Including Romania's Marginalized Societies

September 18, 2012

Daniel Kozak, Communications Officer in the World Bank's Romania office, offers this story.

Costel Arsene works on heavy machinery by day, but on his afternoons off he helps neighborhood kids do their homework in a community center for Roma. His 13 year-old daughter is doing a lot better in school since she started coming to the center when it opened not far from her house two years ago. "She is now reading flawlessly, and her writing is quite good," Arsene says with a gleam of pride in his eyes.

That's an important achievement in a community where 33% of children drop out of school before age 12. Battling the depressing numbers is a forward-thinking city hall in Calarasi. Backed by a handful of enthusiasts, they are dedicated to offering Roma education as a way of finding long term jobs, securing stable incomes and getting on a more equal footing with the rest of Romanian society.

Arsene, a leader in his Roma community of Obor Nou, lobbied the mayor's office for this center. It does more than tutor kids, it overcomes many of the hurdles that stand between poor people and education. It offers a free meal a day, school supplies, clothes, and hot showers, which are often unavailable in a community without running water.

The World Bank, through a Social Inclusion Project (SIP), supported building the center and hiring staff. The mayor's office co-financed the project, and has since taken over operating costs. The local community pitched in EUR 1,000 worth of labor.

The $74 million SIP project, out of which over $17 million are managed by the Romanian Fund for Social Development, has supported many Romanian communities in their efforts to include Roma and other marginalized groups in over 130 locations around Romania.

In Obor Nou, three quarters of families survive on food assistance. That is not uncommon for Romania's Roma, the vast majority of whom are unemployed and live well below the poverty line. But there is hope in this grim picture, and that is early education. A recent World Bank report shows that Roma who attend pre-school are likely to stay in school longer and do better there, and therefore are more likely to get a well-paying job.

" They say that since we started our bilingual class, they can talk to kids, and that was unheard of before. "
Elena Stan

Elena Stan

Nicu's teacher

A hundred kilometers away, six-year-old Nicu is learning Romanian as a second language in his brand new preschool built by SIP in Sarulesti. It's an important head start for him and the others in his cheery classroom. Many Roma kids start first grade without knowing any Romanian, making it impossible for teachers to teach and kids to learn. But this class, which started two years ago, is already having an effect, according to local first grade teachers. "They say that since we started our bilingual class, they can talk to kids, and that was unheard of before," says Elena Stan, Nicu's teacher.

In Sarulesti, Roma and non-Roma attend the same classes. Nicu's mother says he gets along better with his new non-Roma friends. This is part of the larger village picture. Twenty years ago, Romanian villagers formed a mob and marched into the Roma neighborhood, setting houses on fire. No one was killed, but the event marked the village.

As a result the mayor and Roma leader are committed to working together, and the only thing invading the community is bulldozer scraping the dirt road as it prepares to pave it. Power and sewers are to follow.

Other efforts to heal wounds and include the marginalized may not be as dramatic, but they are effective. SIP assists many who are marginalized in Romanian society: the physically and mentally disabled and victims of domestic abuse. Shelters for battered women were built where psychological counseling and life skills courses are offered. Vocational training and computer classes are taught so that the disabled can develop skills, apply for jobs and become more independent.

Including the vulnerable and marginalized is part of Romania's commitment to make integration into the European Union smoother by building social cohesion and encouraging economic integration and the chance to be a part of the country's economic growth. SIP's programs are working on that.


Sarulesti's preschool is integrated with Roma and Romanians learning and socializing together.

World Bank