For 30 children living in Cluj-Napoca and in the vicinity of the city, a normal life means sharing a room or two with several siblings, having domestic wood heating or no electricity. School routine is difficult to keep, when some cannot enjoy a place of quiet, or computers or internet at home. Some come from single-parent families, others came here with their mothers who wanted to escape from domestic violence and keep them safe.
In addition to being a learning hub, the school also became a haven. A warm space where the children are heard. But the school and the teachers are forced to play several roles at once – teaching children the multiplication table as well as hygiene or how to wait for their turn to speak.
The 30 children, many of whom are students in secondary school, are at a difficult moment where they need extra support. This is where the Future Acceleration Program steps in, as a children-focused support network, throughout several years. By providing tutoring in Romanian or Mathematics, summer camps, scholarships and mentoring, the program is meant to support them along their learning path and, in a nutshell, to enhance the quality of life in the long term.
I can express myself freely.R. is a 7th grade student in a school from Cluj. She was once angry for getting a 7 in the Romanian language subject and asked her teacher to check her paper again,...
Although the first year in “Nicolae Iorga” School in Cluj was rather difficult for the English teacher Claudia Bartha, she now admits she has adapted. She found it hard to understand the...
As our local coordinator in Cluj, Ciprian Tehei goes to great lengths to make sure that the children attend the tutoring weekly, which, particularly during the pandemic, have been a major driver...
I can express myself freely.
R. is a 7th grade student in a school from Cluj. She was once angry for getting a 7 in the Romanian language subject and asked her teacher to check her paper again, because she knew she deserved more. 8th grade and the economic high school she dreams of are not far. The tutoring from the Future Acceleration Program help her a lot, according to her mother: “I don’t know what we would do without it, seeing how expensive tutoring is nowadays; and these are times when if you don’t go to school, you have nothing”.
Rather a tomboy, she feels more comfortable as part of a football team, even when she ends up with her leg in a cast, R. also had inclinations towards drawing, something her head teacher took notice of and thus encouraged her towards an artistic path, but the words “economy”, “trade”, “my business” is how this girl would describe her future. “I like to work for myself, to buy what I need, to help my brothers”, says R., who also has six brothers. “If you want to, go ahead, you can do it”, her older brother often encourages her.
She has been learning a lot from the tutoring in the past two years since she has been in the program. “The teachers here are calm, patient and understanding”, says R, while she finds it rather difficult to answer during school classes. “I know the answers, but I would rather allow another colleague to answer to make sure I was right (and often I am)”. Her mother is always telling her that if she doesn’t understand something at school she should ask for help, “no one would mind”.
If in school she finds it difficult to speak, R. found her voice in the summer camp we organized in 2019, in Cheile Grădiștei (Romania). “I was unable to speak freely, I used to be very shy, but since I’ve been in the camp, there is nothing preventing me from speaking. Honestly, I think it is better this way. Now, I like making friends.”
Time for English
M., a 5th grader and a freshman in the program, also believes that the tutoring is very beneficial. She says that the teachers from the foundation have a way of expressing themselves that she can understand, and they are more patient. “In class, I often don’t answer because I’m afraid it is not correct”. She also went to the 2020 summer camp, organized online because of the pandemic, but this did not diminish her joy. “We had a week of sports, photos, drawing, I was only sorry it ended too soon”.
M. is an only child. Her father, who works as a forklift operator in a company, knows that no matter her school results, he can always check on her on WhatsApp. He knows that his girl never lies. “No matter what, I said, you should come to me and tell me. You’ve made a mistake? No problem, you will start again”. He finds that the help from the foundation is valuable, despite being doubtful at first. Her progress became increasingly visible month by month. “When I come from work, she is sometimes doing homework at different school subjects”, says her father. “You should always have an education”, he tells his girl, convinced that M. must learn well in school in order to make it in life. The girl tells him to trust her and that she will make him proud. “No matter if she gets an 8 or a 10, she texts me and I reply, «great job», we have this way of communication.”
They also share a passion for music. R. listens to dance music, and the house is often filled with the hits of the teen star Iuliana Beregoi, and her father is always “shocked by how well she remembers all the songs”. He sees for her a career in music, as he used to sing when he was younger, and he heard her singing and thinks she has a great voice. “We’ll buy a microphone and do some karaoke together, I will not quit”.
If music doesn’t work, her father also sees her in IT, because she installed his banking app on his phone and seems to know this field: “I told her to learn English to go all around the world and be able to speak to everyone. She came a long way since she started with the foundation. I am not only talking about the financial aspect, but also about her achievements. M. will teach others what she learns here”.
I didn’t ask for a laptop or a tablet, I asked for a therapist
B.(he) and B.(she) have been living for three years now with their mother in the proximity of Cluj, driven away from home by their violent father. The mother, who has been working as a cleaner since April last year, after the pandemic left her jobless, says that courage is what determined her to choose life in the end.
B (she) began her new school in fear of her father, and men in general, says her mother. She was fortunate that her teacher was pleasant, understandable and “didn’t yell”.
Their mother, who fears her children would take after their father, filled in forms for psychological counselling for both her children, but knows that B. (him), now a freshman in high school, took the situation the hardest, as he is four years older and understood more of his father’s violence.
“Since I enrolled him in this program, it is the only thing I asked for, not a laptop or a computer. I don’t have the means to pay for sessions and after being in a family like ours, they need help early on”. And changes became visible without delay, says the children’s mother. B. (he) used to be nervous, “I wasn’t able to talk to him”. “Since moving to the new school, I was shyer”, admits B. (he), “I was scared perhaps, I didn’t know what to say, with whom to speak, it was hard, but the therapist helped me”.
Their mother always told them that she never had the opportunity to go to school, as she grew up in the countryside with a mother who wanted her to stay home and help. “Everybody must go to school, or else you are stuck like me feeding the pigs, doing the hard work, and it is not easy”. Both children, fortunately, enjoy going to school and all the extracurricular activities. B. (he) still has a vivid recollection of our camp in 2019, where they spent a week packed with great activities. He enjoyed breakfast organized in a place uphill when he would choose what to eat. He learned archery, he went hiking, he saw shepherd dogs, and the nails hammered on houses to keep the bears away – many great experiences. And the hand-shaking robot, the special guest who left the camp with a low battery by the end. “It would play chess, speak English and allow us to hug it”.
Still thinking of the kids camp of 2019 is also R., 16 years old now (wow robot, wow tire-riding on water). He is now a freshman in high school, specializing in IT and with a huge passion for computers, but his mother says this is also due to our program which laid the foundation. “It was the camp I would have never afforded to offer; R. wanted to stay even after it ended”. Because the second semester of the 8th grade coincided with the pandemic, so it was more online learning, the scholarship and the tutoring came in very useful. The teachers from schools did their best, says the mother, but “the tutoring filled in the blanks”.
A much-needed support also came in the form of the clothes, school supplies, basic food products received for holidays. R. also had trouble breathing, declared the mother, and he was forced to stay by himself at home, during the pandemic, when she worked from the morning to the evening. “My boy did not even go out to take the trash”. He had the opportunity to go to the movie theater and basketball games through Future Acceleration Program. “Probably, I would have never been able to take him to a demo game and that meant a lot for him”, says R.’s mother, who today works in a cosmetics factory and is divorced from an alcoholic husband who followed them for years. To R., a lot means meeting with his mentor, which makes him very happy. “I believe they get information I would have never provided properly”. Ultimately, it is as R. says: “a mentor is a friend for life”.
I live a normal life, as normal people do.
F.’s mother hopes he has a better life than her, working long shifts in a plant. He expects him, a 6th-grade teenager, with a rather mature thinking, to be spared from suffering, to never be deprived of anything, to not get his hands dirty. She imagines him becoming a Mathematics or English teacher, because he likes both school subjects and helps his younger brothers learn the language. Or an architect, which is already his dream. “I want to see him on his own feet and be amazed by him”.
F. wants to help his family escape poverty, and wants to build shelters for homeless people: “As an architect, I want to help people in need, but not necessarily give them everything at hand. I would build shelters for poor people who want to work, but are unable”, a sort of home until they get back on their feet, “a chance to live and be a normal person, because I don’t like seeing people on the street begging and starving”.
Meanwhile, his mother hopes she gets more peace of mind due to our program. “Tutoring has been very helpful, I wish they would last two more years, so that I would feel reassured for my son – if he doesn’t understand in school, he may ask during the tutoring”. His grades have also improved, and F. feels more confident to raise his hand in class. “They helped me with long divisions”, he said. “I knew how to solve it a week before the teachers taught it in school, and so I managed to get my grades up, have better results and I am grateful for that. It was a boost”.
At home, he has to wake up his younger brothers, take care of them while their mother is at work. He helps them with their English, Mathematics, and their homework. “I’m going to call mother”, he says. During all this time, their mother tries to teach him how to better spend his scholarship. Not on candy or pizza, because she can provide that, “buy yourself a deodorant, underwear, socks; a perfume or whatever you need in school”. But F. only needs imagination to draw, “to live a normal life, like a normal person”, or random things. He recently drew an anxious ghost-eraser. He also draws anime, gives life to his drawings through color and conjures up all sorts of things.
His inspiration also comes from YouTube or rap music. For extra motivation, F. advises you to enjoy some Netflix, and if you fancy a bit of Romanian classics, turn on Bazooka or BUG Mafia, a band his mother grew up with, still relatable for him today. Based on his favorite lyrics and life, F. juggles with the idea that if you are born poor, you should change your attitude, or you’ll stay poor.
Although the first year in “Nicolae Iorga” School in Cluj was rather difficult for the English teacher Claudia Bartha, she now admits she has adapted. She found it hard to understand the difficulties that both parents and her students face. “Our children come from single-parent homes, underprivileged backgrounds, they live in precarious conditions at home”, says Claudia, “and to them, coming to school means interaction, a warm, clean space where they are heard and understood”. Claudia also learned how to see the bigger picture. For some children, the trivial bagel with milk was perhaps the only meal they had that day. It is not as much about learning, but rather about small things, which are otherwise normal to many children, says Claudia, thinking of her students who are happy when they get activity sheets, crepe paper, play dough, glue. Moreover, Claudia says that “it takes a very empathic person to understand why they lack certain things, without accusing them of lack of determination”, particularly during the pandemic which narrows the interaction in class.
It was difficult for Claudia to maintain a close relationship with all of them, but Ciprian Tehei, our local coordinator and of Future Acceleration Program, was the missing puzzle piece. “They helped me get feedback from home. It is one thing to know a child lives in precarious conditions, another to understand why this child cannot get a quiet space”, because there were five people living in one room, as it is easier to heat only one, instead of two rooms. “Then you can understand that as a teacher you cannot expect them to go online on time and pay attention”.
The program came as a redemption for students during the pandemic, confirms the principal of “Nicolae Iorga” school, Alina Șomtelecan, particularly by providing the tablets and taking up the role of mediator.
There are children who live in the rural area near the city, who have no tablets, no internet, no electricity - situations they fix along the way. The children and the parents benefit from counselling and “we constantly communicate with them about their needs”, says the principal, particularly considering that the online school made it difficult to read beyond their facial expressions, to realize when they did not understand. And the children? Everybody has seen the change. They feel confident to raise their hand, they speak when they know the answer – “these children did not have the courage to raise their hands”, said Claudia, but she gradually observed their eagerness to stand out, their focus in class, when they were asked questions. “For us, this is a major progress”.
The progress is clear also among the vulnerable children from “Gheorghe Sincai” School in Floresti, a neighboring village to Cluj which has lately seen a growing expansion, according to principal Viorica Bonda. In addition to the locals who have been living here for generations, explains Mrs. Bonda, another group of families coming from vulnerable environments emerged (i.e., mothers who moved here with their children to escape from violent relationships). “They came here, and they should be integrated, both the parents and the children”. In March 2020, no one knew that this process would become even more difficult far away from classrooms and that the teachers would often hear “I can’t go online because my brother from high school also has online classes”.
In addition to tablets, in addition to the school’s efforts to play several roles and of the school mediators to help vulnerable families fill in applications and forms, the principal believes in the power of extracurricular activities. “Whenever we collaborated with NGOs, things became better, and this made a huge difference”, says Mrs. Bonda, “the UiPath Foundation team came without no curricula, but rather with an informal plan of activities, showing openness to contribute to the child’s development, while taking their time”. For students, perhaps, the immediate financial help they received was the most important, but the principal sees a great value in the tutoring, counselling and medical support as well. “They became more open in their relationship with their teachers. They were able to learn more and better”.
As our local coordinator in Cluj, Ciprian Tehei goes to great lengths to make sure that the children attend the tutoring weekly, which, particularly during the pandemic, have been a major driver of stability. For these children coming from vulnerable backgrounds, stability is often a remote concept, according to Ciprian. Some come from single-parent families, others have lost their parents, while others witnessed domestic violence or struggle financially. Some are excluded by those around them. “There are many factors contributing to this situation”.
Ciprian previously worked with a group of vulnerable children in high school to facilitate access to education, but since the fall of 2019, i.e., since joining the team, he has found a way to address several needs at once for children in secondary school who come from vulnerable environments: scholarships, tutoring, mentoring, constant communication between school-children-parents. According to Ciprian, a child should ideally start the 5th grade and stay in school until college age, considering that secondary school is a period of development for children when they require stability and encouragement from those around them; “being vulnerable may affect them irrecoverably”.
This approach soon became our backbone. “We are making sure they attend the tutoring, they speak up, rather than being simply passive; and we also talk to the teachers”, says Ciprian. At the end of certain sessions, the coordinator stays to discuss with the teachers, to get insights on their performance that day. This allows them to detect any outstanding situations that may cause children to be absent-minded and discuss whether to change anything in the English class or even “play more?”.
Ciprian also has monthly contact with the children’s parents to learn about their state of mind, whether the children feel better? Whether the parents and the children are healthy? Whether they face any difficulty? Whether they lost their jobs, which happened quite often during the pandemic? “We are doing all we can to make sure we keep an eye on them”.
Often, Ciprian and his team had to persist, as parents were hesitant to ask for help - an admirable thing, he believes. “But for us it is important to know whether they are facing any challenges, so we can find solutions”. One such solution was for Ciprian to make sure that three children go every Friday to therapy. “I make sure they arrive there, because many often feel overwhelmed by various family events and they need this to better deal with such situations”. One of the children is depressed and sometimes needs some space. Therapy made a difference, said Ciprian, “we sometimes had to exempt the child from tutoring because he didn’t feel well, but he was willing to continue with the therapy sessions, which were beneficial for him”. The coordinator emphasizes the importance of allowing sufficient flexibility that enables them, as a team, to help the children “take a step forward”.
Equally important is communication with the teachers, which proved to be very useful in the case of a girl who skipped school yet attended tutoring. Her head teacher got in touch and together they designed a plan of mitigation, to make sure that school and tutoring works together and lift some of the pressure already placed on an 8th grade child. “We put a brake on the overseeing role, and rather made sure that the girl attended the tutoring and I stayed in touch often with the head teacher”. The principal of the high school where this girl goes, thanked Ciprian for his help. This was a top school in the city, with few socially vulnerable cases which lacked the experience necessary to help vulnerable children deal with the pressure they are exposed to in highly competitive educational environments.
In addition to tutoring and counselling, mentoring plays a major role as well: currently, 10 students were put in touch with 10 employees from UiPath in four-person enclaves (two adults and two children) to meet regularly. Regardless of where they meet, whether outdoor or online, as preferred by some, children certainly look forward with joy to these meetings. Being accepted by the group is a major feature for children in this moment of life. For instance, the parents of one student with certain behavioral challenges used the summer camp card to encourage him to be more patient at home. In 2019, when he participated the first time, the fact that he was accepted, when he was rather used to being rejected by a group, was of great significance for him. Another girl, who became isolated from the others, suddenly started to communicate, to make friends, and speak her mind. Many made friends from other places, with whom they are still in touch, while others learned about hygiene and the importance of habits.
“When I reach out to them, I try to become a reference point and develop, at the same time, their ability to handle themselves a program or otherwise normal things they struggle with: we provide a stability which is missing from their lives”, says Ciprian Tehei. If he is unsuccessful, he tries to find an anchor in teachers and parents, and together to weave a web of support around the children. “These children are the reason why I fight. They teach me how to be resilient, to see hope, and how to look at life from a different perspective.”
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: