Storytelling Event in Sfântu-Gheorghe, Romania

On 1st July 2022, participants who took park in the qualitative research interviews for WP3 were invited to take part in a local Storytelling Workshop, for their input about our preliminary interpretation findings thus far.

The chosen location was Gödri Ferenc Middle School in the Csíki district, due to its accessibility where much of our participants reside or send their children to school. Set for a Friday afternoon, right after a devastating storm we were happy to receive 11 participants (of the 34 invited) and their children for an informal discussion about the most important aspects of the research. Our intention was to make this event into a more formal session to express our gratitude and appreciation for the people who were kind enough to offer us their time and share their life experiences. We treated them with food and drinks and improvised separate activities for the children while we engaged with the adults.

We were very pleased that people from a range of categories attended, including people living in social housing, members of the community in the Csíki district and the Roma – that we interviewed were represented including the farthest situated segregated Roma community.

We started with a reflection sharing circle, discussing their experience of the interview process, as well as opportunities to share any important life changes since then (in some cases 6 months have passed). Some who were then unemployed are now in employment.  Unfortunately, there were some more concerning developments as well, especially for the group living in social housing.   The city is restructuring the system of social housing and the instability is affecting some of the beneficiaries.

The discussion was structured around the three main topics of the research, namely education, housing and employment and the facilitator presented the range of living situations encountered in the field. The participants were encouraged to determine if their experiences were accurately represented and if they agreed with the connections the researcher established. In terms of representation, the attendees were satisfied by the presentation and were somewhat surprised by finding their perspective on a ‘spectrum of hardships’. Our guests had the opportunity to understand the struggles of one another and develop more compassion among the different groups. We consider this to be one of the greatest successes of the event, especially considering that these three groups – social housing residents, poor working class and the Roma – struggle in the same location for the same resources and often perceive each other as hostile competitors. Focusing on the structural limitations of their living conditions gave them the opportunity to bond and be more accepting towards members of other social categories.

The discussion around education revealed the central importance of attending school in a person’s life, i.e. at least 8/10 years of school would be the minimum to be able to find reliable employment. The participants agreed that the level of education directly predicted employment opportunities later in life and concluded that sending children to school is one of the most important legacies a parent can have in their children’s life. We were fortunate enough to benefit from the presence of one adult who graduated from the adult literacy program – Second Chance – and found employed because of it. 

The role of the local school was also emphasized.  It was deemed vital for all to have a friendly institution nearby that as well as providing education, it also offers support to struggling parents and children through after-school interventions, providing food and establishing a safe environment with a human face that can cater to a diversity of needs.

The dialogue around the subject of work revealed a whole spectrum of formal and informal activities that people engaged in to make money. We greatly appreciated their honesty in talking about different types of labor that would generally be considered shameful like begging or recycling iron, a vulnerability that invited compassion. On the other end of the spectrum our guest told stories about unreliable, illegal employment, exploitative working conditions and unrealistically low wages, information that was very relevant for people without work experience. On a more positive note, people have emphasized the importance of a good community at a workplace that can, sometimes make up for lower salaries or long hours.

The topic of housing was probably the most difficult one for our attendees to tackle. Everyone’s most daring dream is to own a home, but very few of them do. In the context in which the housing situation in the city is right now, (restructure the segregated Roma community into areas of social housing).  There is a general sense of insecurity, in which many categories feel that the city is discriminating against them by focusing their resources on the Roma, while the Roma themselves are very ambivalent in how they view this change, therefore the situation is rife with conflict. Stories about the expenses required to maintain a home were welcome, but also alarming to some of the participants.

All in all, the Storytelling Workshop in Sfântu-Gheorghe, Romania was a successful consultation event that managed to bring people together and contribute to raising the levels of empathy for those with whom they share their space.