About anger and hands-on solutions in the ghettoes

Yes, if you wonder, I am angry. In the last month alone 3 people – all under 30 -I knew died of overdose. Last one was a 13 years old; he died when I was still writing this piece. I played football with him in the ghetto and I insisted he was coming to the school. His older brother died also because of an overdose. His mother was convinced that he will never take drugs as he saw his sibling dying in front of him. The only child she has left now is five. Future for him is bleak. I know children that sell themselves for sex at the age of 9 to support their drug addiction. I saw things that nobody should see. I am angry.

During last month I received many letters for why I shouldn’t quit and advice about more diplomatic criticism and ways how I could become more successful in hunting for jobs. Nobody from those working in institutions dealing with social inclusion seemed to be interested to ask about how we can address the problems in the ghettoes.

In spite of whatever my reader will think I am mostly angry with myself. Mad that I am not able to bring about systemic change. That I do not seem to find the right way to motivate the system to address issues that if left alone will ultimately be a significant threat to societies .

The ghettoes are a huge social problem. They are exploding all over Europe. In the last years spent working in the ghetto I found also some solutions.I also failed many times. Here the solutions.

Finding the right incentives

The main problems when it comes to the social inclusion of Roma are not the lack of expensive meetings, empty rhetoric, copy-paste reports and imagined or rationalised amazing successes. Quite the contrary, we have far too much funding for these. The main problem stays with the many ghettoes Roma live in, isolated Roma communities struggling with abject poverty and a good number of Roma that leave temporary or permanently their countries in search of a better life. Some of the last ones, unable to compete on the job market will end up working illegally, abuse the welfare systems or be involved in criminal activities and networks. These problems are strident and most of the top-level European politicians talk about them (sometimes in terms that are blatantly racist). Regardless, it is paradoxically that funding is not available to tackle the above-mentioned problems.

Some of the problems are not as complicated as they might seem and there are always solutions. Not addressing these problems soon will lead to a complete disappearance of the social fabric in this places and an escalation of violence and criminality with huge long term consequences.

There are good incentives for social inclusion of families at highest risk of petty criminality, migration and drug abuse from the ghettoes. Complex socio-economic factors at work in the ghettoes result in a disproportionate number of convicted criminals and illiterates. Ghettoes are often hot-beds for child prostitution, drug trafficking and drug abuse, violence and abject poverty.

A good part of the boys in the ghetto I work in (over 40 %) will be involved in criminal activities, end up in prison or drug addicted before they reach 21 years old. Girls have a slightly better chance but still the numbers are over 30%. At 30 years old the numbers are well above 50%.

Most of the children in the ghetto that end up in prison are functional illiterates – they are unable to do basic multiplications and can not read or understand the subtitles on the TV.

Almost none of these children can take part in organized sports due to the costs involved. At the same time sports is one and for many the most important thing in their lives.

Football, basketball and street dance changed dramatically to the better the lives of many children in our case. We keep the children in the school as we condition their participation in our sport activities by their presence in school. We found out that if children from the ghetto stay in school up to the 7th grade the probability to end up in prison is nine time less than children that left school before the 4th grade.

We managed to convince some of the most famous footballers in Romania to play with our children. The hope they could become football stars is strong and a great motivation to stay in school. It is also a great motivation for their parents to support their children to stay in school.

If we keep that hope until they are 14-15 we manage to improve dramatically their chances to become functional citizens.  At that age some of them less than big football clubs will recruit less than 2% of them. The rest will have six- seven years of education and nine times better chances to become functional citizens than the other children in the ghetto.

We do the same with girls – most popular sports for girls are dancing but it will work also with handball in Romania. Music classes, art classes can also make a difference. We proved it works at a micro scale – in the ghetto of Ferentari. It could work at the big scale.

The benefits for ghettoes could be enormous. It makes work with families a lot easier and reduces dramatically the possibility of children to be trafficked and used for begging and criminal activities.

It sounds great doesn’t it ? If you consider that we won the 2012 UNICEF award for best practice in Sports and Education and we also used EU money for what we do it might read like the perfect story.

You might think it is in fact a perfect success of EU funds and a clear proof of good practice. Wrong. EU Structural Funds cannot be used for what we do. It took the significant overall disinterest of the European Commission about what we were doing, luck and stubbornness on our behalf to be able to use EU funds for financing the club in Ferentari.

I knew there will be many battles I will lost in the ghetto at the moment I started. But many are avoidable loses. Many things could have been long solved. Everything needed is there but is still used wrongly.

The purpose I write all these are not to annoy people. Is to make them aware. Sharing my experiences and thoughts might help – it worked a bit in the past. So please do share – it might bring about the change I keep failing to do it myself.



  1. well I do understand your frustration, isolation and anger. Our Gypsy sites here in the UK are in fact ghettos. The community is completely marginalised and ignored. Trapped in the benefit system, high levels of boredom, very few at school post 12 years, a growing drug problem matched with an increased criminality and a generation growing up with the message ‘you do not count and have no place’ in 21st century Britain. The lack of investment and sub standard accommodation provided by Local Authorities reinforces all of what is wrong. Because sites were built mainly in the 1960’s on rough, inappropriate and near contaminated land, councils have merely extended these ‘wrongly’ placed homes instead of beginning again. To begin again would create outrage and cost too much money and political will. All that can be done is to ‘inspire and support’ community members (like you do!) so that they can stand back a little and see their (our) true position in society and then when more of us do this, we will be able to say ‘enough is enough’ we want a better future for our children…the ‘Gypsy vote is as yet untapped, this could assist!
    Candy Sheridan
    Gypsy Council

  2. I have, since childhood and I am now almost 75, fought the ignorance about Roma people. The refrain „don’t they steal?”, keeps reminding me I must not loose my cool. The issue here is poverty. I grew up in a war zone, I stole food. When Italy was still ruled by a small percent of the wealthy, many of the rest stole. But mostly, Europe does not learn from it’s past mistakes. This is a form of renewed holocaust. It is tiring, but those of us who fight for Romani rights, cannot and must not give up.
    Sonia Meyer

  3. Dear Valeriu,
    I have only just just started working in the field (I realise this sounds strange, as „the field” was, is and probably still will be your life), and I just wanted to tell you that your blog is very precious to me. It enables me to avoid making mistakes and become one of the people you criticise. I believe you are absolutely right, and honestly no policy-maker could ever argue against the experience of the incredibly harsh reality of the „field”. Unfortunatelly, Europe in this case is a classic example of the men in the ivory tower telling people in the bottom what to do. It’s too bad they cannot seem to stand a bit of „constructive criticism”! I am truly sorry for the loss of these 3 young people, it is a tragedy, and unfortunately they are probably not the last ones either. But know that you have a big influence on people like me, that follow what you are doing. And yes, maybe the change will be made indirectly, but it’s still your experience and awareness-raising that will have made it possible. So, keep us posted, you never annoy us!

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