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The Educational Centre in 2023

The Educational Centre in 2023

 

1. Introduction

In February 2023, the Alba Eglesia Foundation inaugurated the Viscri Educational Centre in Brasov County, Romania. Functioning as an informal hub, the centre provides a space for children in Viscri to engage in educational, extracurricular, and recreational activities.

During the first year, 25 children from Viscri, aged 7-14, actively participated in the centre’s diverse range of activities. Notably, these children, all residing with their families in Viscri, represent a demographic that includes a significant number from marginalized and vulnerable backgrounds.

The activities were thoughtfully tailored to the respective age groups, following a structured timetable and organized into designated groups. The local tutor from Viscri assumed a central role, overseeing the coordination of activities at the centre, facilitating collaboration with volunteers and instructors involved in various programs.

2. Social and educational context

The establishment of the Educational Centre directly addresses the pressing social and educational challenges prevalent in Viscri and its surrounding areas. Despite the broader region’s considerable tourist, economic, and historical potential in southern Transylvania, educational and social issues persist, particularly impacting children.

In a region where numerous entities have contributed to the valorization of local heritage and communities, the reality remains that children, from an early age, grapple with a challenging life. The dearth of quality educational services, coupled with the social and economic hardships in rural areas where we operate, hampers the proper development of many children, limiting their prospects for a brighter future compared to that of their parents.

Viscri children playing in the street

These challenges pose a threat to the sustainability of initiatives that have significantly contributed to Viscri’s success over the last two decades, making it one of Romania’s most renowned villages, frequented by tourists worldwide.

In our area, a significant portion of the population faces educational challenges, often limited to a maximum of four grades. Many residents encounter difficulties accessing education and lack basic literacy skills.

Difficult living conditions, along with insecure and modest incomes, contribute to an unfavorable environment for the growth and development of children. These challenges also make it difficult for families to adapt to society, often leading to dependence on public authorities for support. In such circumstances, there is a risk of a loss of discernment between truth and falsehood, particularly concerning the healthy safeguarding and nurturing of children. Of particular concern is the risk of individuals getting caught in a cycle of poverty and limited prospects due to the challenging conditions they face.

3. Opening the Educational Centre in Viscri

Given the challenging social and educational context in the region, the Alba Eglesia Foundation, in collaboration with local partners, community members, and private sponsors, has taken the initiative to establish the Educational Centre in Viscri. Our goal is to offer children a genuine opportunity to learn and grow. Recognizing that enhancing education requires collective effort, we actively seek public dialogue and engage in joint actions to create a positive impact for children.

Through the activities conducted at the Educational Centre:

  1. We provide support for children facing learning difficulties and at risk of dropping out of school.
  2. We collaborate with partners to organize extracurricular activities that highlight the village’s heritage, environment, traditional arts, and crafts.
  3. We foster an environment where children can interact with and learn from volunteers visiting Viscri, as well as individuals from both within and outside the community.

 

4. Educational activities

The educational activities at the centre include dedicated lessons focused on reading, writing, and mathematics, followed by online testing sessions to assess the children’s progress. The implementation of online testing has been made possible through a platform developed by one of our key partners at the Educational Centre, leveraging their expertise in information technology.

Children have the opportunity to log into the platform, complete assigned tests, and engage in simple online exercises designed to enhance their reading, writing, and counting abilities. This digital platform enables the foundation to systematically track and analyze the progress of each child, pinpointing specific areas that may require improvement.

Simultaneously, children actively participate in traditional handwriting exercises and solve various tasks using paper and notebooks. This dual approach is crucial for helping children synchronize their physical abilities and handwriting skills with their cognitive functions.

Recent studies underscore the positive impact of manual activities on the cognitive development of children, particularly those in primary classes (article 1, article 2, article 3, article 4). Engaging in handwriting, drawing, and physically interacting with notebooks, paper, and other printed educational materials has been linked to notable improvements in brain capabilities, including memory.

In addition to formal lessons, the tutor offered assistance to children with their homework. Beyond academic support, the Educational Centre also provided a space for children to express their feelings about the learning process. Secondary school students attending the centre received help to enhance their reading and math skills, offering an opportunity for them to share their experiences from both school and the centre, including any challenges they faced.

Looking ahead, the foundation aims to leverage emerging digital technologies, integrating them thoughtfully into the learning environment. The goal is to utilize digital platforms and engage with open education initiatives, accessing methods that enhance children’s cognitive abilities, emotional well-being, and their understanding of the world around them.

5. Extracurricular activities

The extracurricular activities at the Educational Centre were thoughtfully crafted to equip children with practical skills, especially in arts and crafts, organized in the form of engaging workshops. The underlying purpose of these activities is to instill in children the significance of recognizing and valuing local heritage for individuals and their communities.

As Viscri is a UNESCO site aspiring to set an example of healthy community development, preserving the village’s heritage and natural surroundings is crucial for the well-being of the community, contributing to economic income. In return, fostering an understanding of how human activities impact heritage and the environment is essential, emphasizing the importance of teaching the younger generation about conservation.

By introducing heritage education at early ages, we aim to help children in the village comprehend the meaning and value of cultural and natural heritage and its integral role in community life. Specifically, we focus on workshops in arts and crafts, encouraging children to create their own hand-made creations, tailored to the understanding of small children and preadolescents.

One of the artistic workshops, facilitated by local artist Katharine Alecse, introduced fundamental painting techniques to children. The American artist, residing in Viscri, simplified the instruction according to each group’s age. Children had the opportunity to visit the artist’s personal workshop and gain insights into the various resources utilized by a painter in their creative process.

Music workshops, led by an instructor at the Educational Centre, took advantage of the room equipped with various musical instruments donated by sponsors. Children learned the basics of playing different instruments during these engaging sessions.

English language learning and creative workshops were conducted by Rachel, an international volunteer from New York, who spent a month in Viscri.

Craft workshops, typically led by local residents or those involved in village initiatives, provided children with insights into various crafts along with information about Viscri’s cultural and natural heritage. For instance, the pottery workshop, led by a local young craftsman from Viscri Ceramics, equipped children with basic skills in crafting ceramic objects.

Additionally, a local pizza place, owned by an Italian resident of Viscri, conducted workshops teaching children how to make pizza in a traditional Saxon oven for baking bread. These sessions not only imparted cooking skills but also taught the logic behind recipes, the use of specific kitchen tools, and meal preparation under the guidance of the instructor.

6. Collaborations with local partners

The extracurricular activities at the Educational Centre in Viscri are designed to equip children with practical skills, especially in arts and crafts, and are organized as workshops. The goal is to instill an understanding of the local heritage and its significance for individuals and communities. Viscri being a UNESCO site, aims to set an example of healthy community development, emphasizing the importance of conserving heritage and natural surroundings for community well-being and economic growth.

Heritage education at an early age is deemed crucial to instill an appreciation for cultural and natural heritage and its role in community life. Workshops in arts and crafts are tailored to the age group, with a local artist, Katharine Alecse, providing painting techniques in a simple and age-appropriate manner. Music workshops, English lessons, and creative workshops are also offered by local and international instructors, broadening the children’s exposure to various forms of expression.

Children also engage in hands-on craft workshops, facilitated by local residents or those involved in village initiatives, offering insights into Viscri’s cultural and natural heritage. Practical skills are imparted in areas like pottery, where they learn from a local craftsman from Viscri Ceramics. Additionally, children have the opportunity to learn practical skills in cooking through workshops at a local pizza place, enhancing their understanding of recipes, kitchen tools, and meal preparation.

Participation in complementary projects with local partners adds another layer to their education. Workshops on gardening and ecological agriculture, cycling training with national champion Suzanne Hilbert, and horse riding sessions contribute to a holistic learning experience. Recreational activities, including movie nights, photography sessions, games, walks, and village trips, offer a balance between learning and leisure, promoting relaxation and social skill development among the children. These initiatives collectively align with the foundation’s commitment to sustainable tourism and the preservation of Viscri’s cultural and natural heritage.

7. UNESCO World Heritage Volunteers Viscri Action Camp 2023

In May 2023, the children from the Educational Centre actively participated in the UNESCO World Heritage Volunteers Viscri Action Camp, where Alba Eglesia served as a host organization. Collaborating with partners such as the Mihai Eminescu Trust and the “Heritage for the Future” Cultural Association, and with support from the National Commission of Romania for UNESCO, the Viscri Action Camp aimed to promote heritage conservation and community engagement.

As part of their involvement, the children contributed to establishing a heritage corner, featuring a village map, trails showcasing the cultural and natural heritage of Viscri, and narratives and memories connected to the village. This hands-on experience allowed them to play a role in documenting and preserving their local heritage.

Looking ahead to future camps, the foundation envisions deeper engagement with local children in heritage education. Plans include fostering their participation in DIY sessions and outdoor activities, offering opportunities for skill development and interaction with young volunteers from diverse cultural backgrounds. This approach not only enhances the educational experience for the local children but also promotes cross-cultural exchange and mutual understanding among participants from around the world.

8. Educational Volunteering Programme

In the early summer of 2023, Alba Eglesia initiated an educational program at the Educational Centre, welcoming international volunteers to collaborate with the children. Four volunteers from the United States, New Zealand, and Belgium were selected for the 2023 program, fostering an enriching exchange between the children and volunteers.

The interaction with volunteers from different countries provided a valuable learning experience for the children. Engaging with individuals beyond their village allowed the children to explore diverse stories, lives, and practical skills offered by the volunteers.

In the autumn of 2023, Alba Eglesia established a partnership with the University of Craiova in Romania, marking the foundation’s first collaboration with academia. Two Romanian students engaged in tutoring sessions, assessing the current learning abilities of the children to tailor their support in the upcoming period.

The students actively assisted the children in enhancing their reading, writing, and counting skills. Their collaborative efforts aimed to understand the children’s motivations, emotional states, and attitudes toward learning. In return, the students gained valuable experience in tutoring, contributing to their future roles as educators.

Building on the success of this collaboration, Alba Eglesia plans to incorporate the effective methods employed by the students in future tutoring sessions. Additionally, the foundation envisions hosting a summer school for students and professors, along with creating a remedial education program for children facing learning difficulties.

Looking ahead, Alba Eglesia aims to strengthen and diversify the educational program by involving more volunteers, establishing an alumni group, and sharing this impactful experience with neighboring rural communities interested in supporting children and the broader youth population through similar initiatives.

 

 

 

The full activity report of 2023 can be found here.

The Educational Centre in Viscri will sustain its educational activities, extracurricular programs, complementary projects, and recreational initiatives, thanks to the ongoing support from the foundation’s partners and sponsors.


Alba Eglesia Foundation is a Romanian non-governmental organisation founded in 1996 that aims to promote the sustainable development of rural communities in Transylvania, with a particular emphasis on the UNESCO Viscri site and the surrounding villages in the Bunești commune, through educational projects, community development, and the promotion of local cultural and natural heritage.