First one at school, living in a ghetto

First one at school, living in a ghetto

Iuliana Danciu (8 years old) succeeded in getting excellent results at school although she comes from a very poor family and lives in very bad conditions. Four children and their parents share only one room, without toilet or current water, in a ghetto. They are roma people – and school abandon rate at these ethnics is usually very high. In a society with highly discrimination rate for roma people but, on the other side, with crime rate also high among them, to succeed in doing something is rare and admirable. And shows that if you truly want, and work hard, and believe in your chance – yes, you definitely can.

Maybe this text is a little bit emotional – a little bit more, actually, but when a child asks me ”Can I give you a hug?” and then embraces me with all his heart I really feel my heart melting. My first talk to Iuliana ended with a big hug – at the foundation where she is going daily, for afterschool – and continued at her house, where there were a few moments when I couldn’t find my words, although I’ve seen enough “social cases” since I work as a journalist.

The ghetto

Iuliana lives in Dumbraveni, a small town in central Romania. Actually, “town” on official papers because otherwise, while walking there, it looks like a bigger village, that’s all. When I got there, her father advised me to park at the main street and walk to their house. There wouldn’t have been enough space for me to turn my car, in the ghetto – this was the first thing I realized.

Then, I looked at their house. One room, where the whole family lives. Iulian (32 years old), father of the family, started building a second room now, after working abroad for a few months. In the small rooms six souls are trying to survive – Iulian, Claudia, his wife, and their four children, Claudia (13 years old), Catalin (11 years old), Iuliana (8 years old) and Madalina (6 months old).

The house has no current water, the family carries it daily from a few hundred meters away. The toilet is outside and there’s no shower – they heat water, everyday, to wash themselves. In the small room, sleeps the whole family – six persons in two beds. Three big children share one bed, the parents and the baby – the other. We got there unannounced and the room was very clean, and things were put in order.

First prize at school

A small, round table is brought outside and inside, with a few small children chairs around it. The family eats there. When there’s no food on it, Iuliana uses it to do her homework. Both parents did not finish the secondary school – they graduated only 7 classes – and they admit that, many times, they would like to help her with school but they can’t. “We have sent her to kindergarten regularly and we help her at school as much as we can, but there are some exercises we don’t know how to solve, and then she teaches us”, her father says.


Iuliana is very lucky. In Dumbraveni there is a day center opened by an Austrian foundation – Diakoniewerk – where she and other children coming from the same medium get a lunch, do their homework and then have all kind of educative activities. Certainly, her very good results at school are a result of her work here, first of all. She is smart, has ambition and knows that learning is her only chance to overcome her condition. “Almost everything I know I learnt here, at the center”, she says. Then, she is very careful in classes and simply loves learning. After her first school year, she got the first prize. Piece by piece, she is trying to build a dream. “I dream to become a doctor. Just to be able to help people, you know”.

She loves her family very much, although they don’t have too much to offer, materially. But in the small room there’s a lot of love, a piece of bread is shared together, there are hugs, good words and trust that, as long as they are together, in the end everything will be all right.

The income. The society

Family’s regular income consists of social aid and children’s state allocations – very few money. To get this social aid, Iulian works for the local municipality four hours a day. He also works abroad from time to time, and when he is at home tries to find day jobs, to earn something extra. The possibilities to find a job in the area are very small. And he is a roma, and that’s also a problem. Although it doesn’t admit, the Romanian society is very reluctant to romas. If a roma person and a Romanian come to ask for the same job, most of the employers will choose the Romanian, even if the roma person is better in that job. In schools, restaurants, the whole society actually, many people turn their heads when they see romas. “We stayed once, with our roma students, two hours and a half at the restaurant without being served”, a Romanian teacher told me.

On the other side, the crime rate among roma ethnics is very high. Also, the school abandon rate. They make many children, sexual education doesn’t exist. Then, they can’t afford to raise them decently. Most of them abandon school very early. We come to the society again, who blames them but doesn’t do very much. Money for integration programs get many times to some “smart people”. Sanitary mediators for roma communities get salaries and do nothing or almost nothing. Free places in highschools and universities, dedicated to them, are occupied by other “smart” people. A vicious circle, where good children like Iuliana have only things to lose.

A chance to be different

Iulian is trying to support his children as much as he can. All of them, except for the baby, of course, are going to school. “They are very quietly, good children, we are so lucky to have them. We don’t have all necessary conditions to send them to school properly dressed, but we send them to school all the time. We hope they will learn, and have the chances we didn’t have”, father says.

When his beloved Iuliana got the first prize, he was so proud. “You know, she got a diploma for special results. I was so happy”, father says.


Iuliana is hugging me again, before I leave. I ask her if she has books, story books. Mother says she has one book only, and brings it outside. And I realize it’s not actually a book – it’s a notebook with holiday homework they had to buy at school. “And she already finished it, although the holiday just started”, mother says.

I have instant tears in my eyes, looking at Iuliana. The most valuable things I carried with me in Norway are my books – and I’m so lucky there are a lot. Among them, the story books from my childhood, including those my gramdma used to read me from. And little girl’s mother shows me a homework notebook, telling me that’s their only “book”.

“But when I will grow up”, I will help my whole family, you know”, Iuliana says. It’s a very hot summer day, there’s dirt and ugly smell in the ghetto, flies are running through the small room, but Iuliana smiles and embraces her family with gratitude and love.

“You will come to see us again, you promise?”

Maybe if you want to help

The children need a lot of things – clothes, shoes, things they use for school. And books, I’m sure they will be more than happy to receive suitable books for their age. Maybe, among the readers of this article, there are people who would like to help. Please write me at, to give you their contact details. Thank you!

Do you know a very special person? Someone who has followed his dream, built it piece by piece, with passion, energy and lot of soul? An usual, simple person who did something in life, who you can identify with, who can be, for others, a source of inspiration? Tell me about that person and let’s tell the others his/her beautiful story. Write me at, here, on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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