Romanians abroad: Young mother wants to unite the Romanian community in Belgium through books
Through the Romanians abroad series we want to put the spotlight on remarkable Romanians living in Diaspora and their inspiring work and initiatives. If you have such stories (about yourself or someone in your community), email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and help us share them with the world. The interview below was sent to us by Anamaria Olaru, a Romanian living in Brussels, who runs the blog natureandbooks.com.
Anamaria Vition, the founder of the Romanian library for children in Belgium (Biblioteca Prichindeilor din Belgia), has made it her mission to help other Romanian families living in the country to keep the Romanian language alive and present in their children’s identity.
A young mother, she started the library with the books in her daughter’s collection, but she has also received book donations from embassies, institutions and publishing houses, reaching over 400 titles.
She travels all over Belgium just to get Romanian parents and kids reading and she wants to build a community around her passion. When she’s not on the road, spends nights cutting, pasting and preparing creative materials for her workshops. She has a natural marketing strategy which has the sole purpose of encouraging children to read.
She says her initiative was initially met with suspicion and lack of interest by the public institutions that are supposed to help Romanian expatriates, reminding her of the reasons why she decided to leave Romania in the first place. However, she believes that books can bring people together and unite the Romanian community in Belgium, which is “very much divided”.
“I want to connect all people, from all backgrounds around books. Books are for everyone: believers, non-believers, conservatives, liberals. Reading is universal,” she says.
The interview with Anamaria Vition, which you can read below, was made by Anamaria Olaru, a fellow Romanian living in Brussels, who shares the passion for books and runs the blog natureandbooks.com, where this interview was first published.
How did you come up with the idea of creating a library for Romanian kids in Belgium?
For me, there is no larger goal in life than to create. I am always preoccupied to create purpose in my life and pursue it passionately.
This initiative came from my need to connect with the Romanian community. When I first came to Belgium, I didn’t know anyone here and I needed anchoring. I was lucky to come across Ana Răduleț, who is the founder of the Romanian kids library in Prague and our shared passion for books inspired me to open a similar library here in Belgium. Now, there is a chain of Romanian libraries for kids in Italy (Bologna), Spain (Tarragona), Finland (Helsinki), Poland (Kraków), Croatia and Denmark. We were all inspired by Ana’s project and we all use the same online platform for our libraries, but we function separately.
Why was this initiative needed in Belgium?
Well, first of all, I took this initiative out of personal interest. I already had a big book collection for my daughter and I wanted to share it with other parents who want to keep the Romanian language alive and present in their children’s identity. My goal was to build a community around it.
This kind of initiative should exist in any country that hosts a large community of Romanians. There are 105,358 Romanians currently living in Belgium and it is our duty to keep our language alive. And what better way to do that than through books and reading at a very early age?
Please tell us more about your library.
My collection is for children ranging from 0 to 18 years old, and I currently have 412 books. I have very special, original books, beautifully illustrated with deep and positive messages that will inspire our children to be kind and involved members of society.
To become a member of the library, you need to send me your email address. I will create your username and password and you will soon have access to our catalog. You can choose up to 5 books for 4 weeks. Once your selection is finished, we can establish the time and place to meet. The library is located near Roeselare, West Flanders, so if you leave 20 km further, we can meet halfway or use the postal service.
How do you get your books?
Many of them I bought, but I also received many donations which I am very thankful for. I received books from Romanian embassies and institutions, for other fellow Romanians and also from several publishing houses such as Arthur, Cartea Copiilor, Frontiera, Katarsis, Panda, Signatura and Univers. I also receive books through the #imparte cartea (#share the book) initiative. This way, I can also borrow books myself and make them accessible to other people through my library.
What cities did you manage to reach through your library?
Antwerp, Brussels, Deinze and Roeselare.
What was the biggest challenge during this process?
I faced two main barriers during this process. A mental barrier from some parents living in industrial areas in Belgium. The interest in books is lower and lower, unfortunately, and they see going to the library or reading as a hurdle or something unnecessary.
And the other barrier has been the lack of a coherent and united policy at institutional level regarding Romanian expatriates. The institutional approach regarding the Romanian language and culture is still old-fashioned and exclusivist. The integration programs depend on who is running the show and there is a lack of coherence and collaboration amongst the institutions here.
I found it very difficult to be heard by other institutions. My initiative was met with a lot of suspicion, doubt and lack of interest. It is very frustrating and sad to see. These are some of the same reasons why I left Romania. Unfortunately, you still find these issues here in our community.
What does the Romanian community in Belgium need?
The Romanian community is very much divided. Some parts of the community are tied to churches and others around the Romanian traditional values. But if none of these resonates with your interests, as a Romanian, you are lost. There isn’t another alternative for Romanians.
So, does your library offer an alternative to the Romanian community?
Yes! The library doesn’t divide people. I want to connect all people, from all backgrounds around books. Books are for everyone: believers, non-believers, conservatives, liberals. Reading is universal.
You also organize reading workshops for kids. Can you tell me more?
Yes, I organize workshops for kids 0 to 6 years old. The feedback is mostly encouraging, especially the one coming from the kids. They are attentive, engaged, and they like to connect through books. It gives me a lot of positive energy.
What advice do you give parents regarding reading?
Reading or storytelling promotes brain development and imagination. It develops language and emotions and most importantly it strengthens the relationship between parent and child.
There isn’t such a thing as reading too early. Only unsuitable books or moods.
What are your top favorite books that you would recommend?
- The Hospital Dog by Julia Donaldson
- Sleep like a Tiger by Mary Logue
- Smon Smon by Sonja Danowski
- The Why, Why, Why Collection
- The My friend Conni Collection
Where can we see your upcoming activities?
Interview by Anamaria Olaru, natureandbooks.com
(Photos by Ion Vition)