Approximately half of the children in Romania are at risk of poverty or social exclusion – close to a double of the European average. Eight year-old Lorena Szasz in the city of Timoara was one of these children. Her mother, being the sole provider for Lorena and her two brothers, had no way to cover the rent with her minimum salary as a cleaner. The family was evicted from their home and found shelter in an abandoned house without running water, electricity or heating.
Lorena felt sad and anxious, afraid to lose her friends and being rejected by her peers. Her rising insecurity and fear of failure triggered a downward spiral, leading to declining school results. Her absence from school became more and more frequent, and eventually she was at risk of completely dropping out.
In March 2015, Lorena was included in the After School center organised by Save the Children and H&M Foundation. In addition to helping her with her homework, the center supported her with daily meals and school supplies. The After School Program was part of the three-year project initiated in 2014 by H&M Foundation and Save the Children in Romania, to improve access to education for vulnerable children in the country.
“At the After School center I can do my home-work. Here, no one is calling me a beggar.”Lorena Szasz
Gabriela Alexandrescu, CEO of Save the Children in Romania, says that the experts in the program helped the children on many levels, also including support for their parents. The support ranges from informing the parents of the importance of education to finding actual solutions to their often complex social problems.
Apart from the After School program, the project in Romania also included two-month Summer Kindergardens for children between four and seven years old, aimed to improve their school readiness.
“When they start mandatory school at age seven, many poor children come straight from their back yards without any preschool experience. This makes it hard for them to be integrated in school, and many of them don’t complete their education,” says Gabriela Alexandrescu, adding that her organisation has seen a better result than they expected from the three-year program with the H&M Foundation.
“The current president of Romania is a former teacher himself, so hopefully these results will help him in investing more into the future of our children,” she says. Slowly, Lorena has started to smile again, and she is no longer missing from school. While improving her school grades and attendance, she is also becoming more sociable and relaxed and has made new friends.
“I love to come to the center because here I can do my homework and play with other children. No one is screaming at me or calling me a beggar,” she says.