Time is something each of us gets in equal, albeit limited amounts. We each get 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. Some of us get more years than others, but their makeup is the same. Time is one of the most valuable commodities we have. We sell it for wages. We barter it for help. We donate it to good causes. We spend it on family and friends. And we waste some of it, too. Coming up to Christmas, a lack of time is one of the loudest complaints heard. There’s so much to do. So many places to go, so many people to meet. And the closer it gets to Christmas, the shorter time gets. This is particularly true, I think, in the expat world, as we ready ourselves to go home, where we begin the battle with time all over again.
And yet, today, on a Saturday so close to Christmas, the turnout in Szilaspogony, in Nógrád county, Hungary, was nothing short of amazing. Volunteers from America, Canada, England, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Nigeria, Philippines, Russia and Scotland turned out in force to help decorate the village nursery. Armed with drills and screwdrivers, furniture was assembled, shelves were mounted, dolls houses and train tracks were put together, pictures were framed, books were unwrapped, cots were mattressed, stools were covered, curtains were hung, and lights were strategically positioned, transforming the old nursery into a fairyland for the village kids. Prior to our visit, the Mayor’s office had organised local volunteers to paint the room with paint we supplied, so we had a blank canvas to work with.
Szilaspogony has a population of just over 300, about 80 of whom are children. Those aged 3 to 6 attend the village nursery. There’s about 25 of them in all. The local mayor (the first woman to hold such an office in the county), the wonderful Tünde Józsefné Bódi, who is three years into her first five-year term, took the time to fill me in on what was going on locally. Unemployment, surprisingly, isn’t an issue. There is work for all those who want to work; her office sees to that. Her concern is about example. She worries that the village children – who in times past went from the nursery, to primary, secondary, and tertiary education, some graduating as scientists and now working at universities like Oxford – are not being shown the way forward. Parents are concerned with the basics. The children are well turned out and cared for. But there’s a settling … a contentment with just enough, rather than ambition to make a better tomorrow. Tünde Bíróné Katona, who’s in charge of the Nursery, seconded this. She called it a ‘crisis situation of values’. The children in her care are taught to read and write and count. They learn to socialise with each other. They learn right from wrong. They get the grounding they need to go on to primary school but few, if any, will continue to secondary education. Perhaps just two from each group. The example simply isn’t there. The push isn’t there. The vision isn’t there.
And that got me thinking.
The children, in awe of their new home from home, were a little distracted when it came time for them to put on their play. They acted out the scene at Bethlehem, complete with the Holy Family, shepherds, wise (wo)men, angels, and the star. They watched the audience, not just their parents and teachers, but a bunch of strangers speaking an odd language, who had descended on their village for the day, armed with gifts and good will. I wondered what they thought. What their parents thought. And some part of me hoped that this example might go some way towards giving them a glimpse of a world outside, a world that, with a little application, is within their grasp.
What they might not realise though, is that Clarke & White Property sponsored all the paint needed to refresh the walls and ceiling. On the day, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce donated the cots, mattresses, and curtains, St Andrews Egyesület provided the educational toys, train sets, dolls, board games and such, and the Irish Hungarian Business Circle provided the fixtures and fittings. The rest of us simply showed up. It was quite the cooperation. And all this effort was coordinated by Zsuzsa Bozo and her Letters to Santa charity. The children send in letters to Santa, and his local elves get to work filling out the orders and making their wishes come true. The nursery was in need of a facelift, a remodel. Mayor Tünde told me that some of the furniture being used had been there in her day, when she was in nursery school, and that, she winked, wasn’t today or yesterday. But more importantly than more modern stuff, brighter toys, newer books, the kids needed to see how special they are, to see relative strangers coming together, working together, to make a difference to their world.
I’m grateful that I got to be part of it. That I got to see the light glimmer in those little minds. That I got to see the spirit of Christmas in action. And that I got fed (the village treated us to a fab lunch featuring all sorts of delicacies, including a delicious wild boar/venison stew). Roll on the 25th. Am ready.
[Note: Post Grateful 52 explains the Grateful concept]