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Romania: "a happier side of ghetto life"

Our Romanian photographer is George Golita, the coordinator of the Alternative Education Club (AEC), an education program initiated in 2010 by the Policy Center for Roma and Minorities (PCRM). The program operates in Ferentari, one of the most marginalised areas of Bucharest. George coordinates a team of Roma educational assistants from the community, as well as specialists in child development via arts and sport. A passionate photographer in his free time, George spoke to us about life in Ferentari and the work of PCRM.

Ferentari football: Fighting racism and discrimination

Our Romanian photographer is George Golita, the coordinator of the Alternative Education Club (AEC), an education program started in 2010 by the Policy Center for Roma and Minorities (PCRM). The program runs in Ferentari, one of the most marginalised areas of Bucharest. George coordinates a team of Roma education assistants from the community, as well as specialists in child development via arts and sport. A passionate photographer in his free time, George spoke to us about life in Ferentari and the work of PCRM.

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Who is in these photos?

In these photos are kids from the Alternative Education Club, a project developed by Policy Center for Roma and Minorities Foundation (PCRM) in Ferentari area, a ghetto from Bucharest, Romania. 

The Alternative Education Club (AEC), a non-formal education program started in 2010, currently serves some 300 children in Ferentari, a neighborhood widely recognised as the poorest in Bucharest. The AEC aims to empower the children to break the vicious cycle of marginalisation, poverty and hopelessness in which they find themselves through sports and alternative education.

What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?

The photos were taken in the schoolyard where the AEC is hosted. The photos are just simple snapshots showing a happier side of the ghetto life, depicting the resilience of the kids that are coming to our football practice every week.

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What is the background of the AEC coaches?

One of the AEC coaches is a former professional football player from the Roma community. He has been in our team since the beginning. Growing up in the ghetto type areas of Ferentari, he relates to the difficult life of the kids and he has able to motivate them by using his personal example. The other coach is a woman who used to play in the 80s in the Romanian national women’s football team. She set the foundations for the first team of Roma girls from the ghetto in 2016.

What work does PCRM do in Romania and why is it important?

PCRM is a non-governmental, non-profit, think-tank organisation founded in May 2008 in Romania, which acts towards solving social inclusion related issues of Roma and other minorities. The mission is to empower Roma and other minorities so that they become active citizens of society and to stimulate the majority to actively participate in the social inclusion process. 

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Is the work of PCRM getting harder in the current political climate?

It is true that the political environment is not very friendly towards the civil society in Romania at the moment, but our commitment to a long-term intervention transcends this current issue. We've been in the ghetto type areas of Ferentari for 8 years now and we gained legitimacy due to visible results that cannot be undermined by the political context.

What role does football play in Romania and Romanian society? How does it help with the integration of Roma and Minorities?

For us football is a tool to increase discipline, self-esteem, team spirit, respect and performance of the children involved. Our grassroots and policy work aims to curb structural discrimination against Roma at national and European level. As members of the FARE network Board, we advocate for a European Roma Strategy that fights discrimination via football. In partnership with the Romanian Football Federation And FARE Network, we created a coalition of public institutions, football industry bodies and human rights NGOs to develop the first national anti-discrimination strategy through football in Romania.

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What happens to the children once they finish in the AEC programme?

Once they finish the AEC, most of the children stay close to the program and they become role models and mentors for the smaller children. We are currently exploring the possibility for some of them who are already 18 years old to be instructors of arts and sport. We refer others to partner organisations that work with teenagers and high school students on developing independent life skills.

What is the future for your organisation?

PCRM will continue to support the Roma community either through direct intervention (especially through alternative education programs for Roma and non-Roma children in Ferentari), or by creating opportunities for public dialogue on topics such as diversity vs. discrimination, respect vs. racism, and social inclusion vs. exclusion.