Six months ago we opened a Mother & Baby Unit and Nursery, 200 hundred meters from Pata Rat Dump in Cluj. We also started a feeding programme, emergency medical intervention and support, as well as reintegration (into school) for older children. Our visit to the project last week gave us a great feeling of hope, having seen such dramatic changes in what initially felt like a hopeless situation.
These outstanding improvements are clearly down to our incredible Romanian team and our partners Fundatia Dezvoltarea Popoarelor (FDP). Two Psychologists, two Social Workers and two Pediatric Doctors are now working at the mobile unit
We deliver morning and afternoon sessions in education, sport, play, socialization and nutrition. But one of the biggest changes, since our last visit, has been the long awaited introduction of showers and hygiene education. Being able to keep themselves clean and have fresh clothes has given the children back their pride and confidence.
Although in general our nursery projects are for babies and preschoolers (0-6), many of the children from the dump have never been to school, so we care for children as old as 12 in our ‘nursery’. Ideally we want them to be going to school, and in preparation for this next step, we have been teaching them basic skills like holding a pen, washing, getting dressed and eating… and it has paid off! The UNDP (ADS) are now able to reintegrate 12 of our children from the dump into full-time main stream school and aim to do the same for the remaining over 6 yr. olds, so that they also gain experience of the outside world. As it is too late to reintegrate many of the older children into the appropriate school year, we are finding them alternative activities to scavenging. One is the Second Chance School, another is engaging them in sport projects, as well as frequent trips into town so that they can see a world beyond the rubbish dump.
Much to our disappointment the rubble that was being dumped outside the nursery at night has almost tripled in size, greatly decreasing our space for outside play. We have saved what little we could by building a green fence around the remaining space. Surrounded by rubble, this small garden is loved by the children. It may be the world’s smallest football pitch but it is certainly one of the happiest.
The highlight of our visit was a trip to Cluj Arena stadium with the kids, which they, and the staff, enjoyed tremendously. Roma children in Romania are commonly treated with great hostility, which contributes to their social exclusion. But the staff at the stadium were more than willing for the kids to have a run around and explore. In future we hope to focus more on sport and organized physical activity, as it was so popular.
Anca Simu, the coordinator at FDP, told us ‘The children in the dump are special: they laugh, they are curious, they want to learn from each person who spends time with them, they play as no other children do, alive with spirit. Their souls are pure, and their hearts are open. They teach us more than we can imagine. They make us want to be better people and their beauty makes us return everyday to them and try to do more. They embrace Small Steps Project because of the warmth and humanity they find every morning when they come to the activities, and the safety they feel around the SSP team’.
Worryingly, a cold Romanian Winter is just around the corner. The centre is warm, but unfortunately the houses, built from scavenged wood and cardboard, are not. With our upcoming Celebrity Shoe Auction, we are hoping that everyone will bid high, so that we can ensure a positive Christmas for the children on the dump. The money raised from these shoes will enable us to change these children’s futures.