My name is Valentin Zota and I want to tell you a story from heart to heart about my journey through my home country, Romania.
I joined the IWitness programme this spring to get another good look at people’s lives with all their hardships and needs. I hope that my words will inspire many others to do the same and help them come to the revelation that we’re all in this together and our successes or failures are a part of all of us, no matter where we live in this world.
My deep understanding of people’s hopes and needs comes from a past where I was one of the people we visited in our four-day journey. I, too, struggled with the same adversities growing up, having to overcome great family loss and a fire that took my house when I was only four years old.
There was no IWitness programme or Save the Children in Romania 28 years ago. But with the help and kindness of the close community I was blessed to be part of, my surviving family and I found new hope in a world that, at times, seemed only to crumble under a gentle breeze.
This spring I was part of an amazing group of people brought together by this programme. They came from Sweden, Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Holland to bare testimony to the IKEA Foundation and Save the Children’s endeavor to give something back to the Roma community in dire need of support and understanding.
The background of Roma people is a lesson in itself. Their ancestors belonged to a group of people regarded as “undesirables”, who long ago fled the lands of a Maharajah trying to enslave them, as they were given no rights. Having to constantly be on the run from their oppressors, they found themselves on foreign territory where they weren’t welcomed any more than before. So they had to keep on moving from country to country in search of a place to call home where they could finally get some rest.
I cannot say that they found what they were looking for in Romania, but they definitely became a part of our lives. They were soon to be blamed for their different way of life, even though getting to know each other was never a priority on either side.
As I told our visiting IKEA ambassadors, I personally view them as among the last free people on Earth. Some of them are still resilient to the idea of settling down, even though efforts and progress were made to integrate them in our country.
One of these efforts to bridge the gap between our communities, sadly, is at an end this year under the umbrella of the IKEA Foundation and Save the Children programme in Romania. Their contribution is based around families from poverty-stricken areas that lack the basic necessities to even consider schooling their children. Many of them end up working from a young age to help provide for their own.
Our journey took us to the heart of these communities where we had the opportunity to meet some of the children in need of our support. Even though great progress could be seen, their problems are far from being in the past…but are a part of everyday reality.
I could see myself in every one of those children with kind eyes and big hearts, as they welcomed us in their classrooms at the local kindergarten or schools. They were happy to have us there and we were grateful for their efforts.
As a child I, too, benefited from the kindness of good people around me to help overcome life’s hardships. I wish to ask for your help to keep bringing kindness in their lives as well, to keep this programme alive and to continue to invest in children who one day could write you back and say: “Thank you for believing in me”. The only way that we can grow as humans is to keep believing in our children and help them become more then we are today, for a better future where all children belong.
This journey was more like a rollercoaster ride where you could see both progress and unfulfilled potential cramped together in the same image, with innocent smiling children unaware of their hardships but still profoundly affected by them. Words alone cannot describe everything that I experienced, but seeing the hope in their eyes when they welcomed us was a reminder that we can uplift each other just by being there when it’s needed.
I also made some great friends during this time and I want to thank them for their contribution to this good cause, for their support and understanding. All the best wishes go to the people that made this happen. I hope it was as inspiring for them as it was for me to be on this trip, and I can’t wait to read their insights.
Thank you for your time, and remember we’re all in this together.