Romania was the name given to three regions, Walachia, Moldavia and Transylvania when they were merged in 1859. With the exception of the Hungarian community in Transylvania which regards itself as Hungarian, the three regions are relatively culturally uniform. The Roma people (gypsies) live throughout the country, on the outskirts of cities and towns and are on the fringes of mainstream society. The country borders Ukraine and Moldova to the north, Hungary to the northwest, Bulgaria to the south, Serbia to the Southwest, and the Black Sea to east. A large part of the country is mountainous, with the Carpathian Mountains covering one third of the land.
After the Second World War Russian communists abolished the monarchy, nationalised business and industry and organised farmland into collectives. In 1965 Ceausescu assumed presidency and oversaw policies that plunged the country into debt, leading to food and fuel shortages. In 1989 the Ceaucescu regime was brought down following protests and civil unrest. A party called the National Salvation Front assumed power, and in 1990 free elections were held. Romania is now a Republic and governed by a centre right party.
Ninety percent of the population (22.6million) is Romanian, seven percent Hungarian and two percent Roma. Young people aged 15-24 years represent 17% of the total population.
Romania is an economy based largely on subsistence farming. At the end of the 1980s 45% of the population lived in rural areas. During the communist period a policy of homogenisation created ‘social blocs’ to group the population ‘systematically.’ This prompted a renewed commitment to rural life and traditional forms of living. In rural areas 76% of young people live with their family of origin. This dynamic means that 44% of 15-29 years in Romania live in rural areas. Unpaid farm and family household work mask the high levels of unemployment in these areas. Youth unemployment in urban settings is also high.
Background to Youth Bank in Romania
The Association for Community Relations (ARC) introduced YouthBank to Romania, to Cluj, in 2006. They introduced it to the city as part of their programme to develop the concept and practice of philanthropic work in Romania and as part of their Community Foundations Development Support. ARC was keen to engage the support of key players within Romania society to take the community foundation concept forward. Interest existed within the city of Cluj for youth activities and development. Aware of YouthBank, as developed by Community Foundation in Northern Ireland, and how the model was successfully applied in Slovakia, ARC pursued this approach. It enlisted the support of Community Foundation Northern Ireland, and the YouthBank team to bring the YouthBank model to Romania.
YouthBank in Romania apply the same principles as elsewhere. Young people aged 15-21 years are selected to become members of the YouthBank committee on the basis of their commitment to the programme. Committee groups of up to 15-20 young people receive training, design and implement community fundraising activities. They undertake research in their local areas as to the priority needs of the community and communicate and advertise the funding programme. They decide on which projects to fund, and maintain contact with them, monitoring and evaluating each project. The host organisation provide an important administrative framework for the young people to work with, while allowing them to act independently.
In the first two years of its existence the YouthBank in Cluj supported 32 youth-led projects, with $13,200. Average grants awarded were around $400. In the third year, 2009, the model was extended and replicated in five other cities. It now operates in seven cities across Romania and over $80,000 has been awarded in grants to over 250 projects.
YouthBank was hosted within ARC for one and a half years. Responsibility was then transferred to Cluj Community Foundation which was formed at the start of 2008.
Making a Difference
Each of the six YouthBanks across Romania is expected to fundraise and to add to the funds available from donors for grant making. The amount varies according to the size of the community and the number of young people living in it. Between €3,000 and €7,000 is allocated to each YouthBank who award grants between €250 and €750 to numerous projects. Grants are not thematically organised but awarded on the basis of local need and overall potential.
Projects funded so far include social events for disabled children, various environmental, sports, social and cultural events (eg theatre, music events); social awareness campaigns. In Cluj YouthBank members volunteered for two months in a local hospital for sick children. Another project was funded to renovate a courtyard in a care centre for young people, to allow for outdoor lessons. A music festival organised to reduce the social isolation experienced by blind students in Cluj has become a successful yearly event. A spin off from that initiative is that blind students are now being accepted into mainstream education for the first time.
As well as the benefits to local communities, coordinators report how participation has a positive impact on young people involved. Many young people are frustrated by the lack of opportunities, facilities, or indeed change within their communities. YouthBank gives them a rare opportunity to act on their ideas and to make a difference locally. It also allows adults to see young people through another lens, and perhaps to witness an enterprising and philanthropic way of working that was not familiar under the communist era.
Growth and Future
YouthBank is a relatively new concept in Romania but is one that is having significant impact. The country is still recovering from the communist era and the idea of taking a lead and implementing a programme of change within one’s own community is not familiar practice. Adults still live in the shadow of the communist regime. YouthBank members and recipients are of a new generation, however, who are prepared and able to make a difference, to implement change and improve life for young people and adults at a local level.
As a vehicle for change, those involved with YouthBank in Romania, hope to influence youth relevant policy and practice in the future. By facilitating a line of communication between YouthBank members and local and national government ARC hope that youth people will feed into and have a direct say in policies and decisions which affect their lives.
YouthBank is now in its 6th year in Romania and a number of young people who joined in the early years are members of the Alumni in Cluj. The host body hope to expand this group nationally and involve those who have ‘graduated’ from YouthBank in the training, support and coordination of local YouthBanks. The Host body organise several training events in the year, three former YouthBank members have trained as Coordinators.
YouthBank Romania hope to organise more exchange visits, such as the one with YouhtBank members from Moldova in 2011. Twenty young people from Moldova visited Cluj to share and learn from each others experiences of YouthBank. Given the geopolitical lay of the countries in the region YouthBank Romania aspire to taking part multi cultural conferences and exchange visits where young people from in Georgia, Armenai, Azerbjan, and Romania can get together.
As well as support from ARC, YouthBank in Romania is partnered with and receives sponsorship from a number of orgnaisations. Corporate sponsorship comes from The Romanian Development Bank (BRD). Other partners include Cluj City Hall, Sora super market, and a large number of media outlets. Fundraising is a central component of YouthBank in Romania and each local YouthBank takes responsibility to secure local sponsorship and support from donors.
YouthBank Romania has received recognition from a number of different sources in Romania, for its innovation, service and contribution to youth and community life. It won first prize for ‘The Best Educational Project’ and 2nd prize in the ‘NGO of the Year in Education.’
‘In this program I have learned to relate better to people with whom I’m working, to
express my ideas coherently, to identify community or society problems and to look
at them from various perspectives and to try to find a solution. I think that Youth
Bank will help me long term to become a model citizen for the community in which I
live, with initiative, civic spirit and determination, a good leader, while the
knowledge that I have accumulated I will use to build a successful career, but also to
pass them forward’ (Andreea Moraru, YouthBank member)
Community Foundation. www.youthbank.ro
At the end of October 2006 the Association for Community Relations in Cluj-Napoca established the first YouthBank in Romania. Fifteen young people enjoyed their first grant-making training led by a staff member of the YouthBank team.