On involvement and not being content with remaining a spectator
The anti-bullying workshops supported by UNICEF are changing the perspective on aggression
Bacău, Romania. Ștefania is 15 years old and an 8th grader - she walks in a resolute manner, crossing the Cancicov park, towards Ștefan cel Mare Pedagogical high-school, in Bacău. The graduation exam is right around the corner, but, as she herself points out, this is not stopping her in any way from getting involved in improving the situation for children in her community. She is a member of Bacău Children’s Local Council, formed under the UNICEF initiative Child Friendly Cities. “I make time to get involved since it is important to make our voices heard and, together with my 19 colleagues from the Children’s Council, we constantly strive to establish a more solid link between our needs and the decisions that are taken on a local level” says Ștefania with a bright and determined voice.
In front of the high-school she meets Alin, a 15 year old tall boy, who adjusts his glasses from time to time and looks attentively yet smiling to the person he is speaking to, and Oana Antal, local expert for the Local Coordination Unit, who is in charge of supervising the activity of the Children’s Council, where Ștefania and Alin are colleagues. Their theme for today is to present what bullying represents to the high-school pupils. “The fear of being judged, of not feeling protected, of believing that you can’t do anything about it, may lead you, the abused child, to a halt, a dead end. We need to get rid of this fear and to learn, all of us, how to get rid of this fear” are Alin’s words through which he is explaining the reason behind the presentation on bullying and its effects that he is about to give in front of not one, but five high-school and secondary school classes.
“The presentation was put together by all the 20 members of the Children’s Council of Bacău, it was coordinated by my colleagues and myself and has a solid base in both the experiences that are being mentioned and also on a psychological level,” adds Oana Antal as we are entering the first classroom. Alin and Ștefania are already connecting their laptop to the classroom projector in order to add a visual dimension to their presentation.
The two of them start with a friendly tone, but also sporting an attitude that shows self-control, by asking the question “Do you know what bullying is?”. There is silence and only the tutors present in the room seem to be slightly bothered by it, then a child takes the courage to answer. Then another one. Being very brave, a boy tells everyone about how he used to be discriminated in his former class, from which he had to move -“ I was always under pressure, sworn at, bullied, I felt that everybody was against me, I don’t even want to remember how bad it was”. Once the debate ignites, they talk in a breath about discrimination, in almost every term, from height to grades, and from ethnicity to sexuality, about how one can identify bullying and the ways in which bullying can present itself - cyberbullying being mentioned several times, about aggressors and victims, self respect, status and getting out of a bullying situation, about how one finds and trains the ability to induce a change for the better.
The reactions, timid at first and accompanied by a more or less nervous laughter, are getting more and more nuanced, are more direct, prompter, even if a certain feel of reluctance is still there. Once the presentation is done, Elena, a pupil in the 7th grade, nervously admits that “there is still a fear about what the others think, because you can always be asked “why did you share or report that?”. In the same vein, one of the tutors present remarks that “the initiative is very commendable because the real situation is much harder than it seems, and the pupils are somehow less tolerant than they might seem during a discussion about bullying”. “The family is a very important actor too when we talk about bullying and of the fear of what others might think,” adds the tutor.
Alin and Ștefania engage the children who participate in the presentation with the help of a psychological test made of several questions, focused on the emotional intelligence and the empathy of those present. They then talk about what it means to be a bystander, to not get involved when you see someone being bullied. Pupils who were at any point bystanders are being asked to raise their hands. Then those who never witnessed a bullying act are asked to do the same. The majority has not raised the hand for neither of the two options - it is the local expert’s observation that triggers the longest silence. “It is a process, a necessary one, and this is just the beginning, and it needs to be done gently, with caution. We never forget that these children are at a very vulnerable age” says Oana Antal, the local expert, and in her words one can sense the pride of being part of this process.
The presentation is concluded with a “questions and answers” part, but the children’s attitude marks a certain fatigue, which is probably the result of talking about a complicated subject which will be food for thought and discussion for more days to come.
“We too discuss in The Children’s Council sessions about the reactions prompted by our presentations. That is how we succeed in deciding what to do next, what to improve,” adds Alin, whilst checking his mobile. With that same sunny and innocent smile which dismisses any idea of this presentation of a sensitive topic representing an effort to him, he points out to Ștefania and Oana that they only have a few minutes left to get to School no.10 and start their next discussion on bullying.
The Child Friendly Cities Initiative is part of the project “Romania for every child. Making social inclusion real - breaking the cycle of exclusion for the most vulnerable children in Romania” which benefits of a 4.2-million-euro grant offered by Norway under the Local Development Program supported by the Romanian Social Development Fund.
A Child Friendly city is a city, a town, a community or any other system of local administration that commits itself to improving the life of children under its jurisdiction by respecting their rights as they are stated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is also a locality in which the voices, the needs and the priorities of children are an integral part of public policies, of programs and decisions that are influencing their lives and their future.
Children Local Councils were established through an open selection process in all the five cities and communities that are, through UNICEF, engaged in the Child Friendly Cities Initiative. These Children Councils were officially established through decisions of the elected Local Councils, becoming advisory structures and taking part in the decision making process on a local level.