It’s been three weeks since I started working alongside my colleagues in the Day Centre in Tîrgu-Mureș. Even though it’s not my first encounter with social work, it’s been nearly five years since I last worked in the field. I recently moved on from my last job as a guesthouse manager in the south of Transylvania and even though I really enjoyed doing what I did, social work was always on my mind and in my heart. So it didn’t come as a surprise to me when I decided to apply for this job and to be honest, the decision came quite naturally.
I began volunteering in Cold Valley (Valea Rece) when I was thirteen. I remember being shocked but inspired at the same time. There was so much poverty, not just physical but also emotional and spiritual. I also remember Geta’s drive and passion and how it inspired me to pursue a degree and career in Social Work. We started working with children and their families and during the summers we would take the kids to Lunca Bradului for a few days of camp. It was a time for learning and discovery, a time that I look back upon with joy.
Part of my job now is to work with children in an afterschool/educational like program. On Wednesdays I work mostly with teens that don’t attend school and on Thursdays with children aged 8 through 10 that are enrolled in school. The two groups of children are so different that it felt necessary to have different teaching strategies. But even though I decided to do things a bit different for each group, I want to inspire all of them to seek knowledge, to awake their curiosity and help them to understand how important education is. In my opinion, curiosity is the first step in learning new things. And the more you learn, the more empowered you feel and the more you want to acquire new knowledge.
I noticed that most of the teens that come on Wednesdays are not accustomed to any structured environments. They tend to seek fun and they tend to test you in order to get what they want. Because of that I have to set specific rules (starting from hygiene and hand washing to speaking only when they are asked and so on and so forth), that have to be explained over and over again at the beginning of each lesson and throughout the whole lesson as well. I also noticed that they need and want to be listened to. They like to be in the center of attention and they enjoy when I pay attention to them individually.
Therefore, I started a seven weeks plan with and for them. We began with the Creation story on the first week and in the following weeks we will be approaching each creation day as a separate theme. Even though the base for the lesson plan is biblical, each theme will be treated as a learning opportunity for various things, some that can be applied to daily life and some that are educational in a typical school way. I wanted the lessons to have a sort of a Montessori vibe with a lot of visuals and practical things but, as I said, on a Christian platform. Each lesson has three main ingredients – an experiment (e.g. learn to make a cloud in a jar), an association game (e.g. learn the main weather phenomenon) and a creative challenge (coloring, drawing, craft) – and depending on the lesson, a video, a writing challenge or a day trip. My colleague and I are also simultaneously going through the process of teaching them how to write and read.
As I previously said, my goal is to inspire these children to seek more, to learn more and to empower them to feel valued and appreciated. I follow the same direction for the children that come on Thursdays. These kids attend school and are about to graduate third class. They are a bit more structured in terms of behavior so it’s easier in a sense to teach them. We focus more on subjects like Math and Romanian but I also want them to have the fun learning part. So experiments and creativity are also part of the whole lesson plan. I used the first two weeks to observe and test their knowledge and learning rhythms. And starting with this week we started going deeper into the learning part.
After these seven weeks come to an end and I will have had a better understanding of how things develop, hopefully I will also have their trust. That way I can try to come up with a lesson plan adjusted to their needs and wishes. I am confident though that with patience and passion we will achieve great things. Not great in your typical society values kind of way but in a way that is meaningful to them and to their families.