Conclusion of the “You too! Participate” project

AMURTEL was a partner in the “You too Participate” project,  a community development project that took place from October 2014 – April 2016. AMURT Romania was the project leader, and Pro-European Network, based in Bulgaria. was the other partner. The project  was financed by the SEE 2009-2014 grants within the framework of the NGO Fund Romania, Componenta 2. Social Justice, Subcomponent 2.1 Rural Interethnic Community Development Justitie Sociala, Subcomponenta with a sum of 64,607.10 euro.
The project targeted 3 very disadvantaged communities near to the AMURT center in Domnesti, suffering from chronic and extreme poverty and disempowerment  The majority of the people that benefitted from the program were part of the Roma ethnic minority community, though most of them had lost their sense of roots and connection with Roma history, culture and traditions.
The goal of the project was to combat poverty amongst 300 people belonging predominantly to the Roma ethnic minority but also to other ethnic minorities as well, by facilitating them to exercise democratic citizenship, multicultural dialogue, and increasing their employment opportunities by creating an inclusive local job market.
It took much longer than originally envisaged to engage the community in the project. The project aimed to empower the community by offering trainings to inform them of their social rights and responsibilities, empower them to have a more effective communication with authorities, combat discrimination and exclusion and to offer training in entrepreneurial skills so that they could solve their economic problems by opening businesses.  However, the project team soon discovered that basic survival issues of food, clothing, shelter and medical care were so acute and urgent, and the level of literacy so low that it was hard for most of the participants to understand the usefulness of the information presented in the trainings. It was necessary to adapt the contents of the training, simplifying and connecting them to practical experiences. For example, to teach basic concepts of entrepreneurship, the team designed a game in which participants were given a play currency, and had to buy cheaper bulk goods from a “warehouse” and then sell them to other participants that were customers.  The children were involved too, so the adults felt comfortable entering into a playful spirit and the two teams set their prices and competed against each other. At the end, they counted up the total money they had made, yet once they subtracted their costs, one of the teams realized it had actually lost money!  A lighthearted argument ensued as the shop owners accused customers of stealing, to which they promptly replied, “Well, if you weren’t being attentive!”
Iulia Halangescu also organized trainings in the local elementary schools to sensitize children to discrimination issues and to teach them about bullying and how to handle it.  The children also organized a flashmob in front of their school.  She contributed above and beyond her paid role in the project, become  the motor and backbone of all of the community development work.
In addition, through the generous involvement of an Italian transportation company, Erredi, and a Caritas Sondrio,  AMURTEL organized several distributions of clothing and furniture shipped from Italy.  This allowed the team to build trust by satisfying some of the basic requirements of the community and encouraging greater participation as the community was involved in helping to load and unload the shipments and a local leader helped to decide which families would receive which goods.
One of the highlights of the project was a festival organized on the 8th of April to celebrate the International Romani Day in Domnesti. More than 100 people participated – AMURTEL organized a film screening, a portrait gallery of Roma leaders, and an amazing 2.5 meter long beautiful painting created by our Italian volunteer, Vistara.  The team also invested a significant amount of time in door-to-door community organizing work, held an exchange of best practices with our partner, Pro-European-Network from Bulgaria, and trainings on entrepreneurship. The community development work has created a lot of expectations, as this poor community has been very neglected, and there are a lot of critical needs. We visited a family whose house burned down in March, but they continue to live in the ruins – two grandparents (the grandfather has a mental disability) and three grandchildren.  There are an overwhelming number of similar urgent situations. We hope to play a positive role in connecting them to resources for rebuilding and to continue to develop greater involvement in their own community life.