Eight-year-old Pari is the fourth child in her family to attend Talita Kum, Blythswood Care’s after school programme in western Romania. She had heard the older children talking about the ‘cantina’ but still it was all new and strange and wonderful to her.
A well-cooked meal at lunchtime and a further snack in the late afternoon constitute a major incentive for children from low-income households to attend the programme. And learning to eat them with a knife and fork can be quite a challenge as Pari discovered in her first week there.
Being able to take a shower with water “sprinkling from above” was another wonder to the little girl who lives in a two-roomed flat with her parents, brother and sister and also with an older brother and his wife and child. “At home we heat water on the stove,” she said, explaining her surprise.
But Pari’s biggest disadvantage at home is that neither parent can read or write and so are unable to give her any assistance with her homework. For her the tuition on offer at Talita Kum is potentially life-changing, breaking the cycle of illiteracy and poverty that continues to blight Roma communities across Eastern Europe.
“Girls in this situation are at risk of dropping out of school,” says Adrian Popa who founded Talita Kum 15 years ago and continues to direct the programme. “By the age of fourteen they can be under pressure to enter premature arranged marriage.
“To raise the aspirations of these children we need to help them imagine themselves inhabiting a different story, a story that will prove more compelling than the others that compete for their future.”