vendredi 6 juin 2014

Occupation: gold prospector


In eastern Hungary, two women with the same name fight their own way both poverty and the most tolerated form of racism in Europe. In these secluded villages, inhabitants are mainly Roma people. In order to teach poor families’ children how to value learning, Nóra L. Ritók created 14 years ago a school based on arts and talents development. Three years ago, Nóra Feldmár was finishing her studies of industrial ecology and joined Nóra’s organization with a plan: to assist villagers in the establishment of a construction field of biomass briquettes. She strongly believes that the mastering of a technology, even a simple one, can change life and relations between people.

                                                                                                                   Translation: Manon Pierre
                                                                                                                                                         (3/3)

© Igazgyöngy Alapítvány (Real Pearl Foundation)

After a few hours in Told, the two reporters brought us back to Budapest, Nóra Feldmár and I. On the way, I plunged back in what I had just seen and felt. In this small village, apart from the construction field of biomass briquettes, I visited a place dedicated to young people with computers and a theater stage. A sewing and embroidery workshop is established next to it and two women from the village are in charge of it. Thanks to the development of these handmade and agricultural activities, the prospect for the inhabitants to make a living out of their income becomes more and more tangible. 


2014 brings some good news. In Told, the construction field of briquettes and the one of the reinforcement of the houses insulation are going on. The inhabitants also built henhouses with recycled materials. Women attend lessons to learn how to cook in a healthy and economical way, and also how to take care of toddlers. Nóra L. Ritok wrote to me that “Regular meetings, cultural, artistic, and educational programs make the village more and more collaborative”. The local partners frequently call for the know-how of the organization in handling with sensitive situations, and now even the government presents the work accomplished by the Real Pearl Foundation as a good practice.

In Told, I was stroke by the overall pleasant atmosphere, but also by the easy contact Nóra F. had with women. I felt frustrated not being able to talk with them directly. There was obviously the obstacle of Hungarian language, but not only. My visit was too short. I am used to European big cities where everyone believes this is normal to optimize time, to go fast and straight to the point. There, time has a different consistency. 


In fact, it is undoubtedly where the success of the NGO’s projects, including the biomass briquettes project, lies on. The team accepts to comprehend this time, this place and these people within their particularity. "Problems can’t be solved in Budapest" Nóra L.R tells me, “We have to solve these problems here, together”. In Hungary, there are plenty of poor villages mostly populated by Roma people, like Told. However, while focusing on the small area of Berettyóújfalu, the Real Pearl Foundation equips itself with the means to achieve something. I can see at least four reasons why such a process can be successful:

  • To settle somewhere and to spend time on it allows a better understanding of the site and of its people. This also leads to the identification of the needs and of the levers that can be used to improve the situation;
  • This diagnosis is supported by crossed knowledge: the organization shares its view and skills (educative, social, artistic, ecological…) while soliciting with humility the expertise of the citizens, whom are more legitimate to speak about their own lives, about their daily difficulties or eventual conflicts, about their needs and hopes. Thanks to a continuous dialogue, everyone is part of a challenging process. Everyone can participate and listen to the others and thus enrich his/her own vision.
  • The Real Pearl Foundation does not want to do in place of the people. With a benevolent attitude, the NGO offers opportunities. However, the dynamic can only be efficient if the inhabitants seize it. And, like in any other project, this is when they start that people begin to gain confidence and are then able to measure the impacts of their action.
  • The approach chosen is the one of small steps. Briquettes are assembled one by one, something is tested and adjusted depending on the constraints of the site, then other possibilities are identified and innovation can finally be introduced.
It seems to me that the junction of these various ways of doing enables innovation, even more so in such a complex environment. The transformations created by innovation can be noticed both through the tangibles effects – living conditions being improved- and through the process. Everyone can find a place, provide a real contribution and be part of a collective dynamic. This process is probably what creates more well-being, in an individual and a collective way.

From her experience in Told, Nóra F. especially values this dimension: “You read a lot about the necessity to involve the community, but it’s really nice when you are there and you actually see that, yes, it’s really the way it should be done. Now, I can really say that they are great people, that they have a lot of skills and qualities, because I have seen them do this and that, and come up with solutions. And I know it can be really great to work with them”.


Nóra F. considers that she has everything to learn from a confrontation with the “real world”. She says she now understands better what poverty is, in a more concrete manner: ”Poverty around you… You get used to it, in a way, but sometimes it really hits you”. She humbly confesses that her own project management needs to be  improved. “Until then, I have acted by intuition, I was very lucky to be supported by the foundation, which works in a stable way here.” Intuitively, but also because she thought a lot on the subject due to her master thesis, Nóra has found the right positioning.

Along with several teammates and based on her experience in Told, Nóra would like to assist other poor villages in Hungary with projects development. She offers to help villagers to introduce some simple ecological technologies likely to improve their daily lives, without claiming to know from the beginning how to do it. Such a project is made possible by the close cooperation with the inhabitants, whom know their land and needs, but also with local organizations, so that the project can be part of a global and long-run development strategy. Having such a project, Nóra assumes and demonstrates in a tangible way that everywhere, even in the most marginalized places of Europe, we can find gold.



In 2013, Nóra Feldmar and the biomass briquettes project were awarded by the SozialMarie Foundation: read here.   




samedi 31 mai 2014

Art and courage for children's future

In eastern Hungary, two women with the same name fight their own way both poverty and the most tolerated form of racism in Europe. In these secluded villages, inhabitants are mainly Roma people. In order to teach poor families’ children how to value learning, Nóra L. Ritók created 14 years ago a school based on arts and talents development. Three years ago, Nóra Feldmár was finishing her studies of industrial ecology and joined Nóra’s organization with a plan: to assist villagers in the establishment of a construction field of biomass briquettes. She strongly believes that the mastering of a technology, even a simple one, can change life and relations between people.

                                                                                                                   Translation: Manon Pierre
                                                                                                                                                         (2/3)


"Talent is present everywhere, and great treasures can be lost if these children’s potentials are not fulfilled due to their circumstances". It is another Nora who speaks this way. On a spring morning, I met Nóra L. Ritok. After a memorable journey by train from the Hungarian capital, I arrived in Berettyóújfalu, the biggest (small) town of this micro-area.

In the unusual school she created, a school where kids go every afternoon to do art, Nóra is particularly busy that morning: before my coming, she has conducted a training and has been interviewed by a journalist and a photographer from the Hungarian daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet. The tendency of this newspaper is close to the one of the FIDESZ, the party of Viktor Orbán, the current Prime Minister who maintained his majority of two third during the elections of 6th April 2014.

When it comes to my turn, Nóra gives me all her attention. She speaks in a very concentrated manner, willing to fully use this moment to transmit bits of her reality. Photos are passing while Nóra comments living spaces that look like construction fields uncompleted. "These houses have no water, sometimes no electricity. They live in one room, sometimes six or eight children with the parents". She adds: "The education system works but the teachers never go to the families, they don’t know how these children live".


Before, Nóra was also a teacher in a traditional school. She particularly focused on Roma children who had nothing and did not raise the interest of other teachers. Fourteen years ago, she decided to create a school that could change poor children’s life, for the Roma but not only: a place where they can experiment, create, be congratulated, realize their talents and develop a taste for learning. In 2013, the school received 650 children and young people aged 6 to 22 years old. They live in the neighboring villages and every day, the educational team of the NGO picks them up.
                                                                                                      
At first, the organization dedicated its whole action to children through art education. Then, after a few years, Nóra understood that, without the support of the families, her action for the children was necessarily limited. "I know this is impossible to change this grandmother’s behaviour: she has never learnt, never worked. Why would it be changing? But we can be in a partnership for children, for her". Nóra shows me the girl smiling next to her grandmother on the picture.


Years after years, the Real Pearl Foundation has developed new actions meant to support the families: food aid, embroidery workshops for women, biomass briquettes production, monthly scholarships for the most deserving children… “With this special support program, all the families feel that education is very important”, reveals the ingenious Nóra. Beyond this change of consideration upon education, the goal of the organization is to strengthen these villages’ communities, to reinforce the abilities of each as well as the connections between the inhabitants.


To widen the impact of her action, Nóra L. Ritok has a secret weapon: her blog. Thanks to her extensive experience, Nóra knows that her approach, the like method as she calls it, is the only one working with people totally excluded from the society. In a blog with many followers, Nóra invites therefore mayors, teachers or even policemen to prefer a human treatment of Roma people rather than pressure and discrimination. In her articles, Nóra talks about precise situations that she considers unacceptable, and without giving names she makes sure that those concerned recognize themselves. "It is more difficult to work with these people than with Gipsy people. But I have to build these contacts, I have to keep on smiling”. 
                                                                                                            
Nóra releases strength and fragility at the same time. In fact, her best weapon is her sensitivity and her empathy under any circumstances. She conceals nothing: indignation, determination, and some fatigue, also, given the extent of the task she has chosen. Her warm smiles and her gesture revealing great kindness are sincere. Nóra knows that the public opinion battle can only be gained step by step. After a short forty five minutes, I am won over. Are the two reporters of Magyar Nemzet struck as well? It is in their car that I leave Berettyóújfalu to reach the village of Told. 



Continuation and conclusion in a few days