The following article was published in the monthly newsletter, sent by the French bank BRD to its employees in Romania. BRD is a Major Investor in Fiecare Copil in Scoala donating 25,000 euros a year and partnering in various projects with OvidiuRo.
“The children growing up in villages and decaying blocs across Romania are the future – either the future middle class or the future “problem class”. We have a choice – to ignore them and reap the negative consequences of increased unemployment and crime or nurture their social and intellectual development so they are prepared to contribute to society, rather than only to take from it.”
Leslie Hawke is American and she came to Romania in 2000, as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Since then, she has been actively involved in fighting poverty.
Together with teacher Maria Gheorghiu, she founded OvidiuRo in 2004 – their goal was to get every child in kindergarten and school.
OvidiuRo is one of the NGOs we have been supporting for years, through the salary donation program called “Change a destiny. Make a life worthwhile”.
We spoke with Leslie about the OvidiuRo programs and her motivation to fight for getting Romania’s poorest children in school.
Why is early education so important to fight poverty?
There is a huge body of international research that shows that early sensory and mental deprivation result in major learning disabilities. In other words, the environment children live in for their first 5 years affects their ability to function successfully for the rest of their lives. So if you want to prepare children from impoverished families to reach their human potential you HAVE to intervene when they are very young. If you wanted to increase the number of people on welfare and in prison, you would do EXACTLY what Romania does now – completely ignore them until they are six or seven. And then, since they are already behind their better off peers, stick them in the back of the class and continue to ignore them. You are guaranteed that a large percentage will drop out of school before they can read, write and do simple math.
What results make you the proudest?
Seeing children, children who live in tiny shacks or ugly, rundown tenements without any sanitation facilities, sitting raptly listening to a story their kindergarten teacher is reading to them from a big oversized story book. It brings tears to my eyes, every single time. Children are sponges at that age. And the critical question is, are they absorbing good values and skills or is their brain drying up from lack of sustenance? Are they learning that what they think and feel has value, or are they learning that nobody cares what they think? When I observe the minds and hearts of these children being opened up and stretched, it makes my own heart swell.
How have you convinced so many public people to help?
There is something that I think public relations specialists sometimes forget. The easiest thing to promote is the truth. Initially I was able to get attention on this subject because people had heard of my son. That opened doors – but it was the truth of the message that we were sending – that “Scoala te face mare” (“School makes you big”) that got us their respect and involvement. Most of the public people we have worked with are parents of young children themselves – they know how difficult it is to be a good parent when you have ALL the advantages on your side, and they have compassion for parents who are struggling to even put bread on the table for their children.
What motivates you to continue?
Believing in what you are doing is a huge motivator, and I believe what OvidiuRo is doing – helping give poor children an adequate education – is tremendously important. There seem to be a lot of people who want to help “gifted” children, but there is not much attention or resources being spent on helping “ordinary” children reach their potential. It is the ordinary people who make up the character and the fortune of a country. The children growing up in villages and decaying blocs across Romania are the future – either the future middle class or the future “problem class”. We have a choice – to ignore them and reap the negative consequences of increased unemployment and crime or nurture their social and intellectual development so they are prepared to contribute to society, rather than only to take from it.
When I get discouraged by the scale of the challenge, or the indifference of voters, or the inattention of the powerful, I think about the bright eyed children in Araci proudly showing their drawings, and I have to smile. My own grandchildren will get a good education regardless of whether I’m there to praise their paintings.
1350 BRD employees are financing “Every child in school program” through our internal payroll giving program “Change a destiny”. Also last Christmas, around 300 BRD employees were Santa Claus for children from OvidiuRo programs. We will continue our partnership this year for Every child in kindergarten. Why do you think our colleagues should continue to make monthly donations and be involved in this program?
I strongly believe that young professionals are the HOPE of this country. They are able to understand the crucial effect education has for the future not only of individual children but of the whole country. They also have the means to address the issue (donations, public awareness, personal involvement, volunteering). Young professionals are ambitious and enthusiastic and this is what it takes to make a change.
For the original version of the article click here