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Țara Făgărașului Community Foundation - a small community foundation in the centre of Romania

Romania is well known for its magical natural beauty of mountains, rivers and the Black Sea, as well as its rich cultural heritage with its many castles and fortresses. Right in the center of Romania, the city of Făgăraș (pronounced Fogarash) is home to one of the world’s most beautiful fortresses. While there are many reasons, along with nature and history for being proud of the city, which is home to 30,000 people, it is the strong sense of community that has played an important role in helping the city overcome its hardships. 

Țhe Tara Făgărașului Community Foundation (see on Facebook), which started four years ago, has been active in Făgăraș (Fogarash) by supporting local NGOs, civic associations, civic initiatives, as well as individuals, youth, seniors and companies, in their desire to make the city and surrounding county a better place to live. This community foundation is part of a larger group of community foundations in Romania, which has provided encouragement and support in designing projects that involve local organizations.

While historically Făgăraș County benefited from industry, and was home to a strong working class able to support their families, the fall of the communist regime in 1989 in Romania, led to an economic downtown. Many people living in the Făgăraș area were forced to leave their families and move to other European countries to find employment. While this offered some financial security, it did not bring security to their home communities who faced new challenges.

The work of the Tara Făgărașului Community Foundation and the civic initiatives they support has helped to manage this change. They have helped people realize that if they want to see change, they need to be an active part of it; if they want to see innovation, they need to think outside the box; if they want to see young people involved, they need to believe in the force that can be driven by the young generation; if they want to see better schools and hospitals, they need to take matters in their own hands. The community approach has helped to strengthen participatory planning processes and forge new pride in the city. It has also built support from a wide array of stakeholders including both individuals and businesses in the county.

Over the past four years the community foundation has developed and supported many initiatives, including:

  • Youth programmes (such as YouthBank) - where a team of high school students get together and decide how to support their community. Together, they create ideas and opportunities for fellow high school students to get involved. Then, they raise a sum of money that is matched by companies in the area, to use for their initiatives. Through the process, the students learn how to fundraise, how to manage their own group, how to talk to various types of people and how to approach companies through their fundraising campaign, and at the end – as they attest, they are different, changed, better.

  • S.T.E.M. fund (Științescu) - in which individual teachers, teacher associations, NGOs, etc. can develop their own dream of how innovative STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education should be taught. They design their project to be as entertaining and exciting for the students as possible, they receive a grant (according to their requested needs for project implementation) and then start having fun! Ideas range from growing their own agricultural crop, creating their own weather station, to learning how to restore old objects and buildings.
  • Arvato Alternative Language Programme - where students of all ages learn how foreign languages can be exciting and their teaching and learning can become innovative as well.
  • ZVÎC - Volunteering and Civic Initiatives Days - a day when all initiatives in the area are open to the public, providing an opportunity to showcase how civic involvement works and what its effects can be. Volunteers work towards completion of common goals: such as the painting of some deteriorated walls in the city, and working with the local municipality representatives towards achieving a long-term common goal. Recently, for example, an old barn was restored and transformed into a cultural center for theatre productions and screening movies. It has become known as the Culture in the Barn initiative. The initiative has provided a valuable channel for youth and seniors to work together for to create movies and real-life documentaries, which have been displayed at a cultural centre in Făgăraș.
  • Bike-a-thon - known throughout the area, but also among people who live in other cities and countries further away. It represents a day when the community gets united for common causes: usually ten community causes/needs. Examples include the acquisition of science-like equipment for a science lab in one of Făgăraș High Schools, acquisition of equipment for the local hospital’s physical therapy room, or for school supplies needed in primary classes. The most recent bike-a-thon, held on 10 June, mobilized more than 700 participants, more than 120 volunteers and more than 1,000 people donated, sponsored or helped.

  • Donors’ Circle events are when the community comes together to support various community causes. Everyone from Făgăraș County are invited to support their fellow citizens by donating not only financially (they can donate any sum they wish), but in any way possible, to meet the community needs. This has helped build support and help strengthen the community, while also creating genuine bonds and enduring relationships.

To help grow what has been built over the last few years by the foundation, and to expand the community efforts, a plan is now being developed to engage Romanians from Făgăraș County, who live in the diaspora. Already contact has been made to keep them connected to their homeland. Some of them were part of a movie, especially designed for Romanians in the diaspora, while others came to a public gathering, where they had the opportunity to re-engage with the community and decide how and when they would like to get involved.

The foundation encourages further support for its activities by encouraging local citizens, as well as those further afield, to:  

  • Donate to the foundation’s causes;
  • Share information on what’s going on, and how to get involved;
  • Volunteer, either in the short-term (by being part of one of the projects), long-term (by taking up a responsibility), in a group (being part of a one-day event project or longer), or by providing professional expertise; and,
  • Spread the word, by organizing an event or providing a space for the foundation to share its mission and activities.

What the community foundation has learned from its experiences is that many of the popular expressions including “little by little”; “slow and steady”; and, “all for one”, are true. “Normal” people can make a difference, if they are provided with the space and opportunity to get involved in their local community.

For more information on the work of the foundation, contact Emilia Cierchea, Operations Manager, Tara Făgărașului Community Foundation. 

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