In October 2019, at a football game in the school yard in Bucovăț, Timiș County, Cătălin, a fifth grader back then, broke his leg. After undertaking two surgeries in Timișoara and spending nearly nine months in bed, Cătălin returned to school this year. In his own words, he could no longer bear doing nothing and missed his classmates – especially Fernando and Mihaela, his best friends.

Laura is the single parent of Cătălin and two daughters: Ileana, who entered prep grade this year, and Monica, a fifth grader, as well as a child with SEN (Special Educational Needs), who has speech and memory deficiencies. They live in a small house, built with the help of Laura’s parents; in winter, its walls are addled with humidity and mold. All three children have asthma or breathing difficulties.

Cătălin’s accident increased the pressure put on Laura, beyond her preexistent daily problems. She had to find solutions to cover for his hospitalization expenses, as well as for taking the child to Timișoara and back and to spend time with him there, while also caring for the two girls.

There are 107 students at Cătălin’s school. Many of them are enrolled in the “Education, the core of community change” program that Ada Gabor, project coordinator, tells me about. “Our project started from the notion that the community has a great need for non-formal activities. But, what’s more, we also understood that it’s not just the children who face challenges and that they need the adults around them to overcome them. So, we don’t only work with children, but also with parents, teachers, volunteers, public authorities – wherever we have that chance – in order to ensure support for the children.

Our goal is to keep the kids in school. The classic approach is to help the child with their homework or keep them in an afterschool program, but it’s not enough. Once the child gets home, they encounter the problems there. The teachers in school might have no idea about the child’s problems back home. For instance, there’s one teacher who told me, after a workshop on vulnerable environments on children, ‘With all my 25 years of teaching experience, I’ve never thought about these aspects.’

We selected the villages in the program based on a few criteria. For instance, one was for them to have over 50 children from underprivileged environments. Then, the availability of the local school’s for getting involved in the project. We tried to reach a balance, to have someone outside the school and someone from within the school involved in the project. But different models are employed, based on the school’s profile. There are schools where they didn’t offer us any space to carry out our activities and the teachers didn’t want to get involved either.

The families are selected based on economic (income per family member) and social criteria (the number of people in each family, their habitation situation, their health condition, whether they suffer from any chronic illnesses, whether the parents are off working abroad, while the children are being cared for by the grandparents, etc.). Each situation is awarded a number of points and that’s the basis for our selection.

It’s important to us that the program beneficiaries also give something back, instead of just receiving. With the children, for instance, we run a tutoring program, where the older ones provide their knowledge to their younger schoolmates and learn that we give and receive, instead of just expecting to receive. We encourage the parents to become involved in the issues at the center – for instance, that they come in to lend a hand with gardening, renovation, cleaning or organizing the events.”

While Cătălin and his mates are in class, Andreea Iștoc, the Bucovăț program coordinator, together with Ms. Mia, a school employee and United Way collaborator, is preparing the materials for the activities the children will undertake. Once their regular classes are over, the kids gather outside, in the tents the school set up, so they can observe social distancing rules, and receive the warm meal the foundation provides to them on a daily basis. Then, they start the activities and have fun with their successes and mistakes, as they try to build paper characters. Two hours later, they disband, and Cătălin gets back home. He tells me he’s feeling happy for having spent yet another day with his friends.

*prenumele persoanelor fotografiate au fost schimbate, la cererea acestora, pentru a le proteja identitatea

Documentarea materialului a fost posibilă cu ajutorul Fundației United Way și cu sprijinul financiar al Fundației Globalworth

,,Educația, centrul schimbării în comunitate este unul dintre principalele programe de educație ale United Way România. Obiectivul său central este sprijinirea unui număr de 12 centre de zi înființate de United Way România, care funcționează ca hub-uri comunitare.

Beneficiind de finanțări oferite de Fundația Globalworth, programul previne abandonul școlar în comunitățile sărace urbane și rurale, unde nu educația copiilor este prioritatea, ci lupta zilnică pentru a găsi resurse necesare supraviețuirii. Are o abordare integrată, în cadrul căreia acțiunile sunt concentrate asupra nevoilor copilului. Părinți, profesori, voluntari și asociații nonguvernamentale locale lucrează împreună pentru rezolvarea problemei abandonului școlar, care nu este una a copilului, ci a întregii comunități.

În cele 12 centre comunitare din Urlați, Fundulea, Băicoi, Jilava, Pădureni, Cluj-Napoca (Pata-Rât), Timișoara (Școala  nr. 20) și 5 comune din jud. Timiș (Sânandrei, Mașloc, Carani, Șemlacu Mare și Bucovăț), 2.700 de copii, 2.160 de părinți și 540 de profesori sunt implicați, în cei 5 ani ai programului, în peste 1.700 de activități educaționale.