During the past 18 years we have experienced both exciting opportunities and challenging situations with the Smiles Tileagd School. Decisions around the Covid-19 crisis and its impact on the new academic year has resulted in Smiles undertaking serious discussions and taking the time to consider priorities, leading to the conclusions now reached.
A brief history that brings us to this point, started in 2003 when Smiles opened the first School in Tileagd designed to specifically cater for the needs of the Gypsy Community we were involved with through family support. Their desire was to have a School tailored to their needs that could help them get an all-important education. The Smiles Foundation made that possible and for 10 years operated the School with support from donors across the world.
After 10 years, Smiles agreed a partnership of collaboration with the State Education department, who agreed to assist the School through employment of the teachers, but that the School would continue to function at the Smiles Community Complex, as an ‘Annex’ to the State School. At that point, Smiles handed authority for running the school, to the State, with a major desire to see integration within the State system of Gypsy children. Whilst we saw some obvious benefits in the arrangement, our concern over the years has been having less influence in the running of the School and its curriculum, as well as the impact that was having on the children from the Gypsy Community. Few doing as well as previous children had achieved under Smiles leadership.
At the same time, we realised, as welcome as it was to not have the financial burden of the teachers, Smiles was still covering the cost of maintaining the facility with Utilities, Heating, Maintenance & Repairs, Security along with Ghuiry and Meda and all the Food, Clothing and Hygiene side. On average, costing over £3,000 ($3,900) every month.
When the School closed on March 13th, 2020 due to COVID – little did we realise more than 6 months would pass before children could go back and now, the terms and arrangements imposed for returning to School – were to be extremely different to how they were before, and even more costs would be for Smiles to bear. But it was not just a financial issue that caused us to make our decision.
In August, we were informed by the State of their intention to reduce the classes in our facility to just 2 classes for the current academic year. Many of our Gypsy Community were being moved to the State main campus in the centre of Tileagd. Our major concern was two-fold. Firstly, how would the kids respond to leaving our facility and heading into town? Secondly, a significant part of the Smiles Complex, allocated for the School, would now be empty. Part of the original reason to collaborate with the State was to see the facility used, in one sense to justify the costs of providing it. Now, with just 2 classes, possibly not more than 30 children, we still face a monthly cost of over £3,000 ($3,900) but barely a third of the children we were providing school for 6 years ago when we began collaboration with the State.
We have therefore been considering the best options for the past couple of months and believe we have now come up with the conclusion, approved by our recent International Trustees Meeting, to provide a better option for the children and their families, who we have cared for since 2001. What’s more, in our discussions with Ghuiry and Meda – they both believe this is the best way forward for their community.
Continuing to support through education, but also prioritising the importance of God and the Church in our lives, alongside the importance of reading and writing. So, it is with immense excitement we can now share our plan for continuing support for these children, albeit in a slightly different way, but in our view, a much more powerful way to truly impact their lives for good.
We are firstly referring to 32 children, aged 7-14 years who we expect to attend School from September 14th some of whom have been transferred from our Complex to the Main Campus in Tileagd. These children will need significant support to remain in school and do well. Rather like our kids did 10 years ago and who even went onto High School in the city of Oradea. So, we plan to establish a first class ‘After-School’ program that will support them as we did others in years past.
Smiles After-School will function every school day from 12noon until 4pm. As they arrive from school, lunch will be ready, prepared by Meda and served at the Complex. We will then have an hour or so of Homework focus, ensuring the work set for home can be done and completed, as well as assisting with any aspects of the school day, that some children may not have understood. We will go over those issues to ensure better understanding. We want to have our own employed teacher to cover this important aspect of support. A Christian Teacher who will also accept and love the kids for who they are. We are basically changing ‘facility provision’ – to control and responsibility for the After-School program and associated support.
We will provide the supplies needed for School, whether clothes, back pack, books etc to ensure ‘our kids’ keep up with other kids in the class and don’t feel the ‘poor relation’ which Gypsies normally do in the State facilities. Finally, we plan for an hour of ‘fellowship time’ when homework is finished and we do things as a group – whether worship, bible study, games or discussions on life from a Christian prospective – all designed to fully expand their understanding of what a life in Christ can achieve and that academic achievement is only a part of the bigger story.
This will be our ‘After-School’ program and we then also plan for 2 days a week to run a Church-Club from 4pm – 6pm – which these kids will be entitled to attend. We also hope to attract children in the community who have abandoned school and no longer attend, even if they are young and unable to currently do anything more. We anticipate there could be up to another 30 kids in this category, and we want to reach these kids with the Gospel in a contemporary way to keep their lives on a good-path and avoid some of the dangers and pitfalls that await many kids who have dropped out of school.
The Church-Club will form part of an exciting new ‘Outreach’ initiative that we are currently working towards in Smiles, with the hope of launching it in 2021, so much more news will follow, explaining all the incredible plans we are formulating now, which Adi Matis (Director of Outreach) is masterminding.
Watch this space for that news which will follow soon.
Meanwhile, please pray for the efforts we want to put in place now. Pray for the resources needed and if you can help with the Budget of our new After-School program, please support here with an on-line donation, or call the Smiles office for further ways of helping. All the current support we receive for Education (approximately £2,000/$2,600 per month) will be directed to the After-School budget that we anticipate costing the same as our current commitment to providing the facility for the State School to use, so we need additional contributions to make the plan work. But the results will be so much better for the kids we support.
We are all really excited by this new venture and believe it will be great for the children involved. Pray for them most of all, that their lives will be impacted for Christ through our efforts and faithful giving.
And by the way, the Smiles Nursery facility will continue as before, totally managed by Smiles and we believe this does a wonderful job of preparing the little ones for Grade School when they are 6 years old. We have 40 kids registered for Nursery, aged 3-5 years, who will be back, or for the first time, starting Monday (September 14th).
Chief Executive to
The Smiles Foundation