What happened to the children of Romania after the media spotlight faded?
Over the last 20 years, AMURT and AMURTEL have run two family-style children’s homes in Domnesti and Panatau that provided a loving and healthy alternative to the massive, overcrowded and neglectful communist institutions. Since the end of 2008 we have set up transitional apartments for the children, now grown up, so they can lead independent lives. AMURTEL still has a group of 7 smaller children that arrived in 2001 from the maternity ward where they had been abandoned at birth. The youngest is 11 years old, so AMURTEL will provide care for them for at least another 7 years.
AMURT: Transitional Program for Homeless Youth
In the meantime, building on the experience of transitioning young people towards social integration, AMURT opened a new project, in partnership with the local government, to address the needs of homeless youth. Very few NGOs have taken on this particularly challenging target group – and even fewer programs have been successful in helping them leave the streets and integrate into society. The young men, aged between 18 and 26 years, start learning basic life skills such as cooking, cleaning, and shopping while living together in AMURT’s residential center in Domnesti.
Many homeless youth, especially those who were residents in the state homes or in a tense, dysfunctional family, didn’t learn basic skills that most adults, and even other youth, take for granted. They have not vacuumed, ironed a shirt, cooked a meal, balanced an account, kept a job, or solved an argument through compromise, so life skills training plays an important role in this project. They also receive individual and group counseling sessions, and learn to identify their talents, potentials and interests. They are supported in receiving vocational training according to the demand of the local labor market, and in finding and maintaining jobs. As they progress towards autonomy, they shift to the transitional social apartment in Bucharest where they begin paying bills and maintaining themselves with much less supervision. So far, out of 18 beneficiaries, 14 have completed the program. The dropout rate has been exceptionally low, which is a real success for this type of program that typically experiences a 60% dropout rate.
Recently six of the youth successfully completed a vocational training certification in construction and renovation, enabling them to seek employment in any EU country.
AMURTEL: Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities
In addition to the children’s homes, AMURTEL has also been managing 2 kindergartens in Bucharest that pioneered the concept of “inclusive education” – integrating children with special needs into a normal kindergarten environment instead of segregating them into special institutions. Children with disabilities had been severely marginalized during the Communist period. Parents of such children were pressured to abandon them to institutions for the “Irrecoverables”, in which conditions were inhumane, hidden from the public eye in remote rural areas.
The AMURTEL kindergartens use the creative, holistic and progressive model of Neohumanist Education, which is currently being accredited as a nationally recognized educational alternative in Romania.
AMURTEL: Fountain of Hope After-School Center
In 2007 AMURTEL opened an after-school center in the village of Panatau which provides homework support and hot meals to 23 local primary schoolchildren at risk of dropping out. Many of these children are raised by parents who abandoned of education at an early age and are unable to provide their children with the support they need to stay in school.
Though Romania is a member of the EU, its rural areas are still undeprivileged. Some of the children walk more than an hour to school on an empty stomach, which affects their ability to concentrate properly in class. The Fountain of Hope program aims to break this vicious cycle of poverty through supporting these children to stay in school. So far all of the beneficiaries have increased their school attendance by 90%.
In addition, AMURTEL organized a special intensive summer camp with children from Familia AMURTEL and Fountain of Hope. A trainer from Outward Bound led them through various challenging experiences, and they had the opportunity to plan a budget and buy their own school supplies!