Being branded an expat in a foreign city comes with many labels and tags. At first meeting, many assumptions are made and the usual litany of questions is asked. Being a woman, there’s the assumption that I’m here because of my husband. When that gets a shake of the head, it’s assumed that I’m here because of my job. When that gets another shake of the head, the words ‘independently wealthy’ flutter around the conversation, remaining unspoken, while the question every expat has had to answer more than once is finally issued. What are you doing in Budapest?
There are all sorts of answers to that, depending on the day. I dislike being tagged an expat, although I’ve long since resigned myself to the fact that it is something I will always be, as long as I choose to live in Budapest. What amuses me though, is the mistaken assumption that because I’m foreign, I have money. And, unfortunately, when you’re not on an expat package, or didn’t come over in the early 1990s and set up business then, it’s rarely the case.
This monetary divide splits the expat community into two: those who have the wherewithal to attend the many worthy big-ticket charity dinners and balls that go on in the city and those who simply don’t. But that shouldn’t exclude us from contributing in some form or fashion to the countless hundreds of charity initiatives that form part of the social conscience of the city we have chosen to call home.
Last week, I met the Patzauers, Éva and Gábor, the husband-and-wife team who founded Csodalámpa Alapítvány (the Magic Lamp Foundation). They lost their young daughter, Dóri, back in 2003. She was just eight and a half when she died and had been sick for eighteen months. During that time, this remarkable couple realised that children like Dóri, grappling with a terminal illness, need a special kind of emotional support to help them through. Their young lives, so often cut far too short, need a special ray of hope; they deserve to have their wishes come true.
The Patzauers set up Csodalámpa and in their first year, granted wishes to two children. In 2013, ten years later, they granted 287. Remarkable. Nine-year-old Csaba who dreamed of being a goalkeeper got to play with the Hungarian National Football team. Milla (10), Fanni (15), and Melissa (16) went to Rome to play with the dolphins. Harry Potter fans Vivien (9) and Marci (6) spent the day at Hogwarts.
That night, I also met Réka, a beautiful young woman who radiates hope and joy. Her wish was to meet her hero Johnny Depp. I shook the hand that had held the hand of Johnny D. Some six months after meeting him (they’re still in touch, by the way), Réka got the all-clear. A miracle.
To raise funds, Csodalámpa organises fashion shows, concerts, and comedy nights. They run cookery classes – the Wish Kitchen – where supporters take classes from top chefs in town. In cooperation with Libri booksellers, actors in five cities regularly sing and read to kids in Csodalámpa reading corners. No wish is too big or too small. Whether it’s a box of Lego (Dániel, 4, pictured) or a visit with the Pope, the Foundation finds a way to make it happen.
There is room for all kinds of support and all are welcome. Check their website for how you can contribute. And if time is a luxury, think about contributing to their crowdfunding campaign. Every forint helps. Five minutes of your time and a few forints can make a big difference to some young person’s life. It’s not much to ask. Not much at all.
First published in the Budapest Times on 27 February 2015.