30 lively children enter the building of the daycare center. After school hours and joint homework preparation, they do not go home, as there is still an activity waiting for them. They put down their school bags, take off their shoes, wash their hands, and they are already at the game shelves. Tick Tack Boom, Halli Galli, Monopoli Junior – the selection of board games is large. Groups form and the games begin. We are in the part of Nyíregyháza inhabited by the Roma minority, in the so-called Hussar Quarter.
This article was originally published on our sister-site, Ungarn Heute.
This quarter has a long history. 40 barracks buildings were built still during the monarchy, and these one-story houses formed apartments in the 50s. The houses, inhabited by a majority of Roma families, have deteriorated over time. Without comfort, without a proper sewage system, for decades the Roma lived in overcrowded apartments. With the help of EU funds, the houses were renovated a year ago. Heating and plumbing were installed, new windows and doors were installed, and the crumbling facades were insulated and freshly painted. The housing conditions have improved significantly. The residential area, separated from the city by the railroad, experienced great changes due to the redevelopment. Beautiful, well-kept school grounds, a playground, sports field, and community house provide opportunities to the residents. The Magvető Day Care Center renovated the premises two years ago.
The Greek Catholic Church – the Eparchy of Nyíregyháza – began its service in the Hussar district 10 years ago. They took over the kindergarten and school, which is attended almost exclusively by Roma children, and founded the Magvető Day Care Center for the most disadvantaged families. It is intended for children who ended up in precarious circumstances at home after school. Here we are guests, in the midst of Easter preparations, we get to know their lives. We are welcomed by the director, Mrs. Valéria Szabó Bernát and the Greek Catholic priest, Szabolcs Ede Szikora.
We enter the well-kept yard and garden. At the entrance, they have placed a container with washing machines. Mothers who need it can do their laundry here, as long as the children have employment in the home. “A tiny thing, but makes their lives easier,” Valéria tells us. The garden is arranged in a child-friendly way, and in nice weather, it is very popular. A gazebo, swing, trampoline, and table tennis table provide opportunities to play here. The home has three large halls. The daytime activities take place in the middle room, the largest room is the chapel, where the residents meet at the Sunday liturgy at the feasts. The smallest room is a kitchen with a round dining table, where the children are together for dinner.
The church acts on the conviction that education is the most important upward opportunity for the children and organizes full-day care for the most disadvantaged families. These 30 children go home only after eating dinner together. At the Magvető home, the main focus is not on learning. This time after school is for conversation, parties, and activities, such as sports, music, and art. After free play, the children sit around the big table. The teaching staff – social workers, educators, catechists, priests – do the talking. They have a strong and stable relationship with the children, they know them well, and they know their strengths, weaknesses, and potential. The little ones can tell how their day was, what was difficult for them, and what they are happy about. Everyone gets a chance to speak- the shy ones are helped with questions so that they can also participate in the conversation. The teaching staff gets a picture of who may need help in learning and then a bit of practice and preparation for school tests follows. The activity ends with a joint dinner. The table is set, and the teaching staff make sure that something tasty is offered. “At the end of the month, a hot meal is needed,” says Valéria. Just like in a family. Enviable even, because of the set limits for cell phones and computer games, TV series are observed without any problems – we noted during the afternoon.
Children come to the daycare center voluntarily, participation is open to disadvantaged families, and the demand for this form of employment is very high. “We have a waiting list, our capacities are limited,” says the director.
The children in the Hussar Quarter attend the Sója Miklós Greek Catholic School. This has been run by the Eparchy of Nyíregyháza for ten years. It offers remedial education, it is adapted to the special situation of the children. “In the beginning, an employee had to visit the families in the morning, and bring the children to school,” Valéria tells. “Today we have no problems, the children come on their own. Those of us who are present on the ground know the situation of the families and can better respond to the needs of the children. Our classes are smaller, similar to the model of the welcome class in Germany, the children are allowed a certain ‘gentle space,'” explains the head, who was the director of the school for many years. The result is convincing, the school dropout rate is zero, almost 100% of the children acquire the necessary graduation qualifications, and can learn a profession; some even manage to finish high school.
Engagement with children has a great impact on families. Parents greatly appreciate the social and emotional support their children receive. “We inform, accompany, and help the parents. If we can get the parents to trust us, we have gained a lot. Religion is central to the life of the home, the school, and so is the neighborhood. “When Christian charity can be experienced, a relationship based on trust develops.”
Segregation or integration? This question seems pointless here. Physically, the neighborhood is separated from the city by the railroad, and the surroundings – agriculture and industrial enterprises in the vicinity – after the long winter now look dreary and desolate, but people have found their home here, where they are getting the necessary help for a life fit for human beings. “The key concept here is presence. Those who observe the Roma minority from afar have the prejudices and fears that separate us. Whoever is near them feels their affection, and experiences their love. Our existence gives them solid support in everyday life. There were projects here, but when they ended, the interest groups disappeared. But we stay here because we know that people need our help tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, too,” the director explains, adding with confidence: “We see that if you give people a chance, they take it.”
The vast majority of the Roma population live in rural areas, especially in the northeastern counties of Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén and Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg. Data on the numerical share of Roma in the total population vary considerably. In the last census in 2011, around 316,000 people stated that they belonged to the Roma minority.
Featured image by Nóra Polyákné Tóth/Hungary Today