– An unique approach on reducing poverty, improving education & development of children –
An integrated intervention and a long term vision for change
In Romania, almost half of the children live in poverty and are on the brink of social exclusion. Every year, tens of thousands of children drop out of school before they learn how to read or write, before they even have a chance of dreaming of one day becoming succesful adults and lead a proper life. United Way’s mission is to break the poverty circle and create positive and permanent change and improve children’s lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities, by forging unlikely partnerships, finding new solutions to old problems and mobilizing the best resources. In our mission to create meaningful impact, we don’t just offer band-aid solutions, but we focus on changing the entire environment that surrounds the child. We come up with solutions and resources for the entire community and nurture the relationship circle of family – school – community, engaging every actor within it and putting the child at the core of it.
Covering basic needs, social and financial inclusion
Regardless of how smart or willing a child is, he cannot focus on going to school and learn when he’s hungry and doesn’t have anything to eat at school or at home, when he’s cold and doesn’t have clothes or shoes or when he has to stay at home to take care of his brothers or sisters, sick parents or sometimes even work to survive. And, most of the times, their parents or families cannot afford the luxury of school and education when they cannot find jobs and don’t have money for food, shelter and other basic needs.
That is why, in developing our programme we make sure that every child enrolled has a hot meal every day, clothes and access to health products, services and school supplies. And beyond that, we make sure that when he goes home he can focus on his homework and is well taken care of and that he is not invisible and has an identity, as sometimes children and even their parents don’t have identity cards or birth certificates.
Family inclusion, parental involvement, education and guidance
Poverty isn’t just a lack of money, but it goes well beyond that, becoming a continuous lack of chances, of resources, a perpetuated mentality. Within our programme, we underline the importance of supporting the parents in raising their children, not only through financial help, but by providing parental education and promoting a new kind of relationship that would nurture the child’s development. One of these endeavors is the Parents’ Academy and handbook. Designed by an expert in education, the aim of the initiative is to provide a proper knowledge and tools for parents to understand a child’s needs, both at school and at home. Thus, we have trained our teams in the centers to become parental educators and offered a platform of mutual learning and understanding. Within every session, parents learn about anger and stress management, how to understand and respond to their children needs, how to better get involved in their development and how to continue the education and guidance children receive at school and at the centers. After one year and a full course, the Academy has become a place where parents not only learn, but already exchange best practices and developments in the relationship with their children and with the school as well, and, in Bucovăț center, the parents have already asked to extend the sessions from once a week to twice a week.
Engaging and improving the system – Teachers’ Academy and Handbook & school mediators
The Romanian education system, while offering theoretical knowledge, is seriously lacking in providing and equipping both children and teachers with real life abilities that are mandatory for a normal development for the most vulnerable categories within the society. Thus, one of our main objectives within the programme is to improve the relationship between the school, the children and the parents and to come up with solutions to long term challenges. In this regard, we are developing a curricula for teachers that will allow them to go beyond the surface, to understand different needs and how to address them. On the long term, our aim is to build a partnership with the public sector, through the education institutions and provide accreditation for the course in order to further stimulate the desire and the involvement of schools and teachers in assessing and providing adequate care and guidance for disadvantaged children and families.
Complementary to that, we have already provided workshops and training opportunities for educators, teachers and professors and we seek, with every activity, initiative or endeavor to underline the importance of collaboration and continuous learning for every actor involved in the education of the child. More so, we have provided trainings for people within communities on school mediation and we now have 30 individuals – school mediators – responsible for the relationship between families and schools, playing active roles in reducing the rate of school abandonment.
Paying it forward – Tutoring and Mentoring
An integrated approach means that every actor within the society brings their contribution whether they are at the giving or the receiving point of the programme. We are firm believers in the pay it forward method and the practice of giving back and sharing. Thus, every parent gets involved not only through the Academy’s session, but through other volunteer activities – from organizing extracurricular activities, to co-participating in workshops and other initiatives. One of the best examples is The Tournament of the 5 – a competition developed in Timisoara, where children, parents and school staff gather together, organize and participate in competitions – from sport activities to science fairs and contests.
The beneficiary children follow the same mission, as within the tutoring part of the programme older kids offer math, literature or science help to younger ones. This isn’t just a sporadic voluntary activity, but a long term commitment – over a period of at least six months elder students tutor younger ones, receive credits and bonus points and are rewarded with prizes. Irina is one of the tutors – she teaches her favorite subjects – from math to Romanian and, at the end of the school year, the bonus points and credits earned her a long desired bike.
But children also need role models to look up to and to learn from, beyond school and family. Following this idea, we have opened our doors and engaged outstanding professionals and members of the community – writers, experts, entrepreneurs and overall successful individuals. One of them is Irina Anca Muresanu – a young writer of children books who comes voluntarily almost every week at our centers in Timis county at the Book Club and teaches children critical thinking and creative writing.
A wholesome approach & non-formal activities – beyond the curricula
The world outside the school is full of challenges every day, for children, for teenagers and young adults. Beyond access to formal education, our aim is to equip the children with all the necessary tools and knowledge, to broaden their horizons and offer opportunities and alternatives that will eventually build strong characters and turn them into functional, responsible and integrated adults, leading a better life. That is why part of our programme focuses on non-formal extracurricular activities such as IT classes – from Robotics to games development and programming, to financial and entrepreneurial education, critical thinking, STEM education, story-telling, debates, arts, theater, good manners, human and children rights and anti-bullying awareness.
One of the best examples of the impact of non-formal activity is the development of The Forum Theatre – an initiative that started as a game but soon became a platform for antibulling awareness within schools.