Today we’ll tell you about the volunteer challenge in Romania.
The Ajungem Mari educational program emerged one year ago out of the wish to help children from foster care centers in Bucharest become responsible adults, self-sufficient and confident in their own strength. With long term educational programs suited to their needs, they can overcome the trauma of institutionalization or of life in broken and often abusive homes. This is the goal of the Ajungem Mari organization, whose name means ‘we’re growing up’. Iarina Stefanescu, founder of the program, told us about it:
“The program started after I had been involved in an English language program in social centers. I realized that two hours of education through play for children, with volunteers who encourage them interactively, meant a lot to them, providing them with knowledge and values.”
Iulia Blaga and Andreea Dumitru both volunteered for the program, but they were not content doing what they started, running cinema and creative writing workshops. They took the children to movies, visited museums and bookshops, planted flowers and painted, took them to the park, showed them a city that many of them had never had the opportunity to discover. In their opinion, one of the greatest problems of the system is the lack of motivation, both for children and for staff. Andreea Dumitru:
“The children are not motivated to take steps towards their future, maybe because they don’t have many alternatives at the center or even outside it. It is a known fact that, when they turn 18, they go into a total unknown. We, volunteers, are trying to show them that everyone has their own way to make it in life, that each of us had to choose their own path. I would like these children to understand that things are not predestined, that there are things outside these institutions, that they can develop outside the system. Sometimes we, volunteers, feel that we are just a drop in an ocean, and whatever we do with the children in one hour goes down the drain.”
Being a volunteer means having quite a few qualities. Perseverance is definitely one of them. Here is Iulia Blaga:
“You have a lot of work to do with them, but I feel they are very receptive. And I feel sometimes that they will forget tomorrow what you tell them today; but other times, I feel like what we tell them will stay with them forever. One day we showed them Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, they loved it, and one of the kids asked me: ‘Miss, were you there, in the movie?’ I didn’t know what to say, but I guess when you show them a movie, in their minds you were there, with Charlie Chaplin and the team.”
Here is what Andreea Dumitru told us:
“I agree, the biggest struggle is with this attitude that the staff passes on to the children: ‘You don’t know anything, you can’t do anything, you won’t manage to do anything in life’. I’m so happy every day when I see the smallest step in the opposite direction. I got very attached to some of the children at the center where I volunteer, but especially to a couple of children who can barely be said to have a family, and I want to work with them on a long term, I think it is the greatest challenge to work with children who are not given a single chance in the beginning, children that were said on the first day to have such a low IQ that they wouldn’t be able to do anything. Also, I want to take them as much as I can out of those centers, to see as many places as I can, to see them flourish. I’m sure they will flourish in a few years, and recover.”
Iulia Blaga agrees:
“Even the small steps with grammar can be seen as progress. If you correct them a few times, they get it. I’m trying to look at the small things that they do right. For instance, I do literacy with a boy, and I asked him to respect the time we set to meet, and I can see how he started keeping his promise. We went to the “Grigore Antipa” Natural History Museum, to a large bookshop, and when he saw so many people and books, he was scared and didn’t know how to react. He thought all the children were smarter, cuter, more loved and appreciated than he was. When I took him to the NexTKids International Film Festival, I noticed he was very good with his hands. An artist there was making little skirts from wire, like the characters in the movie, and he made one and gave it to me. I’m thinking I should help him develop this talent.”
Iarina Stefanescu, founder and manager of the educational program, told us:
“I’m thinking it would be useful, after we have got to know the children, through the ‘Pass On Your Passion’ volunteer project, to carry out some vocational training, helping us discover their vocation, their skills, help them on a long term. Next we should start implementing the ‘Dare Dream’ project, taking them to factories and company offices, have them talk to people from various environments. Most of the time, the children don’t have role models, and don’t know much about what a profession supposes, so it is natural for them to find it difficult to find their way. Which is why they need people to tell them that they also went through difficulties, but that they made it in the end.”
The good news is that this program will be expanding outside Bucharest. Timisoara, Iasi, Cluj and Buzau are the next cities where the volunteers in the program are going next.