Jim Field: University trainings in Miskolc and Budapest

Jim Field, our community organizing director, sent another update from his three-week, U.S. State Department-funded trip to train the Roma community in Hungary and Slovakia.

Fresco from Bodvanlenke
In Bodvanlenke, the Roma town called “the Fresco Village”

We  returned to Budapest on Monday, Sept. 9, after finishing a two-day organizer training. The training went great and the Roma we trained really liked it. We will return to Kababony on Friday, Sept. 13 for the final two days of the training.

Monday we rested, and on Tuesday we met with a group of 21 NGO leaders and talked about the collaboration between organizing, social work and legal

Wednesday, Sept. 11 was exciting but very busy.  We drove back to Miskolc, the second largest city in Hungary, where we conducted a lecture at the University of Miskolc for 60-some students and faculty.

Our reception there was very enthusiastic.  One student asked if we sometimes “upset our elected officials?”

“Frequently,” we replied – and they enjoyed the response.

Hungarians are very interested and fascinated by community organizing. There is talk about adding community organizing to the university curriculum. The academic department that hosted us was in the Cultural Anthropology section.

Another fresco from Bodvalenke, Hungary
Another fresco from Bodvalenke, Hungary

Several Roma leaders who participated in our weekend training are students at the university, and they came to our talk. One of them, Monica Balogh, later asked to speak. She gave a passionate and eloquent speech about ending the racism against Roma. She asked that “I and you” learn how to become “we.” Monica spoke of the need to be unified to deal with Hungary’s problems. This is one of the main themes from the training, so it was exciting to see her apply some of the lessons in such a direct way.

The students gave her a very loud round of applause. There were a lot of wet eyes in the classroom.

After the lecture, another Roma leader, Mariana Demeder, took us on a tour of several Roma settlements in the area. Mariana is a sociology student at the university and also owns a beauty parlor in the neighborhood.  One Roma settlement has experienced a lot of poverty since the 1990s, when several of its factories closed, including one that made guns.

Tomorrow we will talk to the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, followed by a tour of Budapest. Then we will conduct another lecture at Eötvös Loránd (ELTE) University. ELTE is Hungary’s largest university, with more than 30,000 students, and one of its most prestigious, so it should be a fun event.