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Volunteers needed for the Nursery Project

‘Service is the rent we pay for living. It is the very purpose of life and not something [we] do in [our] spare time.’
Whether Marian Wright Edelman, American children’s rights activist and president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund was paraphrasing Mohammed Ali’s much-quoted adage ‘service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth’ is neither here nor there. What matters for me is the message.

A frequent concern I hear from expats who have moved to Budapest is that it is so difficult to volunteer. Many – especially those hailing from Ireland, where a CV that doesn’t mention a spell of volunteering, simply doesn’t rate – grew up with volunteering as a norm. But perhaps because of language difficulties or a lack of connections, they struggle with finding meaningful ways to volunteer their time in Hungary.

One Hungarian has been working to change that. In close cooperation with business chambers like the Irish Hungarian Business Circle and the Canadian Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and charities like the Robert Burns Foundation and St Andrews Egyesület, alongside private sector players like Clarke and White Property, Zsuzsanna Bozo has been coordinating a number of volunteer drives, with one in particular that would be close to Marian Wright Edelman’s heart: The Nursery Project.

Wasn’t it Aristotle who said: Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man? Arguably, were we to adjust the relative age of Aristotle’s 7, we’d be looking at what? 18? But nonetheless, I’m of the mind that a  child’s formative years are the ones that lay the foundation for the adult they will become. Children are the future, our future. We need to ensure that they get the best start possible, in a safe, clean environment that conducive to learning.

2016 – Zabar, Nógrád county

When Bozo revisited her childhood nursery school in Zabar for the first time in more than 35 years, she saw that the village nursery was in dire need of an upgrade. The educational toys were limited but the nursery staff was making do, maximizing what few resources they had. A more pressing problem, though, was that the kids couldn’t shower at home, as many of the houses in the village didn’t have running water. Their clothes told a sorry tale of poverty and deprivation. Determined to make a difference, Bozo coordinated a volunteer effort that saw the refurbishment of the nursery, the installation of showers, and the donation of a washing machine/dryer. She and her team made a huge difference to the lives of these young people. Read more.

2017 – Szilaspogony, Nógrád county

Given the great response from the volunteers and the nursery in Zabar, Bozo found a second village in need of help.  The local nursery in Szilaspogony looks after 24 little ones who come from really difficult backgrounds. Unemployment is rife, with the government’s communal work scheme providing families with limited resources. Working in concert with the mayor’s office, who agreed to paint the playroom, Bozo raised support to cover the materials needed. Over 50 volunteers visited the village on 16 December 2017 to assemble furniture and put it all together. It was a marvellous experience and one I’m proud to have been part of. Plans are in place to plant a fruit garden for the kids, and sponsors are being sought to help make it happen. Read more.

2018 – Wesley János Nursery, Budapest VIII district

One of this year’s nursery projects is underway currently in Budapest in district VIII. Right now, teams are working to remove the old wallpaper and plaster the playroom. A new plasterboard wall is going up to create a smaller changing room. Another team is coming in to lay a new concrete floor and change the flooring. Between 4 and 18 August, walls and doors are being painted (volunteers needed)  and the laminate flooring laid (specialist needed). Then from 30 August to 1 September, the volunteer crew will descend to put together the furniture and finish it off ready for the children to start back on 3 September. Time, money, and materials are needed. You can check the Nursery Project website for a list of what’s needed. Get in touch directly (levelektelaponak@gmail.com) if you think you can help with the more essential things like:

  • The purchase of 25 sqm of tiles for the bathroom and money to pay a tiler along with putting up shelves to hold the kids’ glasses and towels (estimated 250 000 ft).
  • The purchase of 25 fitted sheets, covers, and pillowcases for the nursery beds (or material to make them, as a seamstress has volunteered her time).

And if you or anyone you know has a particular bent for DYI, the following are needed:

  • 2-3 painters to paint the entire ceiling, and walls. Materials provided (16-25 August).
  • A carpenter to install insulating wall panels along the walls to keep out the cold.

These are just three of the many nurseries in need of help all around the country.  All nurseries should be able to provide a clean, safe environment, quality education, and play time for the kids. The Nursery Project was created by volunteers to help raise funds to refurbish and breathe new life into children’s nurseries in Hungary.  Working closely with the local Mayor’s office and nursery staff, Bozo and her team of volunteers are making a difference.

If you want to get involved in any of these projects, by donating time or materials (educational games, sports equipment, and sanitary products are always needed), check out the website. If you have a specific skill that could be of use, let Bozo know. And if you think you simply don’t have the time to get involved, think a while on the words of eighteenth-century education reformer Horace Mann: Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.

First published in the Budapest Times 12 August 2018

2017 Grateful 3

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]

2017 Grateful 50

In trying to find a word to describe a friend of mine recently, I had occasion to Google the term ‘giving people’. And once I’d stopped trying to remember how I’d found similar information before Google, I started to think. Three things struck me from a list of 10 things that supposedly characterise a ‘giving person’ and what they give to the rest of us. [All are relevant but these struck me as particularly pertinent.]

The gift of requesting help: Requesting help is is a difficult one. It’s something I’ve had to learn myself. It not easy because somewhere buried inside all our insecurities is that irritating voice that tells us that asking for help is a sign of weakness, of failure. But if we view it not as helping ourselves but as giving others the chance to help us, it takes on a different appearance. Giving people know when and how to ask for help.

The gift of opportunity: Our rhetoric is full of if onlys. I could spend the better part of a day listing mine: If only I spoke Hungarian, I’d apply to go on study tours. If only I had time, I’d spend two hours a day learning the one language I need. If only I had an ear for music, I’d be able to better pronounce my letters. For many with a community spirit, the if onlys could also include ‘if only I had the opportunity, I’d volunteer to do something good, to give something back, to help make someone else’s lot a little easier.’ Giving people do this – they create an opportunity for the rest of us to give something back.

The gift of purpose: In a world where insecurity is rife, change is a constant, and lunacy prevails, it anchors us when we have purpose, some clear, solid goal which we can work towards alongside others also intent on making our corner of the world just a little better than it was yesterday. Giving people give the gift of purpose.

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Just when I thought that my mate Zsuzsa Bozo had topped it all with the soup kitchen/feed the homeless drive she and her gang have been working tirelessly on, a wonderful initiative that the Caley and Age of Hope are facilitating, she goes and takes it one step further.

The cold weather is going to be around for a while and warm coats are needed. The Caledonia has joined the Free Coat initiative. It’s simple. If you have coats you’ve grown out of, don’t like, don’t want, are not wearing and they’re warm… hang them up on the coat-rack outside the Caley where those who have a greater need can come pick them up (and remember to bring a hanger, too). And if you don’t have coats that are warm and suitable but you still want to help, why not swing by any one of the many many many secondhand-clothes shops in the city and buy a couple. Then drop them by the Caley, and while you’re there, stick your head in the kitchen to see if help is needed to peel those veg. The soup drive continues all this week and ingredients are needed.

This week, I’m adding my thanks to those of the hundreds of homeless who are grateful for the soup and sustenance delivered through the good auspices of Zsuzsa and Ákos. Without their provision of an opportunity and a purpose and without their ask for help, the rest of us might well still be mired in a sea of if onlys. They are two truly giving people.

Zsuzsa shared this story with me, a story that has done its bit to restore my faith in human nature. I hope she won’t mind me passing it on:

I left the Caledonia, distributing the soups with Ákos and Gergő. Once we finished, I got out of the van, said happily goodbye to both of them, not realizing that I had no money or no metro pass with me. So I was there , out in Határ Ut, at the metro underground, thinking how I could get back… I spoke to the people of the street there (homeless). One old man went and came back, holding a ticket, he just bought. For me… that’s all he had.

Yep, you reap what you sow.