I DESERVE A FUTURE. Elena from Mihai Viteazu

The “I deserve a future” campaign is dedicated to promising students who risk not being able to complete their studies as a result of being born in poor, rural families.

In our opinion, the only solution is to secure scholarships that cover both their housing and food. This would ensure their survival when they transfer from primary school to high school and from high school to university.

This would prevent them from getting lost and falling through the crack.

This is the case of Elena Dragan from Mihai Viteazu in Cluj County.

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For the Dragan family, the annual holidays are of significant importance. That’s when the entire family and all nine children gather and rediscover the simple joy of being together.

They laugh loudly or with tears streaming down their faces, they recount the ways they managed to overcome apparently unsurpassable obstacles.

Their home is a tiny space. It has no running water and used to belong to the former Agricultural Cooperative of Mihai Viteazu (a satellite community located 5 kilometers away from Turda).

In the ‘90s, the room they lived in was the place where milk was once sanitized through the centrifugation process. For the Dragan family, who is stuck in the centrifuge of life, it provided the austere atmosphere in which they learned they could be stripped of all things except for dignity and the possibility of an education.

None of them abandoned school prematurely. Three of them completed the Military High School of Alba Iulia as well as the Military Academy.

The youngest member of the family, Elena, who is 13 years old and in seventh grade at the primary school in the satellite community of Mihai Viteazu, wants to follow in her siblings footsteps.

She was awarded second place for the highest marks in her grade with an average of 9.85.

She plays rugby

“Elena is very intelligent, empathetic, loving… she was raised so well by her family that the entire class is enhanced as a result. She’s smart, with a logical and mathematical mind. She’s so dear to me.

She’s affectionate, a happy child who shows her joy through everything she does. Her family recognized that if you are intelligent and talented, you can do whatever you want with your mind. And they really do work hard compared to those who have financial means and haven’t put in as much effort. It’s an extraordinary story”, says Elena’s homeroom teacher, Mihaela Farcas, who teaches history.

Elena Drăgan și diriginta ei, Mihaela Fărcaș

Elena Drăgan and her homeroom teacher, Mihaela Fărcaș.

Elena Dragan would like to study at the Military High School in Alba Iulia and moreover, she would like to further her studies at the Police Academy. She’s convinced that she’ll manage as she is following in the footsteps of her older siblings who have chosen a similar path.

Elena enjoys math and participates in her village’s mathematics Olympiads on a yearly basis. She hopes to graduate from seventh grade at the top of her class.

In addition to her studies, she’s part of the rugby sevens at the Aries club in Mihai Viteazu, who are ranked number one in the national junior championship. She’s a winger, meaning that she’s used to avoiding the tackles her adversaries attempt while approaching her at a great speed.

Malina, one of her sisters, is currently a student at a high school in Turda and was summoned to the national Under 17 competition. She’s also in rugby sevens.

Andreea, Elena și Mălina, fetele din familia Drăgan care practică rugby Foto: arhiva personală

Andreea, Elena and Mălina, the rugby stars of the Dragan family. Photo: Personal archive.

Elena looks at you with two big brown eyes. The apples of her cheeks blossom in the presence of a camera.

“My dream is to get into the Police Academy. I know it won’t be easy but I’m fighting for it,” she says.

One vacation in 28 years of marriage

The age difference between Elena and her oldest brother is 14 years. Florin left the country to work in Italy.

For Christmas, the Dragan siblings will once again reunite. Elena, Florin, Cosmin, Daniel, Malina, Ioana, Andrei, Andreea, and Ovidiu will sit together at the same table. Just like in the old days, when they would do their homework together under their mother’s supervision.

Her mom is Savina Dragan, 49 years of age. She finished high school in Turda and would’ve liked to continue on to university but her family was extremely poor.

She lost her father when she was very young and her mother raised her two children on her own. As a result, Savina Dragan was forced to work rather than apply to study in the Faculty of Science (to study the chemistry of alimentation) in Cluj.

She sought refuge in reading. She would read any book that she could get her hands on. She was especially fascinated by “Gone with the Wind” as a teenager. When she fell in love, she decided to start a family. After that, she became the mother to her first child in 1989. Since then, she welcomed a new child another eight times.

She never gave up her subscription to the Mihai Viteazu library. She recently “liquidated” the entire “Harry Potter“ series.

“Reading is a great pleasure,” says Savina Dragan, without any of the slightest nuance of conceit.

She works as a retail clerk and rides the bus to work. She speaks about her children with a rare sentiment of joy and the access to education she has tried to offer them.

I asked her when was the last time she has gone on vacation. She thought a little while, and then burst out laughing. It did happen 4 years ago, when she went to a bed and breakfast in Busteni with her husband: their only vacation in 28 years of marriage.

Her husband now works in a company that cleans highways.

We couldn’t afford a vacation but we felt burdened with this sense that we want to go somewhere and we couldn’t get rid of the feeling. For me, little things that others may regard as insignificant are important for me: the fact that we’re healthy, that we spend time together as a family. Big houses, luxury vehicles or any other extravagance does not impress me.

I don’t know if this represents the essence of life. My children are my life. The only thing is that I told my children that I wouldn’t raise their children, my grandchildren. They can raise them themselves! I myself didn’t ask anyone for help.”

Savina Drăgan privește o poză înrămată în care apar toți cei 9 copii

Savina Drăgan looks at an enlarged framed picture showcasing all of her children.

“We didn’t have good conditions; 50 square meters in which 11 souls lived for a long time. Maybe in due time, we’ll be able to make things better. Money never drove us away from our home and now we only have enough to cover our expenses, we’re at our limit. We were never ashamed though, the children were always grateful with what they had. They had one another and they were happy. It upsets me when some parents complain that they have two children and how hard it is or that their children’s homeroom teacher has something against their children. A teacher never has anything against your child.” (Savina Dragan, Elena’s mother)

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Savina Dragan doesn’t really talk about money nor does she complain. She said they did everything they could do so that their children had a want for nothing. If she had a need, she bought her things on credit, and she paid back her debts as much as she could.

The Military High School in Alba Iulia became a more affordable option that the school in Turda, a city that is only 5 kilometers away. Even if they were going to a school that was further away, they would have their food and shelter paid for without causing the expenses of the family to significantly increase.

The first to go was Daniel, currently an engineering officer in Zalau. Ioana chose the same path, now she’s in her third year at the Military Academy in Bucharest, which she entered with a 10 (4.0 average).

Savina Dragan is proud of her children.

“Once in awhile, I used to consider going abroad to work. But how could I leave them, how could I? What would’ve happened to them? To let the older siblings take care of the younger one? No, impossible!

I wanted to be able to give them the resources to pursue their dreams, to go to school, to learn, so that later on, they would’ve say: “I could’ve done so many things but I couldn’t because I had to take care of my sibling.” So I sacrificed myself but I did it with pleasure.

Sometimes I sit and wonder how I managed to overcome all of life’s obstacles. I know how it is in the village, people talk. Look at that one, poor her with nine children.

I told my children that I didn’t live according to the world’s standards. Being poor is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is it an illness. Maybe I wasn’t the perfect mother but I tried to learn from my mistakes and to be supportive of them.

The neighbors told me to send my kids to work. What do you mean? When would they learn? When I sent them to school, they learned how to write and read. Afterwards, I tried not to lose sight of them because there are so many challenges and traps for the youth today. They could’ve chosen so many wrong paths. I saw that they had potential. So if you have potential, why wouldn’t you use it?!”

For Elena, her mother is the best in the world. When they meet after school her mom asks for an update about everything that happened in school that day. Math, Romanian, Gym, French…

During the summer, Elena does her homework in the backyard of the house, whereas in the winter, she works in the kitchen or in one of the other rooms that are as big as two sleeper train compartments.

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“As a parent, you have to try to make your children conscious of their mistakes and to intervene at the right time in order to help them. I grew up alongside of my children. It’s so beautiful to have little ones in the home. I would watch them sleep, I can’ tell you with words how dear they were to me. This is how the human species evolved: to want this and that and everything else. But actually, we don’t need most things and we can live with very little. I tried to motivate them and tell them how important school is. One of my boys once said that I could’ve become a teacher. He is right, I could’ve become a teacher, but I decided to become a mother. “ (Savina Dragan, Elena’s mother)

Sometimes I lose all hope”

Elena’s homeroom teacher, Mihaela Farcas, has been commuting from Turda to the satellite community of Mihai Viteazu on a daily basis for the last 18 years. When she enters the classrooms, she forgets all her troubles.

Continuing to go to class, to open the same anachronic manuals with the hope that a real and lasting change will take place one day is a kind of masochism.

For the moment, Mihaela Farcas finds the formula of a “student-centric education” to be ridiculous. She thinks it is based on everything except the needs of students and their teachers.

“I know it’s not OK, but sometimes, I lose all hope.”

When she makes reference to her career, she does so with a degree of heaviness. She finds it irritating to mention the same problems over and over for 20 years. She doesn’t mince her words.

“If you like this job, you stay and you overcome. You are available for supplementary lessons because you like what you do, case in point. Every time us teachers get upset, the media says that we want a higher salary. It’s not true!”

We want the system to work. And if the system truly works and all components function accordingly, then society as a whole will also function. Teaching is a very crucial link in society.

The moment we step outside, we don’t see an unreachable superior civilization. There actually isn’t one, but it’s at that level that the state operates. On our level, things don’t work and we all feel the repercussions. 

We’re swamped in paperwork and that’s not the educator’s role anyway, to do paperwork. Every government that comes into power drops everything the previous government had implemented, even if what it had implemented was positive.

Everything has to be changed, manuals, the curriculum, everything. Those who are responsible don’t come down to the level of those who educate, to see exactly what is needed. It’s a misrepresentation of reality. Things are not at all moving in the right direction. In education, there is too much theory that doesn’t find itself being put into practice. 

You go to other countries and you see all of their endowment, but you also see how well anchored they are in teaching practical elements. Why would any child like school after you’ve drowned them in theory until they can’t stand it any longer?

It’s frustrating, you think of quitting but then you come to class and choose to keep going because you see something in the children’s expressions that obliges you to stay and not give up. Something that I often see in Elena’s eyes”, says Mihaela Farcas.

The majority of students who graduate from primary school in Mihai Viteazu continue on with their students, whether they go to high school in Cluj or Turda or choose trade schools.

It’s the best-case scenario. This is because statistically speaking, on a national level, the majority of students who are from rural areas generally abandon school prematurely.

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The Dragan family has finally been breathing - barely - for the last two years since both parents have been working. Their cumulative income is 2,000 RON per month, but there were years on end where they managed with only half that amount.

This didn’t impede them from sending their children to school. Three got into the Military Academy, two graduated from high school in Turda and three went on to trade schools.

Elena dreams of getting into the Military High School In Alba Iulia and then she hopes to get into the Police Academy. Achieving this won’t be easy.

She’ll be coming home once every two or three months, just as her siblings did, because transportation costs have been and will be a problem for the family budget. She deserves a future, and her mother – an award.

elena