July 12, 2011
British Council and Policy Center for Roma and Minorities organized in Bucharest, between 2-9 July, an international exchange programme that included representatives from several non-governmental organizations in Oxford (Great Britain) and Göteborg (Sweden). The meeting aimed to introduce the participants to the problems the Roma communities from Bucharest and its surroundings are facing and to offer a wide view upon the social inclusion practices developed in Romania for this minority, with an emphasis on educational projects. At the same time, the exchange wanted to identify collaboration opportunities between civil society organizations in Great Britain, Sweden and Romania.
“The exchange is part of the Active Citizens project we developed for a year in the multiethnic community in Ferentari, in partnership with Policy Center for Roma and Minorities. We wanted to identify resource-persons in the community who have credibility and visibility and can be models of active citizens, and who can motivate and mobilise other members of the community. These persons were prepared through a training course and then they were offered the chance to practice what they’ve learned, by writing a social action project with the purpose of solving a problem in the community. They were also sent to Oxford to see how members from those multiethnic communities work, and last week they were visited by those who were their hosts in Oxford”, explains Alina Constantinescu, project manager at British Council Bucharest.
For seven days, the 15 persons in the delegation had working visits in several educational institutions in Bucharest, as well as in the Roma communities in Ferentari and the Jilava village, they took part to workshops about Roma history and culture and had meetings with representatives of the civil society in Romania, that shared their experience of working with disadvantaged communities.
“Together with the involvement in the community problems and developing a community of active citizens, we think that education is the best solution for the long term social integration of disadvantaged groups, including Roma. For that matter,one of the programme’s objective was the exchange of good examples in the field of social inclusion through education, and especially through non-formal education, which we believe should add up to the classic, formal education. Of course, all this measures have to be adapted to the specificity of the disadvantaged groups in order to be completely successful and to have convincing results”, declared Radu Răcăreanu, Policy Officer at Policy Center for Roma and Minorities.
“Our main educational project, the Alternative Education Club represents a chance for a better life for about 120 children from the Ferentari neighbourhood, one of the most vulnerable areas in Bucharest, because of its economical and social conditions”, added Radu Răcăreanu.
Created in October 2010, the club aims to offer an alternative framework of developing for the children in the Ferentari ghetto. Currently, the children are included in extra-curricular activities such as weekly football, basketball and boxing trainings, street dance, acting and film classes as well as financial and social education sessions.
“As an active citizen in the Oxford community, I can say I was pleased to encounter educational projects implemented by the civil society in Romania, and especially by the club at the School no. 136, where the little children are trying to make their first steps towards a better future. I believe there is a real need to change the indifference of Romanians towards social involvement, to better promote non-formal education and to offer a better access to formal education”, said Ben-Lloyd Shigbesan, Community Development Officer at Black and Minority Mental Health, in Oxford, Great Britain.
The Active Citizens program wants to create a network of active citizens that acknowledge their potential and responsibly take part in developing their communities, both at a local and at an international level. Through this project, the British Council aims to bring to Romanian communities the experience of Great Britain and of other countries in the field of active citizenship.
Through the concept of “active citizenship”, both British Council and Policy Center for Roma and Minorities understand that members of a society contribute actively to the lives of their communities and feel responsible to get involved in the problems that affect them.