The impact is obvious. This is the second year we have provided children with clothes and footwear. Together with the food coupons, I believe this was a great way to motivate parents to bring their children to gradinita.” Norbert Pleiner, Mayor of Tarnava
OvidiuRo staff first visited Tarnava in the spring of 2012 during discussions with the Sibiu County Council about scaling up Fiecare Copil in Gradinita (FCG). Tarnava was on the School Inspectorate’s list of poor communities and the school principal, Mr. Badulescu, was eager to meet the OvR team.
Forty-four percent of Tarnava’s 3000 inhabitants self-identified as Roma on the 2011 census. 160 families receive social aid, and 600 unemployed adults live on two streets separated by a valley. Most houses are one-room shacks serving as bedroom, kitchen, and living room for six or more people. Toilets (even outdoors) are rare. The parents subsist on social aid and occasional labour, collecting iron from the garbage dump on the way to Copsa Mica. Few people have deeds for their houses. According to the mediator, the residents had once owned land in open fields, but they sold it to pay off debts and the younger generations were gradually left owning nothing.
When FCG arrived, most of the preschool age children were not enrolled, and the older kids rarely attended.
In October 2013, when funding from the Sibiu County Council did not materialize, Keep Calling, an IT company based in Sibiu and Atlanta, Georgia, agreed to partially fund FCG scale-up in the county. The Tarnava mayor and school principal jumped at the offer. The ProTarnava Association, an NGO of local teachers, agreed to coordinate the program. At the end of October OvidiuRo trained the implementation team, and during the November school break, the school mediator and social worker went door to door to recruit children and make social inquiries. Thirty-six children were enrolled in the first month, a new classroom was set-up, and the principal convinced a retired teacher to return to the classroom – her salary paid by OvR for the 2013-2014 school year, and taken over by the Inspectorate in September 2014.
Forty-nine children were enrolled in November. From the first month, attendance was spectacular – 83% of the newly enrolled children came to gradinita daily.
But it was not all-smooth sailing. Over the course of the school year, the local team had to wage two battles: (1) to enroll all the other impoverished preschool age children and (2) to successfully integrate the sudden influx of severely disadvantaged children.
The first battle was won after the school mediator and OvR staff repeatedly met with the parents – the last five enrolments occurring in April 2014. Ultimately, only two out of the 69 eligible children remained unregistered. Ultimately, only two out of the 69 eligible children remained unregistered. The adaptation process took longer. Hygiene issues (particularly lice) and the FCG requirement of parental involvement created tensions with other parents and some teachers, as the ratio of severely disadvantaged children grew from 19% before the program to 54%.
In September 2014, the program was challenged by other tensions in the community. The school principal was replaced and the FCG local coordinator dropped out. Adding to the chaos, two of the four teachers were new in the kindergarten. It took some time until the groups were arranged and settled. One teacher quit after the first school day, but luckily, a replacement was found immediately.
Kindergarten attendance was close to zero in September, due to the rumor that one of the FCG children had AIDS. This put a lot of pressure on teachers, as parents were requesting their children be moved to other groups to avoid contact with the child suspected to be ill. Fortunately, the new teacher, Damaris, was enthusiastic about FCG and agreed to coordinate it.
The results speak for themselves: 67 impoverished children who had not previously set foot in a classroom are now coming regularly – and making visible progress from one week to the next.
Most importantly, after the first year of the program, the number of children enrolled in the primary school in Tarnava rose significantly, which the mayor believes is directly linked to the FCG program and its impact on parent attitudes and behavior.