With hundreds of thousands of people opting to work abroad, it is hard to see a way forward for much of rural Romaniaby Stephen McGrath / March 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
A small boy of about four is playing alone on a heap of pebbles in the street as a light spring sun sets over the village of southern Transylvania. The local church bells toll and his grandmother calls him back to their dilapidated home.
It is not the only house in this village in a state of disrepair; nor is the boy, Alexandru, the only small child playing in the streets with little else to do. In the Romanian countryside, there are few working-age young adults in sight, as many leave to settle in cities or other EU countries in search of better opportunities and higher wages.
Between 2007, when the country joined the EU, and 2017 around 3.4m Romanians emigrated, two-thirds of them aged 18-39. That outflow is second only globally to war-torn Syria. There may be no war, but for many, there is little hope. In many villages, where people commonly make homemade spirits, alcoholism is rife and only adds to the general sense of hopelessness. Village doctors report that up to 60 per cent of their patients have alcohol-related medical problems.
“Young Romanians leave the countryside because villages lack opportunities and, often, access to basic infrastructure,” says Sebastian Burduja, Founder of PACT for Romania, a platform for youth civic engagement. “They lack proper roads, sanitation, schools, and hospitals and you hear people saying: ‘we are hopeless here.’”
Poverty in rural Romania can be striking. On the fringes are scores of Roma families living in tiny makeshift houses. Many are collapsing. According to the World Bank, 70 per cent of Romania’s rural population—which makes up almost half of the country’s roughly 19m people—live below the poverty line.
Hundreds of thousands of men and women have opted to work abroad and send money back home in remittances, which are often used for incremental home improvements. But many families are being torn apart by economic emigration. An estimated 350,000 economic orphans have parents who live abroad. There are far-reaching implications. Doctors, nurses and teachers have left in droves which has dramatically lowered the quality of education and healthcare.