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
"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