When I came to Romania with the Peace Corps in 2000, I quickly became aware that many poor children did not attend school, dooming them to repeat the cycle of poverty. With Gabi Achihai and Maria Gheorghiu, who shared my determination to address this injustice, we approached the problem by starting a program to help older age kids catch up with missed years of education as well as a job-training and support program for their mothers (modeled after the Doe Fund’s) Ready, Willing & Able program in New York City).
Over our first decade of working with poor families it became clear that disadvantaged children who start school earlier, do better – and stay in school much longer than their peers who enter the system later.
Today, that is our single goal: to get every poor child in Romania into the education system at the same age that most children from middle class families enter the system: between 3 and 5.
Most impoverished parents, regardless of their ethnicity, are not aware of the critical importance of early education. It is not hard to convince them to register their young children for kindergarten – when you offer a warm smile, a pair of shoes, a clean set of clothes, and a snack. But day in and day out, other more immediate issues, like hauling water and scrounging up 1 $ for a loaf of bread, take precedence over their long-term aspirations for their kids. IT IS HARD TO KEEP POOR CHILDREN COMING TO SCHOOL EVERY DAY FOR THE WHOLE LONG WINTER.
For years now, we have seen the profound difference that material incentives make to the school attendance of these children. In the beginning we furnished incentives in the form of Unilever donations for the mothers. Today, as we prepare this strategy to “scale up”, we tie food coupons (“tichete social”) to these children’s regular attendance. Yes, 12 euros a month (about $15) in food coupons works wonders, motivating parents to get their children to school every day, even when the weather is cold and windy and wet!
Please contribute to raising the education level in Romania. Your financial contribution will help us to bring early education to more and more children – and to work toward changing the system so that all poor children have a chance to escape the cycle of poverty into which they were born.
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