jeudi 29 mai 2014

Biomass briquettes against poverty and prejudices

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
                                                                                                                                                         (1/3)


In Told, six out of the 360 inhabitants had a "formal" job in 2013. Amongst the six, only one is a Roma people, while Roma people represent 80% of the population. Told is situated just a few kilometers from the Romanian border. While I was there, I was struck by an incredible ambient noise: pickaxe blows, voices I can’t understand, the wind, laughter, rooster song… Women go back and forth between the fields and the garden, where we are standing. Several men are working, some are building a concrete road while others make the biomass briquettes confection progress. 

This small brick, made of agricultural residues and waste paper, is changing many things here. It modifies the manner of spending time, and the way of heating the houses during winter. It might also alter the consideration of future, and reinforce the belief in better living-conditions. It enables people to consider better relationships with their neighbors, even in the long run. Roma people and non-Roma people. But also Roma people from Hungary, Vlach Roma people and Roma people from Romania. And slowly, very slowly, this briquette could even change Roma people’s image throughout Hungary.


This is what first motivated Nóra Feldmár: "I’m really annoyed by racism basically". The young woman releases a serene calm, but I can feel it is seething inside her. In Nóra’s opinion, there is an outrageous gap between the common prejudices that are growing today in Hungary and the miserable living-conditions these groups of people must endure in villages like Told. There is no possibility for them to get into a legal and correctly paid job, their housing is unsanitary and they are geographically isolated. This is one the most extreme forms of poverty in the heart of Europe.

Originally, Nora has no special link with this area of Hungary. She grew up in Budapest and completed her schooling in a British high school. She subsequently went to Great Britain to study product design, and then industrial ecology in the Netherlands. There, Nóra got interested in ecological technologies that are likely to improve the living conditions of the poor. "In my master program, there was no specific emphasis on social issues. Some of us were interested in it, but it was not the most common". In developing countries, NGOs like Legacy Foundation introduce simple technologies that are adapted to villages with very few resources, like the biomass briquettes. By getting closer to Nóra L. Ritók, founder of the Real Pearl Foundation, the young Nóra finds in the village of Told a suitable ground for experiments and reflection for her master thesis.


Little by little, and relying on all the work realized for years by the Real Pearl Foundation in the village, "Kish Nori" ("Little Nori"), as they henceforth call her here, managed to convince a sufficient number of people to join the briquettes construction field. For the inhabitants, this project is interesting for many reasons:
  • They learn how to master a technology, even a simple one, and gain pride out of it;
  • They work with their peers around a project that makes sense. They share a goal, likely to bond the different groups of the village community;
  • In exchange for the work, the involved families receive a certain amount of briquettes which allow them to healthily heat their place in winter (since there is no alternative to expensive wood, the inhabitants usually burn all kinds of objects in a dangerous and ineffective way);
  • The briquettes field can encourage the inhabitants to take part in other collaborative projects: shared gardens, cooking workshops, the renovation of houses insulation… While getting involved in these various activities, they improve their living-conditions. In the village, an atmosphere of conviviality and solidarity grows slowly.

Beyond these direct interests for the villagers, the "briquettes" project can contribute to prove to the rest of Hungary that Roma people do work, and that they do it well, and that they yearn to make themselves useful when they have the chance. This is what Nóra wishes.


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