For five years the KomenskýFond of ERSTE Foundation has been successfully supporting people on the margins of society in Austria and Central and Eastern Europe by providing targeted, regional educational schemes. Initiated by ERSTE Foundation and Caritas Austria in 2006, the KomenskýFond’s aim is to implement effective educational measures to combat poverty. The first results demonstrate that education is an effective tool both in terms of preventing and fighting poverty.
“Education is still the strongest and most sustainable instrument in the worldwide struggle against poverty. Firm in this belief, ERSTE Foundation and Caritas Austria have successfully invested EUR 4.2 million from the KomenskýFond in individual projects,” says Boris Marte, Board Member and Managing Director of ERSTE Foundation. “Education” is understood, in a very broad sense, as “learning for life” – as defined by Czech theologian and philosopher Jan Amos Komenský.
KomenskýFond has a three-fold effect
The project partners have adopted a three-step approach to ensure that support from the fund has a long-lasting effect: The first step involves taking specific action in the area of education in order to bring about specific improvements for the people involved. Franz Karl Prüller, Director of the ERSTE Foundation Social Development Programme: “For example, we support pre-school programmes for Roma children, which aim to prepare them for regular elementary school and enable them to overcome possible language obstacles or other difficulties.” Secondly, the KomenskýFond provides the various project partners with a platform for networking, for sharing experiences and knowledge and for capacity building. Thirdly, this platform enables them to initiate and develop the necessary structural and political changes in their region.
Every single action has an impact
“Since the introduction of the KomenskýFond five years ago, each year we have offered more than 400 adults and some 1,000 children and young people in Slovakia, Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia and Austria a variety of educational programmes to suit their needs and thus provided them with new opportunities and ways to escape poverty,” says Christoph Petrik-Schweifer, Secretary General of the Caritas foreign aid programme, who is very pleased about the progress.
At the children’s day-care centre in the Romanian village of Periam, for example, 30 to 40 Roma children are given a hot meal every day thanks to the KomenskýFond. The support also includes homework assistance and leisure time activities. “In the beginning we had to convince the parents to send their children to us. Today, they are very happy about this support and come long before school starts to enrol their children,” says the director of the foreign aid programme of Caritas.
Education as part of social counselling services
Cooperation between ERSTE Foundation and Caritas has also given the social counselling services of Caritas in Austria new impetus: The KomenskýFond has enabled Caritas – in addition to safeguarding basic needs – to integrate guidance on education and training and financing into its support services for people in distress:
People who ask for help at one of Caritas’ 36 social counselling centres will not only be able to receive a rent or energy subsidy, but may also be eligible for a tideover allowance to pay for education programmes. “Without this cooperation with ERSTE Foundation we would not have been able to extend our services in the social counselling centres to include this important area,” says Edda Böhm-Ingram, head of social issues at Caritas Salzburg. “Now the Caritas social counsellors are paying particular attention to this issue. After each case is reviewed thoroughly, people may, for example, receive a grant from the KomenskýFond to get a truck driver’s licence or financial support for tutoring at school.”