School? Education? Not interested.

So far, I have conducted six interviews on schooling and homelessness. I do not want to go into too much detail on my questions, and just want to give some examples of the stories I have heard. I will give two examples that will show the complexity of the situation that homelessness is.

First, I would like to give an example that might be exactly what one thinks of when they hear the term of homeless and Bucharest, Romania in one sentence:

Man 1: 30 years old.
The first time he ran away from home, he was only 5 1/2 years old. He was moved between abusive child centres, his abusive home and the abusive streets. He started using Aurolac (car paint in a plastic bag-the drug of choice for the children of the streets of Bucharest) at a very early age and did not go to school. Living on the streets was like a game to him until he was 18 years old. It was only then that he realized that he was no longer a child, and that the state would no longer provide for him. He did not attend school, does not know how to read or write and lived day after day not moving around, stealing here and there, carrying boxes of beer or juice from vans into shops for a little bit of money every now and again. At age 30 he is mentally and physically ill and is attempting to get off the streets. Education is still of no interest to him.

Not everyone is like this. Just like everywhere else there are people who get to the streets because of mistakes they have made in their later lives.

Man 2: 30 years old
Moved on to the streets at age 28 after his girlfriend of 12 years broke up with him and he began using drugs. He did not want his family to know, so he moved to the streets to avoid them being ashamed of him. This man has completed high school, speaks English very well and enjoys reading. He enjoyed it so much that he would read with a flashlight in the abandoned building he was staying in despite the laughter coming from his street companions. After some time, the others became interested in reading and he began to teach them how to read and write. A year after moving onto the streets he heard about a certain social service centre that could help him get off the streets. He has been there and at home since December. His love for reading and his belief that education is important has turned him into a sort of teacher for 3 friends (2 on the street and one in the centre).

I wanted to give these two very different examples of homelessness to show the complexity of my study and to show that just like everybody else, there are those that enjoy and those that do not enjoy school and studying.

I will be conducting some focus groups to see where reading, writing, mathematics lie on the scale of importance for different people who have been involved with the streets as well as when the most educative phases of their time on the streets were.

smiling, hugging and singing with people who are homeless

Finally I had my meeting with Marius from the NGO I am working with for my dissertation.

I had my meeting at 9, and after the debacle that was last nights lack of internet, I actually found my way to the social centre without any problems. Well, any major problems. I couldn’t find the door and had to ask a neighbour where the entrance was…that was a little embarrassing seeing as I had actually walked past the entrance before…

I walk in, go to the office to speak to Marius who is quite happy to see me and show me around the entire centre.

I am left in a room half an hour later with 6 other men. One street and social worker and 5 beneficiaries of the centre. It was around 9:30 and everyone was getting ready for the daily meeting.

I found out that this atelier was a newly established programme of string-therapy (Creating of string art) for men who have lived on the streets and are HIV+. I spent my morning there and had some interesting talks with the men.

Lunchtime! I remember this kind of food…I gained quite a bit of weight in my 6 weeks of working in an orphanage in Moldova run by the same NGO…I’m glad I wont be eating at the centre every day. Not because the food is bad, but because it’s super fatty. Yea, there’s the me that cares a little about what she looks like…sorry.

I get introduced to the 50 or so people who are present at lunch and am asked to give a short introduction about what I want to talk about with the 18-35 year olds.

Of course, I begin by apologizing for the abysmal state my Romanian is in…having said that, I feel a LOT of it coming back already; and although I never learnt grammar, I understand quite a lot of it.

I gave a short introduction that was followed by some questions. YES. THANK YOU. That means some were at least a little interested in what I wanted to find out! YES. So learning/education/survival skills are an interesting topic not only for academic researchers like myself, but for the people that the questions are aimed towards as well.

Now there is an hour of break time without any activities. I go outside to try to have some informal chats with some people where I find out some very interesting and quite positive things.

A man, 28 years old:
Has spent a couple of days (at this point..has been there before, many times) as his ‘holiday’ from work. He is working in the kitchen of the most respected and high class hotel Bucharest has to offer.
I said this was a positive example, because this man has found a job through the NGO. From what he told me he enjoys the job but likes to spend time at the centre. The rest of the time he lives with family, or on the street.
This is just an example of how wages in Romania do not always allow for a decent standard of living. This man works in the kitchen (cutting fruit and vegetables. Yes, not a great job. But a job nonetheless) of the best hotel in town, and still cannot sustain his existence by it.

After singing some religious, romanian pop and gibberish renditions of english songs with him and a friend of his who quite skilfully accompanied us all on the guitar (learnt at the social centre) it is time for activities again.

I go back to my newly made friends of the string therapy room and continue to talk to them about all sorts of things. Among them, school.

Man A, 28 years old:
He was in school for 3 years and says he enjoyed it. He is able to write and read quite well. Not quite at the average adult level, but at a level where he can take notes and understand what he is reading. He said he enjoyed school quite a bit. He has been drawing and learning how to draw  at social service centres for the last 9 years.

Another man I talked to had been to school for 5 years and has been on and off the streets since he was a child. He did not enjoy school a whole lot.

These short, informal conversations made it very clear to me that there are several people who are willing to talk about this topic to me, and that there will be very many different stories to be heard. There will be many different opinions which will hopefully lead to great discussions and interviews.

My day today was very interesting and leaves me to wonder how my first research session tomorrow afternoon will go.