Valeriu Nicolae, a Roma activist talking from the ghetto


Talking about humanitarian projects, it is important to avoid the “detachment from reality” that can separate institutions and international organizations from the grassroots level. Activists like Valeriu Nicolae remind us of this: “When you work in a ghetto, you simply can’t report on activities as planned two years before. Rather than being constrained by the rigidity of funders, the project needs to be flexible and respond to the immediate needs”.

Mr. Nicolae works for the inclusion of young Roma in very unfavourable conditions: the Ferentári quarter of Bucharest. Roma squatters from rural areas live there in shacks, unemployed, undocumented, and with many children who don’t go to school. In addition, drugs have appeared. Mr. Nicolae, a Roma himself, started in 2009 the only social project in this slum.

His work is focused on empowering the youngsters in the ghetto, to give them an opportunity in the Romanian society. He encourages them to ignore drugs by offering an alternative. They have been successful with many teenagers that were using and selling drugs and now are doing well in school. From Ferentári has emerged a football team that competes at national level, and some youngsters that are developing their skills in dancing or music.

For this commitment with the most disadvantaged young people, the project received the 2012 UNICEF award for best sports and education project. But to Mr. Nicolae, it’s not enough. “If the authorities and legitimate businesses don’t give desperately poor people a chance, they leave them at the mercy of organized crime which fills the vacuum. That’s what happened in Latin American favelas, and what’s happening here”.

Added to that “detachment from reality” that Mr. Nicolae (who worked as a lobbying the European Union in Brussels) has noticed, there is also a lack of resources. His own project has no official funding. And, as he states, “a little money can really achieve a lot of difference“.

His experience can show us how to make a Shared Society in its first level, by working with the more disadvantaged minorities. And how the theoretical approaches need sometimes flexibility to the actual situations.

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