Educational situation of the children from the disadvantaged families in Săcele under the coronavirus lockdown and now
Situation regarding education under measures and lockdown imposed because of the coronavirus is dire. The schools have moved to online space and children and parents alike are struggling. The most affected are the children from disadvantaged families who have fewer resources to be able to participate in learning. That is the difficult situation in many places and for many Roma families. Săcele in Romania is no exception. NGO FAST Romania is working in this region and is facing the struggles of trying to help Roma families and children.
Interview with Ema Hristea from FAST Romania shines light on a challenging situation in the area of Săcele. FAST Romania with its project Windows to the Future is envisaged to be an exemplary Vocational Training Centre aimed to equip 350 disadvantaged children and youth with skills and confidence for a successful career.
Ema Hristea founded FAST Romania with her husband Daniel in 1998. They started volunteering and helping people immediately after they graduated high school and have been working in this field since then.
How the coronavirus affected the Roma people in Romania?
As everywhere, a lot of people were negatively impacted by the corona situation. Lots of people lost their jobs, lots of young people and although you can’t now see the results, they will struggle getting their food. Most people still have savings from their jobs, but slowly we will see the negative impact in these communities, as they lose jobs more. There is no market anymore, they can’t really find jobs anymore, they can’t travel to many places anymore. You can imagine this will have more and more negative effect on the families. They won’t be able to provide for their needs and it’s not going to be easy, they already struggle to have basic food from day to day.
How did this situation affect your work, your organization?
It’s already being hard for us, since the pandemic started, all the children had to stay home, schools have closed and because of that we don’t have projects anymore in the community. We couldn’t go to the community anymore and we aren’t able to help them as we used to. Because of the regulations that were imposed by the state and the safety measures, we haven’t had any activities in the villages where we used to have daily educational programs. And because our projects that we have in the village had to stop, FAST has been affected and we even had to place some people in unemployment.
We try to make our ends meet and bring money to our social enterprises and all of this had to stop because of the quarantine. For example, we weren’t able to continue our two main activities, furniture making and accommodation. These were the main projects that would bring us income and we could pay people to go to the villages and do the projects. But because everything had to stop, we were severely affected, as many other companies and foundations. Our whole staff is reduced to a half and some of the Roma, the young people we used to work with, can’t be paid.
What will happen to them now?
One opportunity came from this mess, we can help some of them to become self-employed and that’s much better for us as foundation. We don’t have to pay the salaries but at the same time, we can have them work for us and we pay them for a certain project. And at the same time, they can go and find jobs themselves. We are becoming like a platform of support for three of them who are now in unemployment. We can provide legal support for them and others – they don’t know how to do this by themselves, they need a lot of legal knowledge, how to keep the paperwork, receipts and all that. And we will be there for them until they learn how to do it for themselves. We consider this an opportunity, we don’t leave them, we support them to help themselves and bring income. They can offer different services, for example furniture making or work in construction.
Although no one really knows what will happen, is there some framework for what you can do in the future?
We don’t know what it will bring, we aren’t sure of anything, because we don’t know how the school will start again, if online or they will come back to the institutions. We have to wait until September to see how it will start and in what conditions we can go ahead with bringing some children to our educational center that we have in the village. For example, one idea for the summer is that, Alina, one of our Roma employees who is now unfortunately in unemployment, would like to do some outdoor activities with the children. That’s one thing she would like to revive again, bring in children in small groups, as long as good weather will allow it. In the autumn, we will have to see what the state and the ministry of education will decide and based on that, we will support her to have her own organizations. She and others will work themselves in the village with our support and still keep on going with the activities. At the moment, we are also working with the food bank, and they are giving us supplies. And that’s another thing we would like to do in the community, help families, provide them with food supplies under safe conditions.
How is the rising unemployment rate affecting the Roma from your point of view?
For example, they were able to do one day job and now they can’t. Even in the future, people will see that they are Roma and come from the village with lots of cases of corona and they wouldn’t want them to help with their house or else, because they would be scared they are infected. And also, lot of them were going to England or some other countries and now, they aren’t able to go anymore and provide more money for their families and that will increase crime as well, because they won’t have any money.
How is the state treating the Roma people under these conditions?
Many things happening are not right. One example, there was couple of cases of coronavirus in the village, but the regional health inspectors did not come there and inspect it to see who has it and who came in contact with them, no one really cared. You see on the news that they surveil who got in contact and they put people in quarantine as a result of what they found out. But in this village, no one wanted to help them and investigate what is happening. They go right into the other parts of Romania, but not here. I would say it’s discriminatory.
Can you see some positive outcomes of your work in this situation?
Yes, two of our people we are working with found better paid jobs. One of them is Roma and he got a well-paid jobs in mechanic shop nearby. We are happy because of this, young Roma man can provide for his family, that is great. It wouldn’t have happened if the people in the garage didn’t know us, otherwise the Roma wouldn’t have a chance to get hired. It’s a long road until we can see they support themselves. It’s what we wanted and it happened during this crisis and they come back to the community and they continue to make the change. Who else can help them better than Roma? When you see them in the community, going to their own and having the vision with continuing the educational programs, how they take the torch themselves and make a change, that’s one of the things that keep us going.
What about your projects, how are you going to continue them? For example I can be, where you help 10-14 years old children develop their skills in cognitive, socio-emotional and physical areas.
It had to stop at this moment and we will have to wait a little longer to see what will happen. But two of our Roma youngsters are working on a grant which will allow them to still go and be able to work in the Roma school in the autumn. We cannot pay them anymore, so they will have to do something to get the support and go back to school and continue the projects. I’m sure this project is one of them.
Did you get any help in your activities?
One thing that helped us a lot, we got a grant from ERSTE Foundation during the pandemic., It’s one of those things that kept FAST working. We could keep the Roma we are working with employed for one more month. Much needed help and in came at the right time.