By Alina Dunel, Romanian Red Cross

School dropout is a serious issue in Romania where 18 per cent of students are leaving each year without finishing their studies. Most of them come from marginalized families that cannot afford to buy books and pencils, let alone provide breakfast for the kids. Every morning, thousands of children go to school with an empty stomach.

Having this in mind, the Romanian Red Cross set up three E.G.A.L Community Day Centres in Botoşani, Craiova and Lupeni, three of the poorest regions of the country. (The acronym stands for Education, Generosity, Abilities and Liberty.) The project was supported by the Velux Foundation through the Danish Red Cross.

In the centres, primary and secondary school students can get a hot meal and homework support. Together with their parents and family members the children also attend sessions where they can learn, with the support of the Red Cross volunteers, life skills, first aid, crafting, communication and social interaction. Since the opening of the Community Day Centres in 2016, more than 1,500 children and their families have benefited from the programs.

The Farkas family is a typical example of the people coming to the centre. Their only regular source of income is child allowance equal to 18 Swiss francs a month, and they also make some money by selling forest fruits. The older brothers aged 12, 15 and 16 already dropped out of school, but the younger siblings are still in class.

“Parents know that children are in good hands here. Not having learned to read or write, they felt helpless and ashamed when the kids asked them about homework. They hope for a better future for their children” says Simona Hirieasu, Coordinator of the E.G.A.L Centre in Lupeni, Hunedoara County.

The kids spend more time in school and managed to improve their grades, and teachers are also impressed by their progress. These very positive results of the program made it a good practice model for the Red Cross branches, to be rolled out all over the country.