By Ashley Snow, Manager, Engagement, Resource Development
At Save the Children, we always say we’ll do whatever it takes to help every last child. This call to action is embedded within our long-term ambition, our strategic priorities and, even our day-to-day watercooler talk. Save the Children employees are deeply committed to making a difference in the lives of the most marginalized, the most deprived, the most vulnerable children. Admittedly, despite its persistent presence in my daily work, I had no idea what this phrase really meant – helping every last child – until I saw it with my own eyes.
When I was assigned to host a group of IKEA co-workers going to visit our IKEA Foundation supported program in Romania, I had to look it up on a map. I’d heard about the country from friends and family who had traveled there for various reasons – service trips, studies abroad, church missions. But, beyond the Transylvania legend and overwhelmed orphanages, my knowledge of the country was limited at best. In my preparation, I was thrilled and consumed with the opportunity to explore the country and finally observe Save the Children Romania’s programs in person.
I’ve worked for Save the Children for the past three years; it was my last internship during college and my first job afterward. I was immediately inspired by the mission of the organization and have always felt incredibly lucky to work toward such ambitious and honorable goals: we hope to provide every child with a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm.
In Romania, Save the Children’s programs for inclusive education are primarily focused on a population that I had never heard of before my visit: the Roma. You may know the group by the more common name of gypsies. The Roma community originated inside the country of Romania and dominates a large portion of its population to this day. The ethnic group faces large social, cultural and political barriers to pulling out of widespread poverty. Many Roma are uneducated and live with multiple families in makeshift shacks. Young boys and girls are often pulled out of school to work or marry; Roma children consist of 80% of the students out of school in the country. Even if they are able to attend, the children face deep-rooted discrimination. Their own teachers often believe – and say aloud – that it is useless to educate a Roma child.
As we drove around the capital city of Bucharest, up into the mountains of Brasov, and along dirt roads to meet with Roma children, I was struck by our call to action: whatever it takes to help every last child. For many Roma communities across the country, Save the Children is the only organization that is present to support their children. For a group that is not only forgotten, but heavily prejudiced against, our strategic and targeted educational programs provide a glimmer of hope for a better future.
On our last school visit during the trip, we had the opportunity to meet with Roma parents whose children had participated in a kindergarten preparedness program the previous summer. This intervention is specifically designed for the Roma population, to ensure that boys and girls who are starting school are prepared – both academically and socially – for the year ahead. We witnessed a sampling of the class and noted the impressive behavior of the children. Though only five or six years old, the boys and girls were raising their hands, speaking in turn and listening to their teacher. One IKEA co-worker even exclaimed, “They’re better behaved than my daughter’s class at home!”
When we talked with the mothers and fathers after the class let out, I noted the many similarities between the desires of these Roma parents and those I know at home. They had all sacrificed in many ways – education, work, and more – to build a better future for their children. Like so many parents in the United States, they dream of providing a little more, a little better for their sons and daughters.
At the end of the discussion, I suddenly asked if they had noticed a difference in their children since the program had started last summer. The entire room erupted with noise and movement from our participants.
The answer, as I had hoped, was an overwhelming yes.
IKEA Foundation is Save the Children’s largest global corporate partner. We have been partners with IKEA since 1994. Through IKEA Foundation-funded programs, Save the Children has touched the lives of some 10 million children. The inclusive education program we visited in Romania is funded by the Soft Toys for Education campaign. The campaign that ran from 2003 to 2015, aimed to improve the education of the most disadvantaged children, recognizing that education is one of the best investments for them. Save the Children programs focused on children of ethnic minority groups and children with disabilities – groups which are often the most vulnerable. Our work together continues in the new Let’s Play for Change campaign IKEA launched 2016.
For more information about the partnership, please visit: https://www.savethechildren.net/about-us/our-corporate-partners/ikea-foundation