Real Pearl Foundation, Told, Hungary: a model for creating opportunity
The first ten years of the Real Pearl Foundation’s work focused mainly on teaching art. Despite the success of our methods and innovations, we realized that they were of limited help for the children from disadvantaged backgrounds in terms of changing their lives and creating opportunities for them. The positive effects taken home from school are lost in their environment, which has been grossly underprivileged for generations. In 2009, we therefore set up a complex strategy model for development. The location is the small dead-end village of Told, in eastern Hungary, very close to the Rumanian border, where the problems appear magnified. In addition, we are trying to incorporate the successful elements in the 16 surrounding settlements.
The Foundation recognises the complexity of the problem, and is working with the present generation for the benefit of the next generation. Our strategy has three pillars of community development:
- Education (social competence development through art, online learning support, board game education, debate, scholarship programs, etc .);
- Family-Care and Community Development
- Crisis-management: assistance with children’s medicine & glasses, clothes, food donations;
- Development of self-sustainability, e.g. small garden program, organic briquette-making program, improving housing conditions, debt management;
- Creation of jobs: agriculture, food processing areas, and crafts;
- Institutional Cooperation: mediation between families, schools and other institutions; local social organization of round tables
Where we started from
Dysfunctional communities: high-crime rate (usury, theft, robbery, prostitution, exploitation, family feuds) – insanitary housing conditions – illegal electricity supply – uncultivated gardens – high school drop-out rate – early pregnancy – unemployment – ongoing conflicts with the institutional system – ongoing conflict between the Roma and non-Gypsy population – deprivation – isolation – no future outlook.
Where we are now
A community of 40 integrated families, which are increasingly able to design and live by the community rules – cases requiring police intervention minimized – spectacularly better housing conditions, prepaid electricity meters, legal access to electricity – a small garden program, and even a pet program – steady improvement in children’s academic achievement – fewer private students, school drop-outs, or need to repeats the school year – adult education – no childbirth under age 18 – a full-time local Real Pearl staff (7-10 people) and approximately thirty casual workers in the “Szuno” (Romani: “Dream”) craft program and the “Amari” (Romani:”Our own”) food processing program – decreasing conflicts with the institutional system – better collaboration between Roma and non-Roma families – improved psychological states through crisis management – meetings to support integration – community links to the internet – attitude changes at an individual, family and community level.
The development of the model is financed mostly by civil and corporate donations, as well as applications for support that focus on the principles of sustainability.
We believe it can work. It requires patience (success, we feel, can only be considered after twenty years). We are fully aware that it is not enough for mainstream society to simply acknowledge the fact that there are huge problems with being a Roma, being socially marginalised, and in deep poverty. Something concrete has to be done. There must be mutual cooperation between Roma and non-Roma (mainstream society), working together to improve the situation. But the catalyst role is ours. Our philosophy of being “capable of doing” is the underlying feature of our endeavour. And it works!
The Real Pearl Foundation is constantly contacted by organizations and institutions from both home and abroad. We hope that this description of our work will show that it can be applied to other contexts and situations.