Veritas Preschool Program has space for up to 20 children aged 3 – 6, and functions five mornings a week. Most of the children are from deprived families where there may be only one parent present in the home. In some cases both parents are working out of the country and the children are being cared for by grandparents, older siblings or a neighbor. Those who receive little affection or stimulation at home clamor for the attention of the children’s workers. The Veritas program follows the national kindergarten curriculum and aims to prepare the children for the first grade, ensuring them a good start in their education. In addition the “morning circle” with Bible stories, songs and prayer lays the foundation for trust in a God who created and loves them.
Students working in the preschool program give lots of hugs and smiles and words of encouragement. They help Romanian staff plan and lead games and crafts, teach lessons and tell stories (with the help of translation), they supervise outdoor play and help serve a mid-morning lunch. They use their observation skills to monitor the children’s changing moods and come alongside any who need individual support or guidance. They go on home visits to learn more about family circumstances and accompany the children on field trips. They generally help Romanian staff wherever and however needed.
Kids’ Club is an afterschool program for 7 – 12 year olds that meets four afternoons a week, the 45 kids divided into two different age groups. Here too the children are mainly from poor Roma neighborhoods. Kids’ Club practices a holistic approach to child development, addressing material, physical, educational, social and spiritual needs. Considerable time is spent helping the children with school work, and providing them with general education and enrichment activities likely to be missing from home. Strengthening self-esteem, dealing with discrimination, delaying gratification, managing anger, treating others kindly, and trusting God are the kinds of lessons to be learned, along with creativity and motor skills strengthened through crafts and games. Hot lunches and second-hand clothing help provide for material needs. A “big brother, big sister” program matches volunteers from local high schools to the children most in need of a mentor.
Students serving in Kids’ Club relate mostly to the children in a group – at first observing and helping with lessons, games and crafts, and then gradually beginning to lead parts of the program. Students with particular skills in sports, music or creative arts find ways to use them. Non-verbal communication works to start relationship building or to offer support to children on the fringes of the group. As Romanian language skills develop students can be more helpful in homework sessions, and in reaching out to individual children. Accompanying Romanian staff on home visits enriches students’ understanding of the environment in which the children are growing up. Summer term students usually have the opportunity to go to camp for several days with children and Romanian co-workers, which always proves to be a demanding but a highly rewarding and memorable experience.
The pre-teen and teenage years are critical for the future development of Roma youth. There is a lot of pressure for teens to drop out of school to begin to earn money for their families. Teenage pregnancy is common. Violence in the family sets young people up for falling into abusive relationships. Bleak employment opportunities put the teenagers at high risk for human trafficking, a widespread problem in Eastern Europe.
Students with outgoing personalities tend to have more success relating to the 35- 40 teens in the Adolescent Program, where most of the activity happens in groups. Romanian staff are always eager for students’ suggestions for ice-breakers, games, discussion topics, creative ways of presenting lessons on avoiding destructive behaviors, making healthy choices, developing positive values, setting career goals… Students have been able to teach volleyball and softball, guitar and photography, run a Spanish conversation group and a Salsa class and line dancing. They have taught knitting and origami and made friendship bracelets. There are also opportunities to develop supportive one-on-one relationships, when Romanian staff indicate that a particular teen would benefit from some positive attention, friendship and role modeling. Summer students will find themselves going on hikes, joining in on community service projects and enjoying a few days of camp with the teens.
It Takes Courage – another model of working with teens
It Takes Courage is a year long program for high school students interested in personal development and in improving their ability to use English. The program is conducted in English, and works best when there is an American student or volunteer in the role of co-leader. Most of the participants are considering what to study at university, and will go on to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, business people – the leaders of tomorrow.
The curriculum focuses on 15 traits or qualities which build a strong character – kindness, humility, honesty, loyalty, patience, perseverance, respect, etc. Stories, games, and film clips stimulate interaction and discussion. Many participants are challenged for the first time to think about values, to listen to others and respect their opinions, to recognize that they can act to make the world a better place. Community service projects help them put this into practice.
Summer educational camps
During June and July Veritas offers week-long camp activities for children and teens as a way of building relationships in the community and generating income to support Veritas social programs. These camps are run by visiting teams or foreign volunteers, working together with Veritas staff. Student participation and creative ideas are always appreciated. There are always camps focused on improving English skills. Other topics to date have been art, photography, sports, singing, Bible stories, German, peace and friendship, The Lord of the Rings, Wild West Adventure.