Last week, I got to tag along with the students from the Roma Szakkollégium, a Roma youth community/scholarship/study university program that makes up a big part of my site placement here in Nyíregyháza, to visit communities in the area north of Nyíregyháza.
We visited a number of programs that are for, and primarily led by, Roma. It was a privilege and a beautiful experience to meet these communities and hear the stories of each place.
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Dr. Ámbédkar Iskola (School)
The Dr. Ámbédkar School in Sajókaza works within the segregated Roma community in Sajókaza. Unfortunately, the Hungarian school system often fails Roma youth, especially those living in rural areas. In Hungary, it is required to take a cumulative exam at the end of secondary school. The results of this exam determine whether or not a student can then attend university. In the northeastern part of Hungary, where Sajókaza lies, the portion of students who take, and pass, the exam is less than 1%. This means, that at a young age, it becomes very difficult for students and youth to determine their future. The school in Sajókaza aims to raise the number of students that do well in secondary school and are able to take the university exam, and therefore, raise each student’s chance in a competitive labor market.
The school is named after Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who was a famous Indian jurist, scholar, and political leader. Dr. Ambedkar was born into a poor family of the untouchable caste in India. He spent his life fighting against the idea of untouchability and the socio-economic discrimination that he and his family faced. The school takes his message to heart as the teachers and staff work to show a self-determined way out of poverty, while trying to make learning fun along the way.
The Dr. Ámbédkar School tries to focus learning around each student. The hope is that each student learns and practices topics in different areas (languages, informatics, and sciences) so that they gain a full knowledge those topics in the classroom (as opposed to being introduced to the subjects in school and being expected to do the learning at home with large quantities of homework). The school also “emphasize[s] the values of Romani lifestyle” and moves beyond academic learning to “provide students with well based confidence to commit their own chosen lifestyle”.
While, the school is situated in the segregated community, the hope is to involve Roma and non-Roma students so that everyone has access to a secondary education in an isolated area of the country.
One of the buildings at the school. Many walls were covered in beautiful, colorful paintings done by students and teachers. It gave the whole place a bright warmth.
Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (April 14, 1891-December 6, 1956), the man whom the school is named after. While born into the Hindu religion, Dr. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism late in life after dealing the frustration of being unable to change the socio-economic discrimination the caste system he was born into. The school is officially a Buddhist school, though it is open to all religions.
Some of the students of the Szakkollégium at the school
Three of the teachers at the Dr. Ámbédkar School.
The wheel is an international symbol for the Roma people and occurs on the Romani flag.
In the kitchen of the school, “Jó étvágyat kívánok” is the formal version of the phrase you say before eating. Wishing ‘good appetite’, it is the Hungarian version of ‘bon appétit’.
Playing ping pong!
The outside view of the school.
The pastor at the Lutheran church in Sajókaza. “Erös vár a mi Istenünk” is the greeting/saying of the lutheran church in Hungary.
Holy cow! The school also keeps cows and has a farm as part of its mission.
In Szalonna, there is a community farm. At one point it was doing so well, it grew enough potatoes to feed the entire village and employed many Roma people in the community. During it’s best times, there was a school to help students reach education requirements after the existing school system was unable to support the students to reach them.
The farm was able to rent land from the village so they could raise Mangalica pigs, a very furry pig that is very special to Hungary and whose meat is very famous and expensive.
In Hungary, the word szalonna means ‘pig fat’ (or bacon). So the meat that they sold also had the added pun as it was szalonna from Szalonna (pig fat from pig fat).
However, a while ago, the mayor of the town decided to stop supporting the farm. He took away the land the farm was rented from the village and the program lost a big portion of their income.
This meant that the school had to close down. While there is still a farm, it is much smaller than it once was and there are no longer any mangalica pigs.
Erzsébet, my site supervisor, with a baby bunny from the farm.
Our host at the farm in Szalonna.
One of the regular pigs from the farm.
There was beautiful art on all of the buildings. You can see again, the wheel in one of the paintings, the international symbol for Roma people.
“Like one big family”. Bioszentandrás is an organic community farm in Hernádszendrás. Started in 2010, it is a project that strives to stimulate the local economy based on the resources and treasure available in the region, while promoting healthy living to the surrounding area. Bioszentandrás has partnered with 5 restaurants and a bakery across Hungary.
In an economically impoverished part of the country, Bioszentandrás has built a community around a village consisting of Roma and non-Roma, that allow inhabitants to take control of their livelihoods and futures.
Furthermore, the mayor of this town, Gábor Üveges, not only supports Bioszentandrás, but leads the farm. It was shocking to see the benefits of when a community truly comes together to support a project contrasted to the hardships that places like Szalonna face when the community, especially its leaders, are unable to do so.
Freskófalu (Fresco Village)
Bódvalenke is home to a fresco village. Globally, the goal of Bódvalenke is to combat stereotypes of Roma people through art. Locally, the goal is to raise a town and all of its members out of poverty. At the start of the project, Bódvalenke was an entirely Roma town where inhabitants were living in deep poverty. Roma artists from all over the world were brought in to paint murals on the sides of many of the homes and buildings. The murals brought journalists and media to the town, turning Bódvalenke into a unique place of interest and a tourist attraction. The village was beyond beautiful.
Artists: János Horváth, Zoran Tairović, Kunhegyesi Francis, Joseph Ferkovics, Bogusha Deli ata, Blackthorn Robert, Csámpai Rosie, Gabor Varadi, B. Balazs Andras, and Barbara Elias.
The next three frescos are part of one large piece. They depict a story as this one represents the many hate crimes and racially targeted murders that are committed against the Roma community. Specifically, this one references an attack where the mother was murdered and the daughter was left covered with 600 pellet gun wounds.
The second part depicts Jesus, in who we find the only resolution to the pain of the world.
The final part depicts finding peace and freedom at last. The artist painted himself and his girlfriend happy.
The dragon watching the washing well. The town hosts a music festival that is called the Dragon Festival. This dragon references the importance of the festival the town but also some of the international renown, Bódvalenke has received for it.
The evolution of horsepower. (1/5)
The evolution of horsepower (2/5)
The evolution of horsepower (3/5)
The evolution of horsepower (4/5)
The evolution of horsepower (5/5)
In this mural, people are shown fleeing from their home. They take nothing with them. Even the trees have uprooted and are fleeing. As the reach the place they are fleeing to, the figures become more distorted. In panic, they realize that where they have ended up is worse than the place they have left. They try to go back but can’t return home. Instead they must start the process again. Forever uprooted.
#youmightbealutheran if lunch starts with bableves (bean soup) and cigány kenyér (gypsy bread)…
…And ends with lekvár palacsinta! Delicious lunch at Bódvalenke!
Life in northeastern Hungary is hard, but if you’re given the chance to look up, the view is beautiful.
Metodista cigánymissió (Methodist Gypsy Mission)
The last stop on the trip was at the Methodist Gypsy Mission in Alsózsolca. The ministry here began in the 1950s. While this area was a center for heavy industry and a large source of jobs in the 1950’s, after the Soviet Union was dissolved, many people lost their jobs and the number of jobs needed have never been replaced.
The Alsózsolca Methodist choir regularly tours the country, performing worship music. The current church building was built in 2011.
From http://www.umcmission.org, “The Roma community wants this church not only to serve the congregation but also to strengthen the development of the town, support the Roma population in nearby villages, and emphasize the peaceful coexistence of the Roma and other Hungarians”.