Hungarian Jesuits have joined an initiative focusing on helping families in underdeveloped areas to have a better future. The mission to which the Hungarian Province of the Society of Jesus is now making its contribution, was launched by Franciscan sisters in a village called Arló in the Borsod area of North-East Hungary. The project is supported by the “Redeveloping villages” initiative of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The village is located in a picturesque landscape in the mountainous Bükk area. During the Socialist era before 1990, the village suffered from the industrialization of the time, but after the transition, because of the downgrade of the heavy industry, many people lost their livelihood. They mostly include the Roma community of the village, who make up 60% of the 3700 inhabitants of the village.
„Most of them are undereducated and don’t do well with commitments, so they have a difficult time finding a job”, says Vámos Istvánné, the local mayor.
The employment difficulties are deeply rooted in local education problems, which often include “spontaneous segregation”. The Arló elementary school has 360 pupils, all of whom are Roma. “The reason of this is that non-Roma or even more selective Roma parents take their children to another school, in search of better chances there”, says the mayor. The Franciscan sisters have already contributed a lot to helping children, who often don’t even finish elementary school.
In recent years, five local Roma youngsters were admitted to the Jesuit high school in Miskolc, locally referred to as „Jezsu”. „Even though the high school has become an elite institution, due to its apostolic mission and its close location to the problematic Avas residential area, it is important to conduct missionary work”, emphasize the vice principal of the school, Balázs Velkey.
Continuing this streak, the Jesuits has joined a social initiative, cooperating with the Franciscan sisters and the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta, whose vice president Miklós Vecsei, as ministerial commissioner of redevelopment, is responsible for Roma issues as well. The Jesuits will be in charge of Arló in the “Redeveloping villages” program, aiming at the redevelopment of villages. The project includes more than 60 settlements as to date and is coordinated by the ministerial commissioner.
The Jesuits will be represented by Balázs Velkey as coordinator, and he will spend one day every week in the village. The aim in Arló is that even the children coming from disadvantaged background could take responsibility for their own future.
„Working on this cannot be started too early, because a lot of children are fallen behind in nursery school, and some of them even have developmental disorders”, says Balázs Velkey.
The program of the Malta Charity Service duly puts special emphasis on the first one thousand days of the children’s lives, starting from conception. They offer prenatal vitamins, baby packages, programs aiming at preparing the mothers – who are often underage – for parenthood, and buses with special equipment targeted at recognizing and treat eye disorders.
These efforts all have the same purpose: that the children should have better future than their parents. Besides Velkey, the Jesuits send Ferenc Kiss SJ, who previously worked with the Jesuit Refugee Service, to Arló, who will spend two days a week in the village. The Jesuits will have two more people working in the area, where they first assess the needs of the local community, in order to come up with a redevelopment plan.
Plans made in a cozy room, far away from the reality of the village, will not stand, underline the coordinators of the program unanimously. Instead, they need to be present in the area, as they also say, not to educate, but to learn first, and then, using these experiences, Roma and non-Roma Hungarians can ask and answer the right questions together.