European Union statistics say that a third of Romanian children live below the poverty line. Children who may not have a hot meal every day, don’t have money for supplies or to go to elementary school, can’t dream of getting to a high school, let alone a college.

The last 30 years have brought rights and benefits for children, but at the same time they have widened the gap for those born into disadvantaged backgrounds. For almost 30 years, in Galati, a foundation has been carrying the banner of the fight for the good of the less fortunate. Hundreds, maybe thousands of children, many now educated adults with a purpose in life, can thank the “Heart of a Child” Foundation for giving them the right hand at the right time. The executive director of the organization, Anna Cristina Burtea, explained to us how difficult it is to be “at home” for less spoiled children and how important involvement is.

– You have practically become a second home for children for whom “home” is not what it should mean. And you have developed a series of day centers for children, where they can do homework, have a hot meal. Tell us about this important work of the foundation.

– We are even in more places than that. The organization has several main directions. One is the one you just mentioned, that of educating children and increasing their chances of fulfilling their potential through education. A second direction is the health side, and here we have increased chances for social integration and therapy and recovery activities for children with disabilities. In the same way, since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, we have programs for Ukrainian children and families, and if you want, we will develop this group later. Likewise, we really wanted to offer work opportunities to mothers or women who are somehow more difficult to employ and for whom we created a workshop, where we can offer such jobs.

With the day care centers, I started the activity in 2005. It’s been 20 years, in which, generation after generation, there were children whom I helped at least until the 8th grade in these centers. They have the opportunity to recover knowledge for school, to practically improve their school performance. Now there are 50 children in day care centers and we have almost another 80 children with school scholarships, not only in Galati county, but also in Brăila, Vrancea and Vaslui counties.

– With regard to these day care centers, do you face problems related to a continuity of staff who deal with these children? Need more material resources?

– Financial resources would still be needed. So if there are companies that can direct from the profit tax, this helps us a lot, because apart from the day center in Galati, which has quite consistent support for part of its budget from the City Council and the City Hall Galați, the Pechea center is largely supported only by the organization. And if you think about the scale of all our programs, it’s a considerable annual effort the budget we have to raise to help the several hundred children. Not to mention the campaigns, starting school and supplies for more children than those in our programs, Christmas presents and so on, it’s really a considerable effort.

On the staff side, I am very happy that we have a fairly stable and dedicated staff. It would be useful, however, for those who really feel that they have a vocation for children and to work with children and also have training in this field, either social assistance or pedagogy, to contact us. Even if we may not have positions at the moment, we are always looking ahead and we would like to have with us those who will be involved with the children with all their heart. In terms of volunteering, we have some extraordinarily good collaborations with high schools in Galati and we are happy about this, because it is not only an extremely big help for us, but also for the children. In terms of extracurricular activities, homework support and so on, I think we are a training school for volunteers and young people.

We would like to be approached by more students who are pursuing a career in education, social work. He could somehow be with us for a while, because we are always considering how we can expand the programs and we want to involve good professionals.

– Let’s talk a little about these scholarships that you grant to students from Galati, Brăila, Vrancea and Vaslui counties.

– We basically have two scholarship programs. One of them is “Leap to the Future” and it is fully realized in collaboration with a foundation from Bucharest, “UiPath Foundation”, which practically collects donations and we are very happy for this partnership which has already entered its fifth year. A second scholarship program is one that we support with the help of donors and companies that have chosen to do so. It is called “A village, a child” and it started seven years ago, from a girl from Pechea, who was in the 6th grade, had qualified for the physics Olympiad at the county level and the family did not have the opportunity to – pay for the bus ticket, which cost 16 lei round trip. There were four children with their parents, and for them, at the time, this was an expense that they passed on to “and others”. And then we asked ourselves: how many children are there in Romania, who have a great potential and who, without our help, of those around us, might be lost? Thus we opened this scholarship program in which we selected children together with local schools and town halls. And we decided that they should be those children with an extraordinary potential for personal development, who can proudly represent us anywhere, in the country and in the world.

– How did it start and what are the results of this scholarship program?

– The results are starting to appear and they are amazingly beautiful. We started supporting the children who benefit from these scholarships from the 4th and 5th grades. Some of them are in high school, in their final year. Another part are already in college. Last year, 12 of them took the baccalaureate with extraordinarily high grades and became students in Bucharest, in mathematics, law, foreign languages, students in Iași, students in Galați.

The condition to receive these scholarships is that the family the child comes from has low income and the child has very good results at school. Family income and family circumstances can be a real barrier to getting through high school, college, and beyond. We support them with any type of materials, supplies they need throughout the years. Moreover, depending on their needs, we have also developed support programs, i.e. tutoring. We had volunteers who trained them in various subjects, mathematics, physics, biology, history, and so on. We have the recent case of a volunteer from Bucharest, from an extremely good and prestigious high school, who did online tutoring, in mathematics and physics, weekly, with a girl from Pechea and a boy from Vaslui county. And these days, in an initiative with the Federation of Non-Governmental Organizations for Child Protection, three of the scholarship holders, together with a very young colleague of ours, a Law graduate, participated in the initiative called “Government of Children”, a project that brings to the attention of politicians and public opinion what would be the children’s wishes, what would be their proposals if they could create a government and a government program.

 – Let’s talk a little about assisting adults, especially mothers, who may not have a very high level of education, professional training, which does not allow them to reorient themselves very easily and for whom the foundation can be a lifeline, at least temporarily .

– What, first of all, we have done and we do absolutely for all the families we interact with is a part of counseling because many times they lack the information and the courage to take the next step. I strongly insisted that all parents of children in day care centers try to have a stable occupation. To try to find, and I helped them many times in this sense, jobs. A stable income for the family is much more important than a dream. Unfortunately, for the education part, for the parents who have a lower level, you can’t do much, just encourage some of them to re-enter the education part, through a “Second chance” type program. Some of them did this and somehow I rewarded them.

The month of June is a month in which you know that we have a very beautiful tradition, for almost ten years. We have a donor, a citizen of Galața who has gone abroad, and who every year grants ten scholarships to ten special parents, who have done something special for them, to become better parents or to help their family.

On the other hand, we have a workshop of the organization, the “Heart of a Child” workshop, where since 2015 we have permanently employed people who had a problem finding a job. Either they couldn’t work full time, they had a disability, or they came from a foster home. We also had young people from placement centers, and Ukrainian mothers, who, for example, at this moment find it quite difficult to integrate into a workplace where they should speak Romanian fluently. The workshop was a place where we not only created extremely beautiful objects, and which, by the way, you can find on Traian Street 203, where we also have a small shop.

We have always been a welcoming place for people who needed to do something socially and professionally.

– The war in Ukraine was also a unique experience for the foundation, it came overnight, everything happened very quickly. You had to adapt on the fly because the refugees came in waves. How can you describe this experience now, two years later?

– I think it is a second life of the organization, practically, developed in two years. We feel them as if there were five, ten, not two. We had over ten thousand people whom we helped a lot in the first months: material help, brokers for places to stay, help to go to various other places and so on. And since then we have continued, because we had and still have two support centers for refugees, one in Galati, one in Brăila, with extremely complex services, from information, counseling, translation, to educational hubs for children, Romanian language learning programs, psychological services, communication and interaction activities, peer-to-peer support, but also interaction with the Romanian community or the support of the Ukrainian school in recent months. The activity of the refugee centers somehow included support for 700-800 people monthly. There are still 400-500 people in Galati and Brăila that we support monthly in various services.

We believe that the education part for children was a breath of fresh air, given that, I am sorry to say, although the Romanian legislation adapted extraordinarily quickly, the changes at the practical level did not come as quickly. Even now, things are still not adapted enough to effectively facilitate the integration of a child in kindergarten or school, because if you don’t have some intensive Romanian language programs in school, if you don’t have support like we have for Romanian children , possibly of the after school type, where you can see what they didn’t understand, it’s very difficult. It is very difficult to be in the position of such parents who try to ask themselves “What am I doing? I keep him at the online school in Ukraine, I send him, at the same time, to sit in a bank in the Romanian school, how can I do it?”

– In two years you had enough time to get an idea of ​​the level of acceptance of Ukrainians by Romanian society. Have you felt that your efforts are somehow, shall we say, sabotaged by the community?

– I think that, first of all, it is important, in my opinion, not to start from prejudices, we as a society. At one point, it was prejudiced “they came, they are waiting for our help and they have much greater material possibilities than the Romanians”. Perhaps there have been cases like this. But what we have seen, in our work, are many situations in which people had to come, either because they could no longer mentally bear being in a zone of conflict, of war, or because they wanted the safety of themselves and their children , even if they lost everything. And I, personally, would never want to be in such a situation, in a foreign country. It’s very hard to live with the wish and the hope that it will be over in a week, two, three, a month, a year and you will return home. And to see your hopes dashed every day and ask yourself, in fact, where is my life? Those who stayed here cannot go far because of their parents, grandparents, relatives left in Ukraine, whom they go to visit in a few months. There are those who really want to return home and who struggle to have a life in Romania, to find a new meaning, a new existence. We see cases where, because they have integrated their children, for example, in the Romanian school, they need real support after school. Moms can’t work eight hours. And if they haven’t learned Romanian, which is not so easy to learn coming from a culture where you learned Russian, it’s difficult.

– How can you be helped? Your needs are very large because you provide assistance on many levels to various categories of people. You are a very important help to all that means, say, authority. How can society and the state get involved or support you?

– I think that, first of all, it is necessary to collaborate and open the authorities that can provide help exactly according to the legislation, with spaces in which to carry out our activity, which are very important. And in these contracts for new premises we somehow have a priority, being also a public utility organization since 2016. There would also be the financing part based on the current legislation. We hope that from 2026 the legislation will be encouraging for the greater development of social services. And then we will need the cooperation and openness of local authorities even more, because we would like to take our services as much as possible to the countryside, where there is an extremely high need for social services. There we will actually need to find those town halls and those people who want to collaborate with us, let’s start now to think about what the plans could be for the next few years and see how we can support each other in the development of services for the benefit of the families in the respective communities. At the community level, the first thing I would like to see is for people to be open to doing something. To have that kind and open heart for these things. Because the moment it is a value of yours, an attitude of yours, you start to see what you can do. From donating one lei or five lei in the donation boxes we have in the pharmacy networks in Galati, in stores and so on, to looking for the organization’s website and saying I don’t know, once a month, a every two months, every three months, I want to make a donation there, as much as I can, it doesn’t matter. These things add up. To direct 3.5 percent. It is shocking to me to know that nationally less than 30 percent of those who can direct 3.5 percent do. And I would like to see how the business community in Galati supports more and shows greater openness. I am sure that we can do extraordinary projects together and change a lot of things. For example, in Grivița, with the help of some private companies, we rehabilitated the library.

Those who really want to send us a message, find our contact details on the organization’s website. And also for the community, we have an SMS number – 8844, to which you can donate 2 euros per month by sending a simple message with the text “BUT”. It’s not much, but 2 euros from, let’s say, 1,000 people represents an income with which we can do something.

NOTE:The show “SPOT ON at Viața liberă – Galațiul under the spotlight” is a “Free Life” product. The full recording of this interview can be watched onthe newspaper’s YouTube channel.


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