Interviewing Raluca Ciulei- How active involvement brings change
Interviewing Raluca Ciulei- How active involvement brings change
Saturday afternoon, in a coffee shop in Zürich, a few enthusiasts were heavily debating upon a project. This is how I found Raluca Ciulei, a self-driven, passionate and visionary person, from whom we all could learn something and to whose projects we could be a part of.
House of Romanians in Switzerland (C.R.): We’ve been promoting your initiative to support unprivileged children through a non-formal education project. Now we are curious to find out more about you.
Raluca Ciulei: I am currently working as a quantitative analyst for an energy company in Bern, after having lived in different parts of the world. At the age of 16, I moved to Germany due to my professional tennis career, then at the age of 19 I had the chance to study at an Ivy League university, where I was awarded a leadership scholarship. This was followed by 2 years on the professional tennis tour, after which I arrived in Switzerland, where I studied Mathematics at ETH Zürich and where I am currently living.
There is something that comes from within and that has always been there- a drive, a feeling, a vision to bring change where it is needed.
C.R.: You lived less than 18 years in Romania- considerably less than most of the Romanians in Switzerland, who moved here only later, to work or to study. What drives you to have such an initiative for your home country?
R.C.: There is something that comes from within and that has always been there- a drive, a feeling, a vision to bring change where it is needed. I believe that in Romania, as in any other society or community, if we care for the children, we can bring change. I want to start with the unprivileged children, with whom the fate was less giving.
Raluca (right) with Laurentiu and Livia. Photo taken by Madalina Tenea
C.R.: Have you done any entrepreneurial activity before? Starting a project of this magnitude from scratch requires a certain courage and ambition, traits that not any student from a highly ranked university, nor any performer has.
R.C.: No, I have never done anything similar before. However, everything I have achieved so far, I did on my own, without anybody’s help, in a perpetual learning by doing. Everything came from within, and everything I wanted and I felt like doing, I did. I have always felt that I will implement such a project one day!
C.R.: Congratulations! Now tell us more about the project and about your vision.
R.C.: As I have already mentioned, I believe that caring for a child will not only improve his life but also the life of his community. I also believe in active involvement from our side, rather than a passive one.
I further hope that others will follow our example.
C.R.: It is a complex project on informal education. Could you give us more details?
R.C.: At this stage of the project, the program is not thoroughly defined. The activities that will take place shall bring joy to the children, shall help them discover themselves and learn valuable lessons for their lives. We will encourage learning by doing and look to facilitate as many experiences for the children as possible. We further believe in leading by example, hence we are aware that the children will learn from our ways of treating ourselves and the children, from the way we interact with each other, from the way we enjoy what we do.
They will be the ones to decide what they would like to do and learn and when. We will only be there to encourage them to discover things by themselves and help each other.
Through playing, sports, social interaction, trips, these children will start discovering themselves, their surrounding and the richness that lies within them. They will also learn to help and support each other and to care for each other, for the environment and for their community.
The education in too many places today has too many imposed topics that do not encourage the curiosity the children have.
C.R.: How did you have the idea to implement informal education in such a project?
R.C.: My experience at elite universities, in the jobs I’ve had and with the people I’ve interacted with showed me that nowadays education and society impose too many restrictions, rules and beliefs upon us about what we should and should not do. These rules, often combined with subtle forms of punishment, shut down our creativity, courage, enthusiasm, deprive us of our freedom, transform us into competitors and slaves of work, until we reach the gates of hell and realize that the road was more than foreign to us. My very own experience sits behind my idea. In order to witness alternative education at work, I attended classes at Steiner/Waldorf School (schools based on autonomous learning) and seminars on Natural Learning as encountered in the LAIS schools for example, where children are encouraged to discover everything by themselves, at their own pace, and to teach each other. The education in too many places today has too many imposed topics that do not encourage the curiosity the children have. Education, as we often experience it, offers answers, imposes solving algorithms, it is based on too much theory and too little practice - in contrast, this new form allows the children to become more self-confident, to become autonomous by answering their own questions by themselves with enthusiasm, courage, creativity and curiosity. Children should not be interrupted; we have to stop clipping their wings. The pedagogues have only the role to observe and guide them, eventually answering them with another question, when they hit a dead-end.
C.R.: Do you believe that such an approach could be successful in Romania because it contrasts very well the methods that have already been applied, or even compensates the lack of professionalism at some levels in the educational system?
R.C.: I believe in the effectiveness of informal education regardless of the society where it is being applied.
In western Europe, as well as in Romania, the idea of success has to be redefined: we cannot continuously repeat to our children that if and only if they become, let’s say, doctors, they will be someone. As long as you are doing what you are passionate about and you keep alive the desire to explore, you are successful. Maybe this is the way towards a world with less depression and with fewer people forced to follow a certain career trajectory, one where the individual freedom is truly encouraged.
All they have is the richness within and the joy to have each other.
C.R.: Why is the program then applied in rural poor areas?
R.C.: Children here have the least support, they are almost forgotten by the society and considered only part of some statistics, not to say, they barely get to see anything from this big world. All they have is the richness within and the joy to have each other. We want to help them discover exactly these two things, to become more confident and self-sufficient, and to help one another.
C.R.: How could people that are interested in the project contribute at this point?
R.C.: Since it is the first time we organize such an event, we are counting on the help of a Romanian organization, Tasuleasa Social, that will help us with accommodation, food, their pedagogical forest and other resources that they might have. All these will cost us 35 euro per day per child. I will personally go to Tasuleasa next week, to meet the people there, see their facilities and clarify the program for the 30 children we will be taking care of. Since the costs will be over 5500 euro, from which I myself paid 1500 euro and other wonderful friends donated about 600 euros, 3400 euro are still needed. Every contribution and expense is being recorded, and I will provide receipts for the expenses.
Donations of toys or cloths are very welcome too. Any contact of a possible sponsor would be greatly appreciated.
More about the project and Raluca can be found here on the website:
Donations can be made directly here
And don’t hesitate to contact her directly for any questions
Interview realized by Livia Balacescu
March 2016, Zürich