Slums in the middle of Europe – Our cooperation for Romania


In September, a team from Menschenfreude e.V. was on the road in Romania. Reason for the trip: On the initiative of Elka and Matthias Straub, who have already supported us in several Ukraine transports, a meeting with the Romanian "People to People Foundation" was organized. Among other things, People to People is involved in the cities of Cluj and Oradea for infrastructural facilities in slums, for the creation of educational opportunities and against human trafficking. Initial opportunities for joint projects were explored. Besides Elka and Matthias, Jürgen Perteck as well as Jan and Kathrin Anderseck were there.
Menschenfreude Cluj Elendsviertel

Living on the edge of the city and on the edge of society: slums in the big city of Cluj

Several hundred people – including many children and young people –  have been living for a good 15 years on a garbage dump on the outskirts of Cluj, in Pata Rât. Semi-legal. They are tolerated. Roma families. They live from what they find on the garbage heaps. They build the simplest dwellings, without electricity or water. Babies crawl across carpets with holes. Children squat on the muddy streets sorting copper wires to sell. The older youths burn waste to obtain raw materials. An acrid stench. Above the whole scene black birds are circling.

“Come here. I’ll show you something.” A woman wants us to come to her house. She has a little puppy dog in a shopping basket. If we have something for him to eat, she asks us with gestures. Unfortunately no. We have sweets for the children, things to wash, clothes. She tosses the puppy a few chunks of white bread and shrugs. He’ll manage somehow.

Other women, mothers, come up to us, point to their bellies and say the Romanian word for porridge. There is a lack of food – especially for the very young, who actually want to be given good things. But there is nothing there. 


Contacts have been made – What can our involvement look like?

Where do you want to start here? What helps at all and how can a commitment to the Romanian slum look like? The question arises to what extent a change is feasible at all – in view of these extreme conditions that have already existed for years. We unload our van with clothes, distribute packages with hygiene items, the children want our candy and gum. 

We ask whether the large German retail chain, which operates a gigantic supermarket just a few hundred meters away, could not deliver unsold fruit or vegetables. “Once in a while they do,” is the answer. But mostly not. Difficult subject.

Volunteers have created a central point of contact

Elka and Matthias have been in contact with People to People for a long time. Again and again they travel to Cluj themselves, at their own expense, to bring relief supplies and to alleviate the need at least a little.

However, the Romanian association around Nicu Gal has already achieved considerable things for the local people in recent years: in the middle of the slum, a kindergarten is maintained with an adjoining community room. There are toilets and a kitchen. Children here have been given the opportunity to go to real care on a regular basis. To learn to get a meal and to practice at least some personal hygiene.

With the help of donations and public funds, a facility for children could be built.
View of the children’s playground and our van from the window of the building.

The two kindergarten rooms are lovingly and colorfully decorated, there are coat hooks with names – Adelina, Eduard and Izabela are the children’s names – and letter pictures on the blackboard. This is what a first step looks like. It can look like this. Against much opposition, with little public funding, largely financed by donations.

Three hours and “ten years” further in Tinca: In small steps into society

The city of Oradea is three hours away by car in the direction of the Hungarian border. Another twenty minutes from the historic center of Oradea, there is a village that has changed extremely in the last ten years thanks to People to People: Tinca. Ten years ago, conditions were similar to those in Cluj: “Streets unpaved, no sewage system, no electricity – hundreds of people without any prospects,” they tell us. 

The picture today: In addition to asphalted roads, electricity and water, a kind of center could be built on a vacant lot – a kindergarten, a playground and a school.

A boy, maybe 13 years old, comes up to us and speaks to us in English. What we do here. Whether we’re there with Nicu. We ask him where he lives and if those are his friends back there. Yes. He brings them in and they all speak English. And not just a little, but quite well.

A perspective for Tinca: a long persistent path with a lot of idealism

Year after year, and in many small steps, great things have been created here: Small children visit the kindergarten groups with educator Marina, who comes from the neighborhood, and her colleagues. “We try to provide a lot of incentives for the kids. That’s important.” The children dig around them in the sand and are satisfied.

In the neighboring school there are four classes with up to thirty children. There are classes in all subjects, a school social worker and a nurse. And some mothers who help to maintain the school. The atmosphere is welcoming and friendly.

“You can’t compare all kids. And there are not only good days.” An employee of the school tells us a little about everyday life in Tinca. “They come from educationally disadvantaged families. Some recognize the opportunity they have here and make huge strides. Some come for a few days and then no more. Sometimes I drive around the neighborhood at eight in the morning to pick up the kids for school. If they come in their pajamas, that’s okay. It’s simply because many parents never had access to schooling themselves.”

Spontaneous visit to English class. Nice to meet you. The two girls enjoy going to school and come regularly.
Minions like everyone, says teacher Fabiu. That’s sure to make learning easy.

Many children from Tinca transfer to public schools – their way into society

Nevertheless, the results to date are impressive: numerous children have succeeded in transferring to the local public school at the age of twelve or thirteen thanks to the skills and knowledge they have acquired in the school project. And to complete a normal school career in order to be able to take up a profession at the end and to be able to provide for themselves. “They have become stronger for life and more confident. Because they know they know something,” summarizes one teacher.

Your words are of great importance, we think. Even more so when talking to the people from People to People about the issue of human trafficking in Romania: Young women in particular, but also male youth, are affected and are considered a vulnerable group especially when they lack a perspective that they can achieve on their own.

This is a topic that weighs incredibly heavily and which we cannot and do not wish to go into in adequate detail at this point and at this time. One thing is certain, however: The education factor plays a decisive role. The critical role.

Cooperation with the Romanian helpers: It is being explored

Die Möglichkeiten einer Kooperation mit dem rumänischen Verein und den ehrenamtlichen Mitarbeitern vor Ort haben in den Folgetagen Elka Sou, Matthias Straub sowie Jürgen Perteck diskutiert. The main issue under discussion for the slum near Cluj is how to maintain the kindergarten in times of increased energy costs. Improving roads, streets, and buildings is also an important step in advancing infrastructure, making living conditions more bearable, and paving the way for society.

In Tinca, for example, the project involves the construction of a kitchen container for the school and kindergarten. Because even if there are already food donations, it is not always enough for everyone. Many children go home hungry at lunchtime and do not get enough food there. Therefore, the further generation of food donations and the establishment of a storage room for relief supplies and clothing are also under discussion.

We appreciate support – your donations will be delivered personally and directly by our team

If you would like to support these projects, we would be very happy. You can be sure that every euro donated will go directly to the site. Because in this report you have met the people who are involved, who themselves travel to Romania again and again to deliver donations and aid and to advance projects. Elka, Matthias, Jürgen, Jan and Kathrin are always available to answer your questions (via email) and are happy if you would like to specify an exact recipient group – Cluj or Tinca, food or learning material, everything is possible and guaranteed to arrive.

Best regards from Romania. Feel free to send us your questions and ideas. We are looking forward to your support!

We will keep you informed and thank you already for your interest! We also recorded our trip in a video, which you can also find on Instagram or YouTube – along with more info about our activities.

Further information about Menschenfreude e.V. for Romania

  • More information about the People to People Foundation can be found here.
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  • If you would like to support the people in Romania already now and help us to get started, we would be very happy. Every donation helps! Feel free to use the Paypal donation button below this post. Feel free to enter the exact purpose.


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