Four days of trying to hold tears back. Families living in cardboard houses, children left behind by parents seeking a better life abroad, children with mental health disabilities neglected due to the stigma in society…I’ve been thinking a lot of my own child these days and have been more than ever grateful for the life we have. Here, problems are measured by different standards. Standards that do not belong to the 21st century. Here, some children just live in a different and sad universe, having very tough start in life.
The needs are so immense that we were sceptical at the beginning as to what extent the programmes run by Save the Children can make things better. But we learnt that support and encouragement can really change the lives of little ones. And the enthusiastic and professional team at Save the Children Romania is doing so much more than that. They showed us numerous schools where they run educational programmes with many happy, smiling faces enjoying their classes. Almost 90% of the 653 Roma children who attended Save the Children programmes are still in the school system with a good or very good academic record. Over 80% of their Roma peers, who did not have that opportunity, are not. The children we met told us they want to be chauffeurs, hair dressers, musicians, policemen and engineers once they grow up. Unlike their parents, they can read and write and can dream of a brighter future.
Roma children are not the only ones disadvantaged in Romania. Due to the low living standard, many Romanians have gone abroad to seek a job in other EU countries. Official data shows that there are 86,000 children left behind, but unofficially it is estimated that there are over 300,000. Forty per cent are without both parents.
They live with their grandparents or extended family or on their own, the older children taking care of their younger siblings. Many of them have been able to receive support from a Save the Children programme to help them get through challenging times.
A teacher at the school in Targoviste told us that these programmes are of tremendous importance. “Children do not get support at home, sometimes they are severely neglected with their parents being away. They don’t have the same start in life as others. This programme compensates for their disadvantages,” she said.
Save the Children also provides support to children with mental disabilities. Like Roma children, these children are also exposed to a strong stigma in society on top of a lack of early medical detection and skilled child psychologists. Over 5,000 children were able to receive therapy free of charge in six counselling centres and almost 4,000 parents also received professional help to assist them to deal with the situation.
Ruzica, Tracey, Simona, Leela and myself will leave Romania having the different perspective on the importance of the work done by the IKEA Foundation. Next time we think about the Soft Toys Campaign, we will think of little Christina studying at her modest home, Mario’s happy face and his cute dancing performance and his mother wanting better life for him or of a Roma mother who didn’t want to let us in her house as she was ashamed of it while the rain was dripping through the hole at their roof. And how much this means to them…
After 13 successful years, the Soft Toy campaign has come to an end. This year IKEA will launch a brand new Good Cause campaign. Working again with partners in the field, these campaigns offer IKEA customers an opportunity to support the work we have just experienced in the field. There are no fancy offices, no large administrative costs—just small teams of tireless, dedicated people working towards a “better everyday life for the many people”. Look out later this year for more information.