Ethan Hawke Speaks of Mom's Romanian Charity The Alex Fund

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Actor, director and writer Ethan Hawke supports The Doe Fund at home in America, a homeless aid organization that provides the tools to help people get back on their feet, but overseas his mother, Leslie Hawke, is doing award-winning work to help poor children.

In fact, the initial program included providing job training for their mothers too, which was modeled after the Doe Fund’s Ready, Willing & Able welfare-to-work program in New York City.

“The major cause for me is my mother’s organization in Bucharest, Romania, which is dedicated to getting gypsy children educated,” Hawke tells Samaritanmag. “It’s called the Alex Fund [in the U.S.] or OvidiuRo in Romania. She’s gotten thousands and thousands of children into school.

“One of the ways to end racism against the gypsy culture is to get the kids in school,” the Before Sunset/Boyhood star explains.

Leslie Hawke has lived in Romania for 15 years now, he says. She joined the Peace Corps when she was 48 and they sent her there. And she left the Peace Corps, but she’s been there for 12 years since.

“When she grew up, it was in the heart of the Civil Rights Movement in West Texas, and my grandfather [Howard Lemuel Green] was a big civil rights advocate. He fought the Klan in Texas, and, hah, baseball — he was part of Branch Rickey’s team finding Jackie Robinson. So that was a big part of my mom’s childhood, that kind of ethics, of the unwavering equality of mankind, of humankind. And so she was traveling and saw the racism against gypsies there and just thought she could help.”

Leslie's organization in Bucharest is OvidiuRo and she founded The Alex Fund in the U.S. to help support OvidiuRo's mission.

The Alex Fund's mission page has more information, beginning:

"The Alex Fund supports Fiecare Copil in Gradinita (‘Every Child in Preschool’), Romanian NGO OvidiuRo’s program currently operating in 43 impoverished communities.  Fiecare Copil in Gradinita is helping 2400 poor children attend preschool and kindergarten so they will be able to enter primary school with the same skills as other better-off children start school with. OvidiuRo’s methodology encompasses close collaboration with local leaders, teacher training and parent involvement."

Leslie was featured in Forbes Romania, in May 2014, as one of the country’s most influential women.  She was given an award for Excellence in Education, which she accepted on behalf of the 22 women who work alongside her at OvidiuRo/The Alex Fund. In 2015, 2400 children attended 40 kindegartens; their parents receive food coupons each month as an incentive if their kids regularly attend school.

Ethan, who is involved with other causes and charities — most recently running the New York City Marathon in support of The Doe Fund and joining Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq people in calling for a 12-year moratorium on drilling for oil and gas in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence (where he owns property) — showcased the documentary he directed, Seymour: An Introduction, in November 2014, at the IFC Centre in NYC to benefit The Alex Fund.

“I raise money and I go over there,” says Hawke of how he helps his mom. “I’m most valuable as a fundraising tool.” In 2013, he was in Romania for the premiere of his film, Before Midnight, "in support of early education for all," the promotional ad read.

In Leslie's “founder’s message” on The Alex Fund’s web site, she writes:

Dear friends,

When I came to Romania with the Peace Corps in 2000, I quickly became aware that many poor children did not attend school, dooming them to repeat the cycle of poverty.  With Gabi Achihai and Maria Gheorghiu, who shared my determination to address this injustice, we approached the problem by starting a program to help older age kids catch up with missed years of education as well as a job-training and support program for their mothers (modeled after the Doe Fund’s) Ready, Willing & Able program in New York City).

Over our first decade of working with poor families it became clear that disadvantaged children who start school earlier, do better – and stay in school much longer than their peers who enter the system later.

Today, that is our single goal:  to get every poor child in Romania into the education system at the same age that most children from middle class families enter the system: between 3 and 5.

Most impoverished parents, regardless of their ethnicity, are not aware of the critical importance of early education.  It is not hard to convince them to register their young children for kindergarten – when you offer a warm smile, a pair of shoes, a clean set of clothes, and a snack.   But day in and day out, other more immediate issues, like hauling water and scrounging up 1 $ for a loaf of bread, take precedence over their long-term aspirations for their kids.  IT IS HARD TO KEEP POOR CHILDREN COMING TO SCHOOL EVERY DAY FOR THE WHOLE LONG WINTER.

For years now, we have seen the profound difference that material incentives make to the school attendance of these children.  In the beginning we furnished incentives in the form of Unilever donations for the mothers.  Today, as we prepare this strategy to “scale up”, we tie food coupons (“tichete social”) to these children’s regular attendance.   Yes, 12 euros a month (about $15) in food coupons works wonders, motivating parents to get their children to school every day, even when the weather is cold and windy and wet!

Please contribute to raising the education level in Romania. Your financial contribution will help us to bring early education to more and more children – and to work toward changing the system so that all poor children have a chance to escape the cycle of poverty into which they were born.

Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.