Ferentari, Bucharest’s poorest and most problematic district, is famous for the incidence of domestic violence, prostitution, drug consumption and trafficking, poverty and illiteracy. You may wonder what the chances are for the kids born and raised in this neighbourhood to have a normal life. Several social projects have been initiated, to help the ethnic Roma kids and adults alike in this neighbourhood.
Ionuţ Oprea is an actor. Six years ago he volunteered to give acting lessons at the Alternative Education Club, a program run by the NGO called Policy Center for Roma and Minorities. The club was created for the children facing risk situations who are living in ghetto conditions in Ferentari district. It was simply by chance that Ionuţ Oprea came to be part of this program, and, in time, he managed to overcome cultural differences and get closer to these kids, for whom theatre has become a form of therapy.
Ionuţ Oprea: “I came to the club with my own set of values, my knowledge and my education, and I discovered that for those people my values did not matter. These people’s world is a little upside down. In my social and cultural milieu, education is regarded as something natural, a good thing that helps one develop. But here, in this community, I had a really hard time trying to convince both the kids and their parents that education could be a solution, a way out of their difficulties. Honestly, I am not sure that I have managed to do this. All I can do is show up at the club every day and tell them the same things over and over again. Nobody can guarantee that I will succeed or that I will be able to change anything at all.”
Nevertheless, Ionuţ Oprea’s work has started to bear fruit, and his efforts are now getting confirmation:
Ionuţ Oprea: “One of my greatest achievements is the case of Nicoleta. From the very beginning I noticed in her a different attitude towards life and even towards my work and myself, and that made me believe she could be a leader. I could see how the others related to her and how she related to them. I have the greatest expectations and hopes from her, she started to write, she is getting informed, she is composing music and has already started to write a theatre play. And she is just one example. There are other kids in the troupe that are now starting to discover certain skills and find their place within the troupe, after several years of work. One of them acts as a technical director, another one is in charge of the posters and image, one is responsible for maintaining discipline at rehearsals. All of them are discovering their roles within the troupe. And this encourages me to go ahead with the project.”
Nicoleta Ghiţă, one of the promising young girls in the troupe coordinated by Ionuţ Oprea, is 18, and she had already started taking acting classes when Ionuţ joined the project in Ferentari district. As I child she felt that theatre was her passion and she proved her talent on several occasions. She has experienced some very difficult moments in her childhood and has had a job ever since she was 15:
Nicoleta Ghiţă: “I can now say that I feel accomplished, because I have evolved quite a lot. I have grown from a nasty child who didn’t like anybody and whom nobody liked, into a friendly person who can make friends and acquaintances easily. I have come to like people! And that is quite a change for me. When I see that Ionuţ is proud of me, I also feel proud. For 3 or 4 months he kept insisting that I should take up storytelling and eventually I did that. And I realized that THAT was the thing for me, that I could best express myself by means of storytelling. I am also passionate about music and I would like to study both music and theatre.”
Daniela Vlăsceanu is 34 and she has 3 kids. She was born and raised in Ferentari district. For more than 8 years she has been involved in helping people in need, and in June 2016 she contributed to the setting up of a community centre in the neighbourhood. She organises recreational activities with children, she helps them with their homework, organises parties and collects donations. Now she wants to collect money to take the kids to summer camp. She works with around 25 children aged between 6 and 12, and she plans to get them through high school and even faculty.
The community centre is also open for adults. Many of them don’t even have ID papers. Some of them have kids who are on drugs. But their main problem is, of course, poverty:
Daniela Vlăsceanu: “Due to poverty, they cannot pay health insurance, cannot go to a doctor or to hospital. They have no income whatsoever and many of them are sick. I have not changed and I will not be able to change Ferentari district entirely. But each and every one of us can make a small contribution. Thanks to our efforts, 5 old people now receive food once a week with the support of another organization. Helping them with food or with identity papers is really something, because ID papers can help them apply for medical assistance or for a pension.”
Daniela also told us that, as of late, several NGOs have been running various projects in Ferentari district dealing in drug abuse counselling and help for obtaining ID papers. But what would Ferentari district need for a major facelift?
Daniela Vlăsceanu: “Well, I don’t know where to start. First of all, jobs for the people in the neighbourhood, and new schools, because the existing ones are all run-down. The district also needs better trained teachers, because the children in Ferentari don’t learn much in school. And obviously, healthcare units. A hospital would be great, but that is wishful thinking.”