Improving children’s lives through sport
Carmen Moşuţan, Cami, had to quit practising competitive gymnastics at the Deva-based centre when her family couldn’t afford it anymore. So, now she wants to give other financially challenged children the chance to learn a sport because, she says, the discipline required in sport can come in handy in everything you do.
Cami saw one of her mates from Deva, a very talented girl, drop out of gymnastics school because her parents couldn’t afford the tuition fee anymore. When she witnessed the decisive discussion her mate’s mother had with the coach, she was outraged with how unfair things were and she thought that it was not right that someone with so many medals had to quit sport only because of money. “I thought it was stupid”, she says now, just as upset as she was back then.
Later, the same thing happened to her. After suffering a shinbone injury and her parents started having financial problems, she too left the Deva school and enrolled in a high school in hometown Cluj-Napoca. She saw the same story happen over and over again: neighbours or family friends complaining that they didn’t have enough money for their children to take up a sport, children quitting because of financial hardship, or even parents who didn’t even consider sport as an option for their children because they knew from the very start that it was well out of their financial reach. And she, more than anyone else, knew what these children were missing out on.
Cami says that she probably could have never become a national team gymnast because she didn’t have the right physique. Sport however has taught her discipline and, since she spent five years away from home at the Deva gymnastics school, she grew up faster and became more responsible than her peers. And, she is not sorry for it one bit.
Today, at 17, she attends a good high school in Cluj-Napoca majoring in mathematics and computer science, she works part-time as a cosmetics salesperson, she plans events at her school – like the freshman homecoming – and, because she wants to help other children discover their sporting talents, she has thought of a social project that offers sport classes. She also helps out her widowed mother with housework and her 12-year-old sister with homework. And she does it all with the energy and responsibility one picks up when practising sport on a regular basis. Although she is no longer a competitive athlete, after 12 years of intensive training, she couldn’t stop working out. So, she carries on with sport at school and on her own to stay in shape and keep her morale high.
The free sport class project is her way of helping other children and teenagers get the same chance she had. The idea that she came up with for the UNICEF Innovation Lab initiative - Community of Ideas, a project that encourages adolescents’ social initiative, is very practical: dance, basketball or gymnastics classes taught by volunteer teachers to children aged 6 to 12 years from poor families. She hopes this will help parents to no longer have to think about money when they want to encourage their children to engage in sporting activities. The impact of her idea is however far greater, as she has found out with the help of project mentors.
Cami has learnt how to put her idea into practice during a three-day course held by UNICEF’s local partner in Cluj, Support 4 Youth Development, together with 16 other enterprising adolescents from the city metropolitan area. “To them, it was something completely new because they had never attended informal education before”, says Adrian Mleşniţe, one of the programme trainers and coordinators. One of the most popular games was Uncle Tom, a team game in which participants have to build a safe shelter to drop an egg without breaking it. Using four balloons, an A4 sheet of paper and adhesive tape, each of the three teams had to find a way to make the place safe. It is a game that develops their team spirit, planning skills and teaches them how to solve problems using available resources – things that are essential for the success of adolescents’ projects. Because her idea was considered one of the most realistic of the 17 in competition, Cami spent two more days on a mentoring module where, together with Support 4 Youth Development trainers, she adjusted her project to local realities and drew up an action plan for the time ahead. Out of 100 projects proposed by adolescents in the Community of Ideas (40 in Cluj and 60 in Iaşi), five projects are picked up as winners and get implementation support.
Following the mentoring module, Cami has moved on from the ‘idea’ phase to realising how she can make it real. She has understood that sport is not just about physical exercise and discipline, but also about providing role models and guidance to children whose social conditions deprive them of such things. She added nutrition classes for parents and children held by a volunteer nutritionist to make sure that what one gains through sport is not cancelled out by unhealthy eating. Moreover, if some of the children who will attend the free classes will be exceptionally talented, parents will know what the competitive athlete’s diet should be and will hence support their child. She wants to involve local stakeholders – schools, mayoralties, companies – to give this project community ownership: authorities can assist with the required facilities and companies can provide sponsorship and volunteers, just as it should happen in initiatives like hers. When poverty affects children’s chances to develop and get an education, the community should use its resources to address this because every healthy and educated child is a long-term gain for society. This is every prosperous community’s secret that a 17-year-old young woman has found out and applies in her spare time. For she already is, thanks to sport and education, a real gain for her community.