The European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) expresses 20 principles and rights essential for fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems in the European Union. These range from ‘Education, Training and Lifelong Learning’, to ‘Work-Life Balance’, to ‘Long-Term Care’, to ‘Access to Essential Services’. The eventual implementation of the Pillar is down to service providers such as our members. We interviewed Rev. Cristian Pavel, Filantropia Timisoara Director, on how his organisation is contributing to the Social Pillar’s implementation from a faith-based perspective.
Could you provide us with some details about your projects that work towards meeting the objectives of the EPSR?
Federația Filantropia is a dynamic institution of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Since its launch in 2008, it has provided social and medical services to complement the care and assistance services that the church offers to people in need. Fundația Filantropia Timișoara is a founding member of Federația Filantropia. Through its own services, programmes and activities, it has helped develop the network within the Romanian Orthodox Church across the country in general, and more specifically in Timiș county, by setting up new institutions and maintaining existing ones.
Disadvantaged children are a key focus, both as part of our immediate-response actions and as part of our long-term strategy. Since 2010, Fundația Filantropia Timișoara and its partners have run a network of services consisting of day centres that offer disadvantaged youngsters a daily hot meal together with specialist psychotherapy and personal development services with the aim of keeping them in school. Every day, 100 children in various locations around the county, including Timișoara, Lugoj, Făget and Deta, benefit from such services. It is clear that, together with the other social services providers in the county, we are offering a real solution for these disadvantaged families, where in many cases the parents have gone to work abroad while the children are left in the care of close relatives.
Having realised that a large number of children were living in a state of abandonment, we decided that we, as a church, must do what we could to provide them with a form of continuous education. Sfântul Antim Ivireanul school was opened in 2012 and has now developed into the “Sfântul Antim Ivireanul” Orthodox theological school. The story of this school is a great example of a partnership between the public authorities and the church – between the local council and the Archdiocese of Timișoara, together with Fundația Filantropia Timișoara – with the state being keen to enter into the partnership and providing an unused, dilapidated building free of charge. Subsequently, through private investments, the school was equipped with brand-new facilities and, once construction was completed, with everything needed to provide an excellent education. To date, more than 800 children have passed through our school’s doors and we intend to offer a complete school cycle, from age 6 through to age 19. The reason for having a faith school is to account for the presence of Christians in contemporary society and to build traditional values and respect for society.
Unlike at other schools, the Sfântul Antim Ivireanul school programme also includes continuing education. In other words, as well as the general curriculum established by the Ministry of Education and specific personal development subjects, the programme taught after lunch consists of activities that complement this intellectual development, encouraging the harmonious and vocational development of our teenagers.
Fundația Filantropia Timișoara, in partnership with the Archdiocese of Timișoara, has also built a nursery school for 180 children so that parents in Timișoara have an alternative to the existing pre-school education options. There is a growing demand for an institution of this kind.
In 2019, our work to support disadvantaged people diversified into new services as Fundația Filantropia Timișoara began offering support to patients with multiple sclerosis. Timiș county has more than 250 registered multiple sclerosis patients, yet until now there has been no specialist social or medical service to care for these people and help them recover. Through the Ministry of Health, the Romanian state provides specialist medical care in the neurological departments of regional hospitals in the form of specialist neurological consultations and medication based on how advanced each patient’s disease is. We proposed forming a partnership to slow this neurological degeneration as much as possible by offering complementary services such as physiotherapy, psychotherapy, occupational therapy and any other treatment that, according to specialists, gives patients a balance so that their dignity remains as unaffected as possible.
The new community support centre for multiple sclerosis patients, which opened in Timișoara this spring, is accessible to people with disabilities, while for those who cannot travel alone, we have bought a specially adapted vehicle. This allows people with reduced mobility to attend the centre’s activities and live as normal a life as possible.
People have quickly become aware of our presence as a service provider without the need for a strong advertising campaign. As such, we receive countless requests for help getting patients to the doctor’s or the pharmacy, enjoying a day out in the park, or simply meeting up with their family. We believe that this is only the beginning as we have identified the need for a residential socio-medical convalescent facility, something that does not currently exist in western Romania.
The European Commission is increasingly pushing for national and regional governments to fully engage civil society organisations in policy-making. Are you active in advocacy work in your region or country? If so, how do you successfully influence policy-makers? If you are not active, what support would be useful to you to help you begin?
Through its members, including Fundația Filantropia Timișoara, Federația Filantropia endeavours to have a presence on the boards and committees that are responsible for establishing public policies. A recent example of this is a project financed as part of POCA (the administrative capacity operational programme). Federația Filantropia was the applicant and had the Ministry of Health as a partner. Entitled “Alternative public policies in the field of health”, the project aimed to grow the capacities of Federația Filantropia’s member NGOs working in social and medical services to formulate and promote alternative proposals to public policies concerning the field of healthcare, namely the 2014-2020 National Health Strategy.
The project also consisted of:
- Developing the theoretical and practical skills of 60 trainers within 20 Federația Filantropia member NGOs so that they were equipped to formulate and promote alternative public health policy proposals;
- Developing procedures and mechanisms to establish, monitor, evaluate, support and promote public healthcare policy proposals;
- Building a social and civic dialogue with the active involvement of at least 100 representatives of local public authorities and interested institutions in a participative public consultation to draw up public policy proposals in the field of health.
Another example is the county’s social inclusion board, on which church NGOs sit with veto rights. This means that social inclusion policies are one of our key concerns.
By having all of the specialist state and private institutions together on such boards with responsibility for care and, in particular, for disadvantaged people, we are able to make better decisions.
Federația Filantropia and its founding members are young organisations that have not yet consolidated their presence as service providers or as stakeholders with influence among the institutions that formulate general public policies. Nevertheless, we hope that in the next financial year we will have a place on the specialist committees for our areas of interest – education, social inclusion and medical assistance – and will be able to influence Romania’s new socio-medical development strategies.
Currently, Fundația Filantropia Timișoara and other members of Federația Filantropia are focusing on providing social, medical and educational services, and as such on strengthening institutions in relation to the state and partners, and we have not developed specialist divisions for advocacy and lobbying. It is clear that we must focus on specialisation and the training of enough people to retain the links between those who formulate public policies, the government itself – whether central, regional or local – and service providers, so that there is real consistency and connection between these policies and the day-to-day activities of support institutions.
What are your plans for the future? Have you got any projects you wish to develop?
As it is a church organisation and one of its founding members was the Archdiocese of Timișoara, Fundația Filantropia Timișoara has, from the very start, had access to all of the communities in Timiș county, meaning that we are present even in places where state institutions are not. Our understanding of this situation, and particularly of the quality of life of people who choose to remain in small, isolated communities in Timiș county that are hard to access and have poor infrastructure, has led to us taking our services to them to offer what help we can. In partnership with the Profilaxis medical centre, we have developed a remote healthcare service that offers specialist medical support from doctors to people who are unable to travel to a clinic. The remote healthcare service consists of a remote doctor’s consultation. The distance between doctor and patient is irrelevant because technology is used to make the specialist doctor, be it a cardiologist, endocrinologist or internal medicine specialist (there is a really surprisingly wide array of services available), present in real-time.
Thanks to a generous investment from private donors, Fundația Filantropia Timișoara has purchased high-performance medical equipment while also forming a team of both general practitioners who go into the field to provide the consultations themselves, and specialist doctors who interpret the consultations in real-time. This year we have worked hard to ensure a sufficient budget for this initiative. 2019 has proven to be an exceptional one: we have succeeded in providing more than 600 consultations for people in hard-to-access rural communities located more than 100 km from Timișoara. The beneficiaries are generally people without health insurance, elderly people who do not travel or who struggle to travel, and families with children who live in total isolation.
Together with the General Directorate of Social Assistance and Child Protection and other partners such as the National Institute of Public Health and the Romanian Association for Health Promotion, Fundația Filantropia Timișoara intends to build a new socio-medical project.
We want to set up integrated medical centres in rural communities. This project, which will be possible thanks to investments in Norwegian funds, will establish five integrated medical centres offering social support alongside medical services in isolated communities that do not currently have medical centres.
What do you think is the role for Christian-based organisations in implementing the objectives of the EPSR, and for diaconal work more generally?
Fundația Filantropia Timișoara’s sole founder was the Archdiocese of Timișoara, a religious institution, and so it is only natural that both its charter and its mission are guided by the principles of the Gospel. A Christian organisation will always have, as its starting point and endpoint, the Gospel and Man as God sees him in his complexity; in other words, from birth to beyond our earthly lives. It could be said that the specific feature of Christian organisations is that they are based on vocation rather than on contracts. While it is clear that these organisations need a structure and an infrastructure in terms of budget, organisational charts, and medium- and long-term strategies, what makes their existence and dynamic possible is this human aspect. Although Christian organisations are part of civil society and are subject to the same common laws, they must also follow the Gospel, which is distinguished by God’s confession of His love for Man. If social philanthropy is separated from spirituality, it becomes secular, and the suffering person is no longer seen as being the mysterious face of Christ, but merely a social individual. Christian social philanthropy is inspired by community life and parish life because the main purpose of social philanthropy is to cultivate a fraternal communion within society, rather than simply resolving immediate material needs. In this sense, alongside solidarity with those in need, there must also be recognition of the benefactor in order to strengthen this communion between people.