The children from Ferentari area, one of the most impoverished areas in Bucharest, also lack opportunities to build a better future for themselves. They grow up in big families, with parents who never went to school, living in cramped apartments in crumbling buildings, on streets where they are exposed to violence, substance abuse and drug trafficking, criminality and where they are at risk of abandoning school or ending up in prison. With the educational and material support provided by the Future Acceleration Program, 37 children from Ferentari now benefit from support during a critical phase in their lives. They attend online lessons in Mathematics, Romanian and English, and thus have the opportunity to reduce the educational gap and navigate through the digital world; they are guided by mentors from UiPath company, with whom they formed relationships and friendships built on trust; they participate in informal activities, such as summer camps, which enables them to discover what are their hobbies and make friends from other towns. All these are initiatives which, beyond practical knowledge, strengthen their confidence, provide guidance and allow the children to dare for a better future.
A. had been missing a lot from school when he was enrolled in the Future Acceleration Program, back in 2019. He was in the 8th grade and at risk of abandoning school. One year later, we find him in...
2020 was a challenging and unusual year for us all, all the more so for the students from vulnerable communities such as Ferentari district in Bucharest. While none of the children were able to...
When the pandemic broke, a day before the schools closed, Lavinia Frățilă, executive director of Policy Center for Roma and Minorities Foundation, our strategic partner since May 2019, wrote to...
For Mina Gălii, the impact of her work in vulnerable communities is seen in the success story of each child she works with. When they accomplish something. Or when they make progress with their...
A. had been missing a lot from school when he was enrolled in the Future Acceleration Program, back in 2019. He was in the 8th grade and at risk of abandoning school. One year later, we find him in the 9th grade in a vocational school that prepares future mechanics, he is doing his homework, he is always on time in the online tutoring classes and always answering questions. There is still much to catch up, but he understands it is important for him to continue to study. As he enjoys Romanian as a school subject, he dreams of becoming a teacher, to help other children learn, as he was also helped by the teachers in the online classes.
K.’s father thought she had no interest in school, prior to her starting the online tutoring classes we organised. Now she is 12 and has lots of ideas about her future. As she likes dancing, she dreams of becoming a choreographer. But she would also like to become a veterinarian – she loves dogs too – or a composer – as she listens to all kinds of music, except for classical music. She is also good with English, which she practices during the tutoring lessons, as well as on Duolingo. At first, her father didn’t want to allow her to participate in our activities, but seeing her sad because she couldn’t go to our camp, he went to school to ask for details . He is now happy he accepted, otherwise he could not afford to send her to a camp. It’s been years since the family went on a holiday together. He is now very satisfied with his daughter’s evolution in the Alternative Education Center (the center of our strategic partners in Ferentari), as well as in our educational programs: she attends dance lessons and spends more time on her phone and tablet; she receives a scholarship to buy clothes and shoes and has developed a sense of accountability. “No one will hand you something for free in life”, he tells her. “You must always give something back for everything you receive”.
Most importantly, he is happy with her situation in school which has improved since attending the tutoring classes, he couldn’t have afforded otherwise. He works in constructions and wants a better future and easier jobs for his children, instead of freezing on a working site, in the rain, cold, wind and dust. “It is work which provides for food, but why should they also stay in the cold and in the rain? You should learn better and go on different paths than your parents”.
B., 16 years of age, is getting ready for the Baccalaureate exam. She wants to be a make-up artist, but is also passionate about sports that relax her. She played volleyball, basketball, football, and shes also danced, and now she goes to CrossFit. Her mother didn’t go to school and is now working hard as a cleaner: she wakes up at 4 AM to go to work cleaning 10-floor apartment buildings. And she is constantly telling her that she must stay in school “to get a qualification”, and not become a daily worker, to be independent. She is proud when she sees how much she is studying, from 2 PM when she finishes school, to 9 PM in the evening.
V.’s parents, a 12-year-old boy who dreams of becoming a mechanic, have thought a lot before letting him go to the camp we organized in the summer of 2019. He had never been on a trip and always wondered what it would be like to stay in an unfamiliar place. “It is a bit difficult to go from one world to the other, it is all very different”, says the mother, who sees him as shy and isolated. But the boy called every night while he was there, in a mountain area, to let them know how he learned to ride the zip line, archery, and how he played with the other kids. When he came back, he showed them photos and excitedly waited for the 2020 edition, for which he had his bags packed days in advance.
The 2020 camp was held online, one of the changes brought by the pandemic in children’s lives. They missed being with their friends, but they enjoyed the DIY, drawing, coding lessons and particularly the magician who pulled a rabbit out of a hat.
The school and the tutoring classes also took place online, a challenge for children from big families, such as V.’s, who lives in a two-room apartment with six brothers, four of whom are also in school. Because both the mother and her husband are illiterate, she wants all her children to complete at least the first grade. “I want them to learn how to read at least, to have a better life. To not struggle, as we did”. The support they get is important, she mentioned. He is doing better in school since attending tutoring, his speech difficulties are beginning to correct since he started speech therapy and the scholarship he receives monthly comes in very handy. “Sometimes I buy him clothes, other times I buy food”. His mother believes that the guidance and the communication with the adults with whom he interacts as part of the foundation’s projects are particularly important. “He won’t listen to us, they have experience, are educated, they know how to share their ideas, how to explain and convey certain messages”.
If, at first, they found it difficult to understand what was taught in the online classes, they are more used to it after all this time. It was helpful that the teachers were patient to explain and make sure that every child understood. This helped V. become more confident to answer in class and A. to get better grades, while B. now ventures into longer reading sessions in English, a language he had just become acquainted with, but would like to learn.
The children have made great memories during the activities they attended, before the pandemic, with their mentors. A. remembers when they rented a boat on Herastrau lake in Bucharest and took turns in paddling; for V., it was when they played pool in a mall and when he learned how to swim in the camp with the help of his mentor; K. enjoyed the visit to a dog shelter, while B. loved when they visited a tailor shop. The trust they have in their relationship with their mentors surpasses any other activity, believes Mina Gălii, Local coordinator in Bucharest and member of the UiPath Foundation team. “These adults enter into the children’s lives with tolerance and share their trust as from one adult to another. Which, for the children’s self-esteem, will have a major impact in time.”
Some already feel more confident in their daily lives: when they overcome their emotions in class, when they dare to speak to their teachers if they failed to understand something or when they make plans for the future. “Courage means everything to me”, says B., “because if you lack courage, you won’t be able to do what you like”. “Courage means being ambitious”, says K., “means doing things you have never done before and fearing nothing”.
2020 was a challenging and unusual year for us all, all the more so for the students from vulnerable communities such as Ferentari district in Bucharest. While none of the children were able to attend school and interact with their teachers and colleagues, says Loredana Popa, the principal of “Petrache Poenaru” School, many had to cope with other problems at home as well, after their parents who lost their jobs, mostly in the hospitality industry. The principal admits she saw “sadness and the uncertainty of tomorrow on the children’s faces, which is very unhealthy at their age”.
The school tried to keep in touch with all of them – mainly via WhatsApp on smartphones, then on the tablets received from local authorities. But the level of connection reached during one class with many children is rather limited. That is why, Mrs. Popa believes that the support we provide in Ferentari community is very important: both in the form of additional training hours, as well as the moral support received by the children from the Future Acceleration Program.
“Unfortunately, some children have been deprived of this type of support, of parental warmth, but our friends from UiPath Foundation were able to fill in the gaps”.
Considering that in order to participate in the foundation’s programs, children must attend the lessons and obtain passing grades, the local coordinators also kept in touch with both the pupils’ parents, to better understand their challenges and needs, as well as with the head teachers. They talked about grades and the children’s absence from school and how they can provide help together. The collaboration between school and the foundation is very important, says Mrs. Popa, because students may become reluctant to messages conveyed by the teachers. “Others may show them what they can do in their life, where they can go if they only set their mind to it”.
An important part was played by the mentoring program launched in October 2019, which created a regular interaction between the children from Ferentari enrolled in the program and volunteers from UiPath who wanted to provide guidance. “Role models are essential in a child’s development, when choosing a profession and in their development as human beings”.
The principal has already seen their progress both in school, where the children now get better grades, as well as in terms of their behavior. She sees them more open, more perceptive and more patient in their interaction with colleagues and teachers. They care more about school and are more motivated by the monthly scholarship and the fact that they received a tablet for online lessons. Also important for children coming from vulnerable backgrounds are the extracurricular activities, according to Mrs. Popa, such as the 2019 summer camp, where they went hiking, they learned archery and tried the zip line. “New horizons opened up. Unfortunately, for some children in this area, the world they live in is very confined and their families won’t even allow them to explore”.
The children first need trust, says the principal of the school where hallways became an exhibition of the pupils’ paintings. “They need confidence in themselves and to be sure that the society in which they live and develop will not fail them. This is what matters now”.
When the pandemic broke, a day before the schools closed, Lavinia Frățilă, executive director of Policy Center for Roma and Minorities Foundation, our strategic partner since May 2019, wrote to our team to let us know that the Alternative Education Club would not be opening the next day. She was aware of the risk of having the children physically meeting in the Club – a three-room apartment in the lower ground floor of a building in Ferentari where 100 children from the area would come to attend lessons after school and learn English, digitalization, theater, music, or street dance – and she was glad she found understanding and support to move all the activities online.
Together, we acquired smartphones and tablets, rallied more teachers to volunteer to work online with the children, and regularly contacted the children to persuade them to attend the classes. We also created an online framework for activities like football or dancing: teachers would send daily challenges that they would have to reproduce and make a video of. “We created one team from two foundations to work in the best interest of the children”, said Lavinia.
Beyond the logistics of this process, the main challenge was to digitally translate the relationships of trust built within the Club which became a haven for these children, where they were able to express freely, to work with teachers who care for them and their future, where they felt encouraged.
Collaboration with us became a role model in the midst of this challenge, according to Livia Rădăcină, project manager within Policy Center for Roma and Minorities. “The Future Acceleration Program creates a platform where the beneficiaries and their teachers are able to develop stable and strong relationships which allow the children to be vulnerable and say, ‘I don’t understand this, I am wrong here, I really don’t know this. Although I am in the 6th grade, I find it difficult to understand this 2nd grade notion and I need help”.
”The ability to adapt depending on the children’s needs, the experience and the trust gained by the Policy Center in the 11 years of operating in Ferentari and the close collaboration between the two foundations contributed to the changes I see today in the behavior of some children. I see them more confident, with no gaps left uncovered, they become more open, more inquisitive and are brave to speak up when they don’t understand. We managed to stir their interest, excitement and curiosity for education”, said Lavinia. “They started to want more, to develop and to see a better alternative”.
Continuing and even completing the educational cycle no longer seems like an “unreachable goal”, believes Lavinia, “rather they understand and take responsibility for this major step in their journey.”
For Mina Gălii, the impact of her work in vulnerable communities is seen in the success story of each child she works with. When they accomplish something. Or when they make progress with their English, despite being initially discouraged the teachers not speaking Romanian. Or when they answer the teachers' questions more with confidence during classes. When they pass an exam or when study hard to even participate in the exam, despite all obstacles. Like A., who had lots of absences from school in the previous year. He slowly began to show more interest in his education after Mina started to help him with the tests for the national evaluation exam, or to accompany him to the tutoring lessons or to talk to him over the phone to make sure he arrived on time. She has seen him leaving, twice a week, “a house with many siblings who took care of each other”, with his backpack on and texting her about how bored he was of walking alone, and perhaps she should find someone to accompany him; and he did not quit. She believes that the real impact of her work is when a child who was at risk of abandoning school told her that he set the alarm on the day of the exam, texted her when he left home and when he arrived at school, then texted her back to tell her how it all went.
Having a contribution in the education of children from vulnerable areas became Mina’s mission after working for several years in IT. She graduated from Cybernetics and worked as a programmer, but whenever her mother called her to ask about her day, made her realize that her days looked the same and went by without her feeling accomplished. So, she decided to change her career and pursue the dream to work with children. Through the program implemented by Teach for Romania, she taught for three years in a village in Călărași county, the Southern part of Romania, where she would go by train, then in four schools in Bucharest.
Now she coordinates the educational activities carried out by us in the community in Bucharest and her days are quite different. She sometimes handles the logistics of project implementation: coordinates online tutoring, the mentoring program and makes sure students go to classes on time. Other days, she talks on the phone with the children and their families to better understand their challenges, needs and progress. During the emergency period, she gave them masks and disinfectants and taught them how to use the tablets received from us.
She knows the challenges each family faces, how many siblings there are, how many times they skipped school or how difficult it is for them to attend the online classes, because of the lack of stability in their lives. She keeps in touch with their head teachers and with Policy Center for Roma and Minorities, the local partner who had been implementing projects in the community for 11 years. The Alternative Education Club, a space coordinated by this foundation comprising of several rooms on the ground floor of a building, where children would gather to do their homework after school and attend English, theater, music, or dance classes, also hosted the first tutoring lessons we organized, until everything moved online.
Because she has been part of the project since the beginning, Mina is happy to see the progress made by some of the children: like A. who is now one of the most diligent pupils, or like another child who was at risk of becoming a delinquent, but now has better control over his rage episodes and participates in online activities, after his mentor stood by his side in quite emotionally challenging situations. She has seen progress in English with some children, and sees that others express themselves easier or are more confident.
Not all respond to the same stimuli and there are children who have not made progress. “I believe that each of us has his/her own progress”, says Mina. “The progress is not linear, not all children have developed similarly, but it is key that we celebrate the progress we have seen”.
You have reached the end of our activity report for 2020.
With every story of courage discovered in the report – of the children in our educational programs, of our strategic partners, of mentors and volunteers and of our team, we have tried to convey our message about COURAGE - that was and will be a source of energy for the future! Thank you for going through the entire collection of stories about the programs and initiatives that try to generate a long term change. We, at the UiPath Foundation, will continue to be present in the lives of the children we support, to help them discover and make best use of their potential, and to ensure that every child or teacher has access to quality learning to be able to dream for a better future. We invite you and stay close to us and to the incredible stories about courage from our communities. To learn more about us and our initiatives, you can follow us here: