AUGUST INTERVIEW. Paul Marcu, DGASPC Ialomița: “The most beautiful reward of our activity is when we manage to make children from poor communities smile”
Today we inaugurate a new section, in which we talk to people involved in the projects we finance and who have interesting things to tell about what they set out to achieve with the support of the EEA and Norway Grants. Our interlocutor is Mr. Paul Marcu, General Manager of the Directorate of Social Assistance and Child Protection Ialomița, manager of the VIP – PLUS project “Volunteering – Initiatives – Professionalism for quality in day services for children in vulnerable communities”, whom we thank for his kindness in answering our questions and to whom we wish success in the implementation of the project.
RSDF: Mr. Marcu, you are in the second project financed by the Romanian Social Development Fund, through the EEA Grants, and which you manage as a project manager. The first project was funded through the EEA Grants 2009-2013, and the current one through the EEA Grants 2014-2021. Is there a connection between the two projects? If so, what would it be? On the other hand, what is different about the objectives and approaches proposed by the two projects?
Paul Marcu: Both the previous and the current project address vulnerable children and communities with a high share of the Roma population, the main goal being to prevent school dropout. This has been and will be done not only through direct activities with children, but also through the training and information of all the factors involved in this issue. We are talking about teachers, local authorities, community volunteers, day center staff, formal and informal leaders from Roma communities. If in the case of the first project the intervention was carried out only in Ialomiţa county, in 35 poor communities, with a high percentage of the Roma population, constituting a “VIP county network”, in the current project we extend our intervention in Ialomiţa county and other 3 counties – Arad, Buzău and Mureş – creating an inter-county network, called “VIP PLUS”, in which 9 day centers are involved. It has practically passed to another stage, geographically extended, this time the intervention being carried out at the level of day centers, which offer services mainly to Roma children, but whose main purpose is also the prevention of school dropout and children’s education. Thus, the approach is slightly different, in the sense that the training / information mainly targets the staff of the day centers, the parents, the Roma leaders and the members of the communities in which these centers operate.
RSDF: How was this second project actually born? How were the current partners co-opted and how did you choose the counties in which to intervene?
Paul Marcu: Basically, the idea of this project started from the pleasant experience we had by implementing the first project, when many teachers, who received training, asked us when we will do such a project, saying that, in general, they rarely take part in a training program, and the open atmosphere, the information and the exchange of experience that they have obtained have been a gain, both personally and professionally. So, when we found out about the launch of the Local Development Programme and the financing line “Increasing Roma inclusion and empowerment”, we decided to access it, given that the development of day centers is a need in the county. As the partnership was an important aspect, we turned to other Social Assistance Directorates, from counties where there are numerous Roma communities in difficulty. Essential was the common interest, ours and that of the project partners from Arad, Buzău and Mureş, to work in a network and “learn” together, and we were glad that we are from different regions and counties with different experiences. Regarding the Resource and Information Center for Social Professions (CRIPS), our partner in the NGO environment, being an old partner in the implementation of projects and not only, being with us and in the first project carried out through the EEA Grants 2009-2013, we -I realized from the beginning that we want to continue the collaboration, especially since the experience of this NGO in the training and development of methodologies is very well suited to the needs of the project.
RSDF: Within the project, support children from day centers in 4 counties. Is the issue that these children face different, from one county to another and, implicitly, the support you offer them through the project? What would these differences be, where do they manifest themselves, and how do you manage them at the project level? Is a unitary approach at national level possible on the issue of early school leaving among children, especially those of Roma ethnicity, or are specific approaches required?
Paul Marcu: In principle, the approach is unitary. The activities in the 4 counties are similar, the difference between them being given by the number of beneficiaries with which the centers in each county work. A difficulty encountered is that, in the case of centers with a high number of beneficiaries, their mobilization to participate in activities is more difficult to achieve. Specifically, in the 9 centers there is a wide range of empowerment activities for Roma children and parents, many of which can become models of good practice. With the support of CRIPS, we will “collect” from the VIP PLUS network models of activities easy to replicate in any day center, which will be included in a practical guide for professionals in these social services, a tool that will be available on the project website , http://www.vip-plus.crips.ro/.
RSDF: The project started in December 2020, so it is at the beginning. How did the children react to the activities in which you involved them? What about their parents?
Paul Marcu: That’s right, the project is at the beginning, but we are proud of the evolution of the attitude of the staff in day centers and local authorities, who gradually realized the benefits of such a project and responded each time to the initiative of staff in mobile teams. to organize empowerment activities for children and parents. I would mention only some of the activities that we consider relevant in terms of the objectives of our project: school remediation activities, in the context in which online education has brought gaps in students’ knowledge, “Let’s learn to eat healthy” – educational activities for health, activities with parents, in which they were informed about the developmental characteristics of children and their needs, depending on age, leisure and socializing activities, especially useful during this period, when children practice they forgot to relate, spending most of their time in front of the computer or on TV, etc. We consider that the impact of this project is significant, because it came at a time when some day centers offered more services online or at the beneficiaries’ homes, the children coming to interact very little, and the role of this project was to bring them back. together, of course, with the observance of the rules imposed by the prevention of COVID-19 infection, but also with the offer of the joy of doing things together, of being together, stimulating each other and working in a team.
RSDF: What do you intend to change / improve in the lives of children, parents and professionals in the child protection system included in the project, in the two years of project implementation?
Paul Marcu: We want that, following their participation in the project activities, the children become motivated towards education and school, to want to enjoy childhood, to learn to relate to those of their age and to learn a series of moral values, such as altruism and solidarity, and parents to realize that education is the most important weapon in overcoming their condition. We also aimed to develop and make available to professionals working with children, within our institutions and day centers, intervention guides and models of good practice, by promoting in the virtual environment the activities that they carry out each day center included in the project.
RSDF: What problems do you face at the beginning of the road?
Paul Marcu: There were more administrative problems, in the sense that there were delays in approving the budget at national and county level, for the year 2021, which is why the acquisitions provided in the project were slightly delayed, which was overcome by accelerating them, after the approval of the budget, at the end of April. Some difficulties were also related to the functioning of the partnership, especially at the beginning, until we managed to find the best way to communicate and we got to know each other better. There are problems inherent in any beginning, but with dedication, patience and professionalism and first of all with support from the experts of the Romanian Social Development Fund, the problems have been and will be overcome, even if they still appear.
RSDF: What motivates you and the other people on the team to start a new project, to complete it, to start and finish each new day of work with optimism?
Paul Marcu: What motivates me the most is the desire I notice for the staff involved in the project teams, to change things, to improve the lives of the beneficiaries of social services, their enthusiasm being contagious and mobilizing. In addition, since the beginning of my activity as a director, ie since 1997, my goal has been to succeed, with small but safe steps, to do what is best for each child / socially disadvantaged person. I think it’s important to keep in mind that the employees you coordinate are the people through whom you can implement your ideas, but also a source of inspiration for new ideas, and by patiently leaning on each other and allocating time for knowing them, you get to know what motivates them best and how you can get them to finish and start each day of work with optimism and enthusiasm. I think that accessing and implementing projects, although not easy to do, can add value to social assistance in Ialomiţa County, and the results and impact you will get through implementation, simply make you forget all the difficulties you have. -You had it before. I fondly remember the reaction of children from several poor communities when they went on a trip to the sea, in the first project, their fear, but also the joy with which they approached the waves. I think that their smiles are worth the effort and is the main reason why we always want to move forward, to make as many children as possible smile.
RSDF: Certainly, as a result of this project, things will remain unresolved or will need to be improved. Although the current one is in its infancy, are you already thinking about a new project?
Paul Marcu: Many things will certainly remain unresolved. Social assistance is an area in dynamics, some problems are solved, but others appear. So, in the future we want to access projects that focus mainly on the education of parents of children in disadvantaged situations. We would also like to see programs to support children with disabilities and their families, but also some that address the issue of bullying in school and children’s personal development, as well as parents’ responsibility for children’s education. There are still many staffing needs, and I would emphasize the formation of interdisciplinary teams. Not separate courses for teachers, medical staff, respectively for social services staff, but courses and activities that stimulate teamwork in the interest of the child.