Certain beginning, direction and continuation

The Find your way to the world of work project is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Youth Employment.

The end of each project is the start of a new one. It’s sad when it ends without continuing as a service, because once the project finishes, the need that created it in the first place does not cease to exist” – this is how László Ludescher, department director of the organization Caritas Alba Iulia opened the Conference of Community Formers at Odorheiu Secuiesc on the 27th of April. The organizers named the event „Safe start – safe direction”, that playfully referred to the „Safe start for a safer future” and the „Find your way to the world of work” projects. Last Thursday we celebrated the successfully completed projects, or to be more exact, the projects that evolved into services.

András Nun, the leader of the Autonomia Foundation told us that presenting the activities, results and lessons learned from the two projects within a single event posed no particular problem, as both had underprivileged people as their target groups. The „Safe start for a safer future” program cares for families with 0- to 6-year-old children living in deep poverty; the „Find your way to the world of work” program aids young people between the ages of 15 and 29. András Nun grew up in the Roma slums of an Eastern Hungarian small town, Nyírbátor, as a person of Hungarian ethnicity. He’s seen poverty, misery, suffering and ostracization up close. Today, as the director of the foundation, he works together with many partner organizations, such as Caritas Alba Iulia, and helps underprivileged people in projects supported by Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Zsolt Őlvedi, the deputy mayor of Odorheiu Secuiesc, welcomed the crowd gathered, and expressed his gratitude towards social sector workers, and assured them of the city’s support.

From uncertainty to safety
The word „certain” appeared nine times in the speech’s preamble. It could even work as the motto of the event. Its frequency expresses our yearning for certainty, and the importance of this particular step in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The first steps of a journey are always uncertain for individuals and communities alike, but small accomplishments, support, and direct help (if needed) build trust. Orsolya Fülöp, vice director of Caritas Alba Iulia, gave a speech with the title „From uncertain steps towards certainty”. She accentuated the importance of supporting not only small children between the ages of 0 to 6, but their families and immediate environments, as well. Also, lending aid cannot stop at the first sign of success. Families require constant attention, – monitoring – because sometimes the child or family utilises the acquired knowledge, but their environment holds them back. Encouragement and well-timed intervention could be needed. We should never completely abandon these families because the healthy relationships formed can encourage the other members of the community to turn to us for help. The road to change and progress starts with unsure steps that gain confidence along the way.

Caritas tent in the slums of Cluj
How can we assess the needs of children that aren’t allowed to leave their parents’ line of sight? How can we help them catch up to other kids? We put up a tent in the middle of the poor district and taught the children there. The conditions were far from ideal, not only because of the lack of hygiene, but also because of the lack of an exemplary environment we could show to the kids. Nevertheless, we still started working, because this was the only way to win the parents’ trust” – told Júlia Adorján, psychologist and university professor and dr. Gabriella Tonk, psychology researcher and colleague of the Faculty of Sociology and Social Work at Babeș-Bolyai University, in their speech entitled „From being underprivileged to a full life”.

Safe Start House at Nyírmada
In the following presentation, the children’s house director, Andrea Buza, and her colleague, Istvánné Tóth described the first steps, struggles, successes, and results of the Safe Start Children’s House in Nyírmada. They told us how the impoverished families didn’t trust the washing machines in the Safe Start House at first. They were afraid to leave their clothes at the site, because they thought, they wouldn’t get them back. With time, they befriended the washing machines and the people working at the house, as well.

The target group of the Safe Start House were those underprivileged families that were raising 0- to 3-year-old children. The personal and social skills of young children are developed by playing games, so they don’t start kindergarten with a disadvantage. For example, they are taught hygiene standards, communication skills and they learn to accept instructions. The parents participate in thematic group activities such as cooking together, counselling, and family programmes, but they also receive help with computers and administration.

School reimagined
If we look back on the past years, it becomes clear that the Romanian education system has made little to no progress. Even in the cases where something did happen, it wasn’t sufficiently helpful to the teachers and students. But small changes do happen. They are born discreetly and silently, just like good deeds. One of the best examples is the Puskás Tivadar Vocational High School, where children enjoy talking to their teachers and the school director. The students genuinely enjoy going to school and trust the staff with their problems. Sounds like a utopia, but the story was told by the head director herself, Cristina Handâmbu, who was recently publicly recognised for her reforms at the educational system. One of the main principles of the Romanian teacher is that teachers should be partners and confidants of students besides being their educators. Thanks to her efforts, the vocational high school in Ditrău was moved to a new building and started operating according to western standards. Students also have the opportunity to undertake internships in Spain and Portugal. She finds assessing the personal skills of students and career guidance very important. This is why she collaborates with the „Find your way to the world of work” project of Caritas Alba Iulia. The mentors of the initiative guide young people towards the right career path with the help of individual and group activities. There was a student that skipped classes all day, but always returned for the career guidance activities. The students love to participate, because the mentors make every occasion special. This helps our work too, because when the pupils have worthwhile, meaningful activities at school, they are more likely to frequent actual classes.” Cristina Handâmbu learned Hungarian while working in a Hungarian community to express the importance of knowing other languages. She honored the participants of the conference with giving her presentation entirely in Hungarian. The audience expressed their respect towards her work and consideration with a minute long ovation.

Three minutes through the eyes of mentors
This was the title given to the mentors’ presentation. The first speaker was Hajnal Ambrus, who described the personalised methods learned and applied through the project. She mentioned the City Tour programme that helped young people living in rural areas or small towns develop their communication, navigation, and social skills through a series of fun tasks in an unfamiliar city. They had the chance to learn financial responsibility, time management skills and how to cooperate successfully. City Tour develops soft skills and paves the way to a successful future. We had a mentee that found a job after finishing her studies, but she couldn’t cook, because she grew up in a children’s home. One of our older volunteers was happy to teach her. They met once a week and prepared a meal. The girl was eager to learn and proudly told us how good she’s gotten at making crepes.

Next up were Alexandra Benedek, Éva Bojoievschi, Zsuzsa Szabó, Áron Székely and Norbert Tókos. They told us about the „Meet your future boss” event, where students could meet corporate representatives. They learned about how a company works and what workers have to do. At first time we noticed, that students didn’t have the courage or simply couldn’t ask questions, so we gave them a few pointers for the following occasions. Asking questions became a lot easier afterwards. Some found their calling during the event, and some were even offered jobs – explained Alexandra.

Mentors also provided extracurricular math, literature, and Romanian courses, so students could successfully graduate high school. After the exams, many students thanked me for believing in them” – said Éva.

Club activities included excursions, board games, bowling, folk dance, baking cookies for Christmas and a lot of other fun pastimes. Young people could also participate in career camps where they could try different trades and professions. Given the pleasant and informal atmosphere of the camp, the mentors gained the trust of young people quickly. Career guidance went a lot more smoothly too, as we learned from Zsuzsa’s report.

Áron presented the results of the past four years in numbers and highlighted that the forklift operator course was the most popular among boys, and the manicurist course among the girls.

Norbi shared his unique experiences, and later went on to lead the career guidance activity named „Rope Path” during the afternoon workshops.

Generational differences
Besides teachers and mentors, students are also helped by school psychologists and counsellors. Tünde Dimén Varga, psychologist at Móra Ferenc High School in Odorheiu Secuiesc and Lehel Asztalos, counsellor at Kós Károly Vocational High School talked about generational differences. They emphasized the importance of educators acknowledging the abilities of their students and accommodating to them adequately. They explained that Generation Z is unable to pay attention for fifty minutes straight. They tend to focus on more than one thing at the same time and switch the target of their attention quickly. This is understandable, of course, as they were born into the world of electronics.

Entrepreneurs and young people
The conference featured the perspective of professionals, mentors, educators and psychologists who work with underprivileged families and young people at civil organizations and partner institutions. Finally, the topic of young people and employment was covered by an entrepreneur. Tibor Bajkó, head director of the Tig-Rad construction company in Gheorgheni, presented the inner workings of Romanian enterprises to the public. The director gave the audience an insight in the thinking of company leaders and human resource managers. He also noted that in order to make it in this country, it is absolutely necessary to speak Romanian. He understands that young people migrate to other countries because of low wages, lack of challenges, a desire for adventure, or perhaps because of lack of necessary financial means and adequate knowledge. But he also noted that many of them return with extensive knowledge, experiences and material goods. He said he is always happy to see people returning from abroad founding companies, because they have original ideas, they provide products and services that are actually needed, and contribute to the well-being of the community.

During the afternoon workshops, people could participate in interactive career guidance games, which were led by Zsuzsa Szabó and Norbert Tókos. People could also participate in a brainstorming session with András Nun about creating generational opportunities and development. Ildikó Borbély, the professional coordinator of the „Safe start for a safer future” project conducted a workshop named „Tiptoeing”. Those who were interested, could join a conversation circle in the topic of „Safe start in the whorlpool of the social sphere” led by István Sándor (social and institutional facilitator), Mária Récsei (programme coordinator) and the coworkers of the United Networks project. The event was summarized by the speech of the department director, László Ludescher.

Article: Júlia Orbán
Translation: Zsuzsa Kertész

The Find your way to the world of work project is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Youth Employment.

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