BUILDING THE COMMUNITY OF ACTIVISTS IN BUCHAREST AND PIETRIȘU (August 2017 – April 2018)
As early as 2015, with the implementation of Building the Community at Valea Corbului project, the work of locals and volunteers started to pay off. In a remote Roma village in Argeș county, faced with extreme poverty, the lack of opportunities and difficult access to resources were triggering problems in education. With our project, 50 children were supported do develop through workshops, a trip to museums in Bucharest and, knowing that the power of example is the most effective, 2 adults re-enrolled in school.
In this context, the idea of a community that is not limited to its borders and is able to regenerate constantly, came naturally. And, because paving a better future in disadvantaged communities means engaging locals who are determined to change something, we set out to find them and offer them the opportunity to be formed as young activists this time, in Pietrișu, Giurgiu.
The most important stake in the campaign is precisely preparing a new generation of engaged young people, sensitive to social differences and marginalization, who will continue as active citizens, fighting by our side against inequities in education and society at large.
THE GOAL OF THE PROJECT
Building the Community of Activists wishes to capacitate teenagers and young adults in Bucharest and in the very poor, rural, predominantly Roma community of Pietrișu, Giurgiu county, to build a community of active and motivated citizens who can access their rights and organize as initiative groups, thus contributing to their and other members of the community’s empowerment and engagement.
In Pietrișu, participants will gain the resources and know-how to mobilize the community and the skills to start a dialogue with decision-makers and directly address the needs they are confronting with. To do this, they will be capable of mobilizing people in the village who could act as resources for resolving the need.
In Bucharest, the teenagers and young adults will have gained an in-depth perspective on the realities that people their age face in rural areas, on systemic difficulties as well as on the possibility to research a community and take the steps needed to contribute to its well being. Apart from this, they will be trained in carrying out advocacy campaigns, in order to also learn to address problems on a larger scale.
THE CAMP IN PIETRIȘU
The first main activity of the project took place between August 4 and 11, 2017, when a group of young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods in Bucharest joined adolescents from Pietrișu in a camp that turned them into activists for their communities.
The camp had everything, from a door-to-door research of the community, to organizing a debate of national interest on education and a visit to the most important public institutions of the country!
Grassroots Debate on Free Education
The highlight of the camp in Pietrișu was the event organized on Monday, August 7, 2017: an open debate among young activists, representatives from the community and local authorities, NGOs, ministries, embassies and others. The opinions and arguments focused around the premise according to which education is free for children in Romania.
Information was correlated with the fact that our country has one of the highest school drop out and early school leaving rates and with national and international test results. At the root of these problems is being poverty and the poorly managed or lacking public funding in the educational system.
Participants represented several categories of actors in education, from public institutions (National Agency for Roma, Romanian Agency for Quality Assurance on Pre-university Education), to decision makers (senators, local councilors), nongovernmental associations and organizations, professors, parents and pupils from the community of Pietrișu and Bucharest, school principals and even the business environment in Romania.
The conclusions of the debate, despite coming as a surprise, reflect a reality that isn’t always visible, especially to decision makers:
- Education fails, in fact, to be free
- Not all children are equal, on account of their abilities, social status, ethnicity, location etc.)
- “Equity in education” remains a slogan and nothing else, just like “inclusive education”
- Quality in education is expensive, and in poor communities it is proportionate to the small budget received. The Ministry of Education allocates money to schools by a discriminatory standard that is in favor of urban schools with good results, in the disadvantage of rural, remote, poor schools, with high attendance, school drop-out and non-specialized teachers
- Children are treated differently, on various criteria (mainly the economic and social status of the family), starting at kindergarten. This only becomes more serious as the child grows up and is inevitably transmitted to the next generation, thus feeding the cycle of poverty and marginalization
- Competency is not a selection criterion in education or society; biased criteria dictate performance and corresponding awards
- School drop out and the educational system’s failure are first of all caused by poverty. The other contributing factors are implicit and difficult – yet not impossible – to combat. In this context, the child’s resilience is the key to his success.
- Poor children and parents, Roma, disabled children do want to go to school, but the school as institution appears to not want them.
- Whenever institutions blame the state of things on “a lack of money in the state budget,” parents and pupils have to persevere. Where there’s a (political) will, there’s a way, and money can be reallocated. Current state measures that are unrelated to the “main beneficiaries” of the now void slogan “student-based education” are quite often contrary to the child’s best interest.
We think that change is dependent on the institutional/constitutional recognition of the previous facts and that they affect us all. Only then can we start building in an effective manner, on the long term and on a national scale, combating hypocrisy, corruption and incompetence that are doubled by the leaders’complicity and the impoverished population’s apathy.
More about the debate here. Also, for a taste of the atmosphere, we invite you to watch the time lapse below with English subtitles.
The Analysis of the Community of Pietrișu
Throughout the week spent in camp, the 30 young activists self-organized in teams and went on a door-to-door research of the community. They asked locals about what problems their community faces, applying both qualitative and quantitative methods: a questionnaire, in-depth interviews, document analysis and direct observation.
The main goal was creating a profile of the village and its community, which helped the young activists debate their problems, the solutions identified by the community and, by the end of the camp, draw a synthesis of the events.
We Conquered the Presidency, Parliament and Government
On Friday, as the camp was coming to an end, the young activists packed their tents and their luggage, rolled the banners bearing the needs identified and set off to Bucharest, in order to visit and conquer the three institutions leading the country!
After an eventful August followed new and exciting activities. We came back to Pietrișu with donations and had a new meeting with participants. They decided to be #activists for equity and together we drew the directions for further actions together and made wished for the following school year.
At the end of the month we took part as civic group in the Fair of Civic Initiatives organized by CeRe. We got to know other community organizing groups and presented the public with the needs of youngsters in Pietrișu and about the School after School Program.
Come October, we applied to an open call for projects and won! We could, thus, organize a programming event, under the Meet and Code umbrella. Our event had the older participants, pupils in the 12th grade, facilitate a coding workshop for the younger children from Pietrișu and Bucharest. They developed team work and coding skills on the CodeMonkey platform during our event entitled Pass IT On.
October ended with a surprise for the group members from Găujani, secondary school students in the 7th grade, whom we payed a visit to, together with our friends from VR Voyagers, who brought a lot of cheer and virtual reality headsets. Everybody was super happy!
Meanwhile, we started a personal development group with Roxana Geru and Diana Radu, meant to increase participants’ self esteem and self worth. The meetings will last up until the end of the first school semester and will be followed by sessions of career counselling.
November brought the group workshops of project writing with Laura Marin. Three meetings so far helped draw a out a project that the group wishes to apply with in an open call for community projects.
But the year isn’t over just yet! There are still many things to do, and the holidays are just around the corner.
Text by Oana Barbonie and Marina Țupran, pictures by Tiberiu-Mihail Cimpoeru, Oana Barbonie and Constantin Radu Vasile.
Project developed between August 2017 – April 2018, developed with support from our sponsors and our partners:
Datini Educație Cultură Găujani Association, the School in Găujani, „EasyEco” Association (Ferentari)
Thank you for making the dreams of 30 young activists come true. From now on, they will be the voice of their communities.