Chinese philosopher – Confucius, said; “If your plan is for a year, plant rice. If your plan is for a decade, plant trees. If your plan is for a lifetime, educate your children.”
The Gypsy Community in Tileagd would never have heard of the great philosopher, Confucius. Yet, in their simple way, they were echoing his very thoughts – educate our children.
The Smiles Foundation had started to help the families with repairing homes, improving health and providing food – but to ‘Educate the Children’ – would provide a real opportunity to change for the future and provide real opportunity to dream.
The Smiles Foundation was basically being asked to – Plan for a Lifetime.
In 2002, we purchased an old Pentecostal church building that was no longer in use. We redesigned and started construction of Classrooms, Kitchen, Dining Room and added a complete Shower & Toilet block as no sanitation system existed in the building.
Many of the community joined in the task of labour working alongside our professional construction men to get the job done fast and as economically as possible. By summer of 2003, the place was done and we began furnishing the facility to operate as a school upon Opening Day – September 15th 2003.
Indeed, the first Tileagd Community School opened on time in September 2003.
On that first day, the children had no previous experience of school. Many did not know what a line was, they didn’t know their colours, the days of the week or the months of the year and they clearly did not know how to use the toilet or shower facilities!
Many had never held a pencil or seen a book and the first registration had to done by handprints as children (aged 7-14 years) didn’t know their date of birth or how to write their name.
It was a great opportunity and a huge challenge. To their great credit, the children desperately wanted to learn and their teachers wanted to teach them. Standards of achievement have risen amazingly in reading, writing, mathematics, art, dance and personal/social development – in fact, right across the school curriculum.
September 2006 saw our first 4 pupils ‘graduate’ to High School to continue the secondary phase of their education through what is known in Romania as ‘Second Chance’. High School for those older than the regular age of graduation.
Since then, many children have gone through Smiles School & Nursery, more than 400 children in all, including many from the Romanian Community. Asking to join the Gypsy School was a first in Tileagd for sure!
Children who had no dreams could now dare to dream and we wanted to help them ‘fly.’
The old school was full to overflowing, so we decided the time was right to create a new purpose-built facility, incorporating Kindergarten, School, Medical Centre, multi-purpose Sports Hall and Church for 250+ people.
At the cost of £1 million sterling ($1.5 million) the Tileagd Community Complex started construction in August 2005 and the School & Kindergarten was officially opened in the new complex in September 2006 for the beginning of the academic year. Now the Nursery continues in the facility built and opened in 2004 serving 2-4 year olds. The Kindergarten moved to the new complex in 2006 serving 5&6 year olds and the School for grades I-IV (aged 7-11) operated with 4 classes.
In September 2007, Tileagd Community School in conjunction with the State School offered for the first time, Grade V for those graduating from grade IV and wanted to continue their education.
In 2008, the remaining part of the Tileagd Community Complex, incorporating multi-purpose Sports Hall, Medical Centre along with the Church was completed and opened.
In 2015, we had our first student graduate 12th grade. And we had 3 other girls finishing 11th grade who wanted to continue in High School. These are remarkable facts and within the gypsy Culture, extremely rare.
We are very proud of all our students and the achievements they are making, but we realise, we couldn’t do it all without the enormous support we receive daily from so many donors around the world – whether supporting a child to go to school or nursery, supporting their family to avoid the risk of children begging for food or financial support and fund-raising for the daily operating costs of a School & Nursery which as you can imagine, are huge.
Since 2013, Smiles has partnered with the State Education Department to share facilities and staff. Some classes that we had maintained for 10 years were now being supported by State funds. Over the past 4 years, some classes have moved to the main State building which is very positive for greater integration of Gypsy children with regular Romanian children.
Our objective in the beginning was not primarily to get into long term running of Schools. We wanted to demonstrate that if the Gypsy Community were given the opportunity and support needed for school, they would take it and make use of it for a better future.
We have invested great effort and significant money into achieving this objective. We have proved the important issue of their desire to learn. When the Gypsy community is fully integrated into Romanian society and all attend the State School, Smiles will be able to look to the next crucially important phase of development – Employment Opportunities and Skill Training to help more of the educated Gypsy young people get into Work.
The challenge continues, but as we look back we can see fantastic progress from such simple beginnings. Because of the support we receive from so many each and every month.
It was a ‘chance encounter’ in 2001 with a boy begging in the city of Oradea that has lead to some mighty changes in Tileagd and by starting with a focus on Education – is changing the future of an entire community forever.
Creating Hope … Making Dreams come true!
The Operating Costs for Tileagd Education Project average £6,250 / $8,125 per month.