enough for the children to return home most week-ends.
There is a new trend in Romania for children to wear a simple school uniform. In many of the photos you may note that the children are looking smart which is a contrast from earlier pictures from Romania. But there is much handing down and re-cycling of uniforms by FSC and schools. As Vivi told me "The children should not have to wear their poverty as a badge".
The children mostly sleep in school dormitories but in some cases parents get together and rent rooms for several children which can be a cheaper option. FSC do not operate this arrangement as it involves minors living alone but they do provide advice, support and supervision.
Some remarkable results and success stories
In FSC’s accompanying report, Vivi has outlined five success stories. These include two former Glue Club and High School Scholarship beneficiaries who are now Educators with the Glue Clubs and the remarkable story of Sorin from a large Roma community, Corbasca near Stanisesti. Sorin was referred by the Roma Association. He has serious hearing impairment and showed only average results during his High School Scholarship years. Nevertheless, owing to a "Roma Access" scheme, he is now in his third year at Medical School studying to become a doctor. Adina is another former beneficiary now at Medical School with a grant obtained through FSC and the programme already boasts a qualified doctor and a vet.
My visits to the Glue Clubs
I visited the five rural Centres on a beautiful autumn day with the two Coordinators, Vivi and Danut.
Although the building is mighty grandiose compared to everything else in the village, it is a marvellous if underused facility with a good outdoor playground.
As in other EU funded buildings, some rooms are unused and were built for local doctors and priests or other plans that did not come to fruition. This is not FSC’s doing and they are extremely useful for the Summer Camps.
Attempts have been made here and in other centres to make the facilities available to the whole village but there has not been much interest. Culturally and historically the people are tied to the land with all the work that this entails. The Women’s Institute in Godinesti is just not going to happen anytime soon but FSC and centre staff continue to work on ideas.
The Godinesti centre is run by Mrs Taranu, wife of the mayor who obtained the EU grant, and Laura, an ex-beneficiary.
It serves many neighbouring and outlying villages.
Mrs Taranu reports that the project has definitely enabled more children to get to high school. She operates a reward system (e.g. computer time) to motivate children to work hard and says it has also made life much easier for parents with their children happily occupied for 4 hours a day.
Her main concern was about the future "I only hope we will continue for a long time to help these children and their families".
The Centre at Dealu Morii is run by Iulia full-time assisted by Oana part-time who also works as a Home Carer with FSC.
This is another EU funded building.
They have up to 35 children attending aged 3 – 14 years.
The staff outline the benefits to the children as:
- This is a real change for the poorest children, it brings so much variety, activity and stimulation into their lives
- The poorest children eat here and they often just don’t want to leave
- It offers them real support in their academic work and their own lives
- Social workers are able to intervene and offer support to families with significant problems
This was a very lively Centre with a good, informal atmosphere. The children were very playful and obviously very attached to the staff.
As at Godinesti, upstairs there were empty, unused rooms but, again, they are very much used during the Summer Camp weeks.
The club at Podu Turcului is very busy. They have two sessions of different children morning and afternoon. There were about 45 children playing, helping to make doughnuts and involved in many activities when I visited
It is managed by Camil Secara (below) full-time and two part-time staff one of whom is a cook/educator.
This club was opened in 2007. The buildings and grounds are supplied by the local mayor on a 25 year "free lease" agreement. The mayor also contributes to some utilities.
Camil is a psychologist and as well as all the normal activities he runs mini-educational projects with the children on such things as the universe and the human body. Camil says that homework always comes first. The interior of the building is attractively decorated throughout.
Camil is dynamic, creative and very involved in this project and the benefits to the children which he listed as:
- The club takes the children off the streets where they learn bad things
- Many children have very sad family situations, we enable them to forget this for a while
- They have access to a wide range of creative facilities which would be impossible at home
- The nourishing food we provide is important for poor families
- Ethnic background is not a problem, all children are treated the same and mix well
- It cures the shyness and isolation of withdrawn children
- Children who are behind at school get extra help
Camil made a point of emphasising "This is not an institution it is a home".
Problems and constraints
- The only problems I have are the ones we cannot solve! We solve many problems ourselves here on a daily basis. The main thing we cannot solve is having enough funding for the social grants to the poorest families in outlying villages.
- The playground gets flooded easily and we would really love a football field. We have the ground but it needs draining, clearing and turfing.
Fantanele (Comuna Motoseni)
Fantanele Centre has three staff, two are part time. It took two years to build from 2010 and was funded by the large Norwegian grant. The building was already part-built previously as collective farm offices but had never been completed.
It is run in partnership by the Motoseni Comuna and FSC. In fact the Mayor approached FSC in the first place asking for these services for the children.
They have an average of 50 – 60 children a day who were busy doing various handicrafts when we visited. They also do the usual theatre, dance, music and homework.
All school results are monitored and have shown 50% improvement since the children started attending.
The staff say that an after-school schedule helps the children enormously as they would otherwise have to help with chores and in the fields.
Problems and constraints: the staff listed these as
- The difficulties of working with children of 10 or 12 who cannot even master the alphabet
- Not enough staff to give all the children the extra help they need
- "Problem families"
The Club at Panu was the last we visited on a very busy day and they gave us a tremendous welcome with singing and dancing. It is a vibrant place, there were over 70 children and teenagers singing, dancing and making animals out of vegetables.
The remarkable lady on the left, Lenuta Iosif, runs the club. She is self-educated and graduated high school at the age of 45. She is pictured with her volunteer assistant who is the deaf boy Adrian A who tells his story in FSC’s project summary. He is a previous Glue Clubs and High School Grant beneficiary and FSC also helped him to obtain deaf-aids.
The headmaster of the school pictured on page 1 also helps at the club and was the "founding father" as he approached FSC all those years ago begging for help for his poor community.
The building ws funded by Petrom, FSC pay the salaries and the mayor pays the utilities.
Panu is a very large village and the most remote of all served by FSC. The Club boasts the only toilet or running water in the whole community. There are 200 children who benefit from the project and as many as 100 a day attend.
Lenuta Iosif told me… "this is a miracle compared to what life was like before for the children. Before they just used to hang around with nothing at all to do. It has been my passionate dream to find something here for these young people".
Problems and constraints
- Many children come from families with severe social problems
- Parents don’t understand the need for education but "I work with them"
New collaboration The Daniel Centre/Glue Clubs
As I was leaving Romania in September, FSC were about to embark upon a new collaboration with The Daniel Centre Bacau (who run a rehabilitation Day Centre for severely disabled children). The project is funded by a Swiss grant and will provide speech therapy, physiotherapy, parental teaching, guidance and ante-natal screening for children with disabilities at all of the Glue Clubs.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The growth of these projects from small beginnings back in 2006 in Panu is simply fantastic. That nearly 500 children are entertained, encouraged, taught and supported on a daily basis in such poor communities is a benefit that I could not have imagined materialising when I was working in Romania. Add to this the social support and grants for the poorest families, the wonderful summer schools, the new help for disabled children and their families and currently 107 children with high school grants and it amounts to a real chance for many, many children to escape from "the poverty trap" that we have talked about for years.
To think of a deaf child from a remote Roma community at his second year of medical school and a doctor already having qualified from this programme is inspirational. The calibre and dedication of all the staff I met was very high indeed – some immensely dedicated and devoted people.
Some of the buildings look incongruously out of place in these old villages but they are a wonderful, if sometimes underused resource. The empty computer rooms were a worry but the staff will continue to look at this problem and they are used by the children.
Podu Turcului: have a flooded outdoor playground (and I viewed it on a fine, dry day). They would also like a football pitch and have enough land. There is a building business tycoon in Podu Turcului who has bought the hospital and built his own gated community for his workers. I suggest FSC and the Mayor and Camil approach him about these problems and ask for his help.
The staff seemed very motivated, happy and well supported by FSC. My only recommendation would be more of the same if there were funds available!
I am sure FSC will continue to look, as in other projects, at the long-term possibility of local authorities taking over the salaries of these Glue Clubs Staff. For the moment, I am sure all benefit from FSC’s input and independence from the state.