In the last few years the model development work has focused on the integration of children who live in deep poverty, and also of their families. The three defining pillars are 1) family care; 2) strategic institutional cooperation; 3) education.

As a result of our work in the field of family care positive developments took place in the lives of the families we are in contact with. The outlook of their housing environment improved spectacularly, and our small garden, community development and fellowship programs are also successful, as well as the project aimed at re-connecting electricity meters. Our bio-pellet production program has just started, and we are working on creating employment opportunities as well. In these activities we are supported by many civilians and business companies.

Coordination meetings in the framework of ‘society roundtables’ helped a lot in developing institutional cooperation, besides being very useful in solving concrete problems as well. We strive for finding the points of cooperation between the official structures and the civil sphere.

We have been conducting our empowering work since the very beginning. However, three years ago we started systematic model development. Individual elements of this model are used in many settlements of the micro-region, while the village of Told has been chosen for comprehensive development.

Why Told?

The situation in Told can well be considered grave from the perspective of the Roma. The village has all the problems which are nowadays associated with Roma. Our Foundation started to work here three years ago, and is trying to improve the situation in an increasing number of fields. Education, creating jobs, providing access to services, living environment, community development, changing self-perceptions, prevention of aggression and criminality have all led to newer and newer problems, and also to solution efforts.

The first results are already seen. We are convinced that additional impetus could be given to this work by continuous presence and by creating more jobs. We hope that by properly documenting our model development work and sharing our best practices we provide such knowledge that can be successfully adopted elsewhere as well.

Best practices

• Electricity meter

• Grant program

• Needlework

Self-support – tips

• Small garden program

• Biomass fuel briquette

The interrelationship between children’s learning and parents’ learning is important in two of the articles that we have chosen to highlight in this issue of the Newsletter. Eva Tanczos from Hungary reports on the Real Pearl Foundation, whose leader realized that educating the parents had to be an integrated part of educating the children of disadvantaged families

InfoNet Newsletter 3/2013

Art education for integration

The Real Pearl Foundation operates in the eastern part of Hungary, in a disadvantaged region, in the small town of Berettyóújfalu and the surrounding small settlements. Its primary objective is basic level art education, talent development, the development of socially disadvantaged pupils, mainly Roma, the promotion of their integration and the organisation of training courses. The head of the programme is a committed, socially sensitive teacher, Nóra Ritók, who does not acknowledge the impossible. When she started the school in 1999, at that time her sole idea was to provide useful afternoon programmes for the children living in extreme poverty in the area. Today her undying energy helps the lives and progress of entire villages. Education and the creation of opportunities have become interwoven into a completely unified whole, not just for pupils but for their parents, too.

When working with the children, the head of the foundation and her colleagues recognised that creation develops personal and group skills, and emotional intelligence better than anything else. They took this knowledge out of a school context to the level of the families and the villages, attempting to link all elements to this that can push a community that has minimal room for movement up from the depths it is in.
The basic pillar of their activity is child-oriented art education, where creation with the children is a joint, joyful process demanding a great deal of effort. The second pillar is family care, which is social work carried out with trust. Their main approach is that although adults cannot be changed, they can be turned into partners in the interest of their children. The third pillar is the organisation of collaboration between institutions, authority bodies and civil organisations in the interest of terminating education and social deficiencies.

The parents need to be taught too

In order for trust to be developed between the school and multiple disadvantaged families, so that the parents view the school not as an authority but as a helping organisation, they had to be enticed into the school. The first step involved unconditional donations. The families were given clothing, durable foodstuffs, medicines and school equipment. Later on the support was linked to the children attending school regularly and them being kept clean. The foundation helped install prepaid (card) electricity meters in those homes where there was no electricity due to the families being unable to pay the bills. Frequently medicine had to be bought for the children and the parents even had to be taught how to administer it.
After creating a relationship between the school and the families, the foundation moved forwards towards the introduction of programmes aimed at the families supporting themselves, to give them the opportunity to move up from the depths they are in. During the collaboration, the training of the parents takes place in an “invisible” way. An example is the garden programme, in which, step-by-step they realise the importance of gardening, and learn the knowledge needed for it. There is a separate programme to improve housing conditions, which frequently can be solved with little support, however, with helpful, guiding ideas, intent and knowledge needing to be added to this. The adults need to be taught how to handle their official affairs, how to obtain documents they do not have, how to avoid fines and gain access to healthcare services, but they also need to be taught how to organise their days. The helpers have to realise that progress can only be made with very small steps. It is a great joy to see that an increasing number of clean children regularly attend school and have the equipment they need. A reduction in the children’s aggression can also be observed. The most talented children receive a school scholarship. The families receive this support at the end of the month when their other income is running out.

 They need work

 There is hardly any work in the area. There is especially no work for untrained people, many of whom never had the opportunity to see their parents setting off for work. The employees of the Real Pearl Foundation know that work would bring about a spectacular improvement in the region. They had the idea to use the beautiful drawings made by their pupils as the basis to teach the children’s mothers, older sisters and grandmothers how to embroider and sew. Another attempt at improving opportunities was started.

In the Real Pearl Basic Level Art School, where 70% of the children are disadvantaged, they win 500 prizes a year in Hungarian and international art competitions. These wonderful drawings provide the motifs for the embroidery that the family members create at home using various techniques. Girls and women have learnt this technique who had never before embroidered in their lives. Those who also learnt sewing continue their creative work with patchwork technique, and make beautiful bags, purses, pillowcases for children, wall pictures, bed covers, etc. The decorations on the finished objects show the amazing world of children, with unique Roma vision. The somewhat “art brut” style creations attract customers with their charm and aesthetic content. The objects carrying the colours of the Roma world and their brave, autonomous forms are based on today’s knowledge and consumer market and help integration surprisingly well.

The project’s name is “Szuno”, which in the Romany language means “dream”. Today Szuno is an opportunity-providing programme encompassing several generations whose position in society is completely without prospects, because they have no training or possibility to ensure an appropriate living or future for themselves and their children. Due to the activities of the Real Pearl Foundation they have intent, creativity and the motivation to work. Today community organising has reached the level where the dream can become reality. They show they are able to do something for themselves and their future. The Roma, Hungarian and Romanian women working in the programme prove their solidarity and common intent every day and believe in the creative power of work.
The women receive foundation support for the work they finish, which is a great contribution to reducing the daily financial problems of the families. The foundation uses the income from the products sold to support poor families in times of crisis (foodstuffs, medicine, firewood donations), and makes it possible to finance further education and social programmes. The project became self-sufficient in the space of a year. A social webshop was set up on the foundation’s website, where the handicraft products are displayed and sold. The value created is able to address the majority society, who become the customers.

The charming children’s drawings have given inspiration to several well-known Hungarian authors, they have written tales on the basis of the drawings, in this way calling attention to the activities of the foundation in a special way.

The men shouldn’t be left without work either! A volunteer had the idea to produce biomass briquettes. These briquettes can be made from paper and agricultural waste, which is a great help in the winter when the cost of fuel is disproportionally high compared to the families’ income. After much organisation, application for funding, the acquisition of equipment and training of the work team, production started in the village of Told in the summer of 2012. Those participating in biomass briquette production are now able to work with others, be aware of their environment, concentrate on supporting themselves, and do something for a more viable village and a more viable life.
In 2013 the real Pearl Foundation Biomass Briquette programme won first prize in the Vienna Unruhe Foundation SozialMarie competition.

 The prize money won will help the foundation implement further developments. They are planning to set up a carpentry workshop, and many men have already indicated that they would study and work there. They say they need to replace the windows and doors on their houses to make them better insulated and use less heating fuel…

Every week in her blog Nóra Ritók provides reports on the work carried out in the art school, the foundation and related projects, about the struggles, successes, failures and mainly about the increasing number of challenges. The basic objective was to successfully teach small children. However, life has pointed out that by training and educating the children’s parents, they can promote the success of the children’s future.

Nóra L. Ritók: Creating opportunities through art education(accompanied by the photos taken at the Real Pearl Foundation)

The positive influence of art activities on poor communities

In today’s Hungary 1 million people live below the poverty line. The poorest have no hope for jobs they live on the level of their counterparts of the global south. The majority lives in small villages in rural areas especially in Southern Baranya and in North and East Hungary where the unemployment rate is higher than the national average.

Children growing up in those circumstances will only reproduce destitution since they have no positive role models, and education. School has no value for them. There is no future, no vision their only hope is the social welfare system which is constantly being narrowed by the current government without new job opportunities coming up.

The institutions and services of the social welfare system do not function in concentration therefore these people do not receive any solid base for decent living conditions.

The majority of families in destitution are Roma. They live in segregation, their living conditions have not changed over the decades. They still live in houses with no comfort, running water comes from public wells, the majority of households are cut off from electricity because of the heavy indebtment to the provider. In most cases the entire family shares one barely furnished room. Heating is a major problem in the winter. Parasites like rats, lice, cockroaches are all over the place. The courtyards are neglected. The people concentrate on basic survival, often going against the legal system. Usury, aggression, crime and prostitution are part of life.

With their Prussian methods daycare, kindergartens and schools are unable to handle the tension created between the expectations of these families and the majority society. Schools are unable to transmit adequate knowledge and motivation, therefore drop-out rates are high, and many start family at an irrationally young age. Many are illiterate, or functionally illiterate. Schools do not prepare these children and youths for viable professions on the job market.

In Hungary the number of such villages is high. They are scattered mainly among the 33 least developed micro-regions. One among them is in the Berettyóújfalu micro-region where our Foundation operates.

Our Foundation seeks to identify intervention points through an unusual integration model which can help these families to move away from destitution and hopelessness. We have been operating for 13 years but only the last 3 years has brought all the different pieces of the puzzle together into a sound strategy and structure.

The first step was to create partnerships with the families. We all needed to develop a relationship primarily based on mutual trust in order to understand the already very complex situation. In doing so the adequate tool turned out to be community-based art activities.

Our Foundation operates an afternoon art school where the children acquire means of self expression, learn the visual language through innovative methodologies while their personnality undergoes a significant change. Their work discipline improves considerably, they learn how to manage the process of planning-realization-evaluation in a conducive environment where their perception of the self becomes positive and they develop a sense of efficiency.

Throughout the creative processes all possible competencies develop significantly, thinking skills, social competencies and their knowledge about the world too, since you can paint or make a drawing of things or abstraction you know about. Their cooperation skills are developed through a variety of cooperative exercises.

The efficiency and the success of our methodology is confirmed by the fact that our students, 70% of whom come from families below the poverty line win approximately 500 awards from national and international art festivals and contests from all over the world.

The children take the good news of the joyful creation and the awards back home which creates a good basis for working together with their families.

Our family care activities focused primarily on crises management. We tried to fill the gaps of the social welfare system by providing medications, clothing, shoes, food, school supplies, medical treatment, etc. for those who could not afford it. Slowly, our help and assistance was tied to the fulfillment of certain expectations which opened space for change. We always kept the focus on the children and their achievement in school and introduced a variety of motivating factors: a grant system was implemented, or excursions and summer camps are regularly organized. These children would never have an opportunity to participate in such activities if we did not organize them.

At the level of family care, our goal is to teach families how to live independently in modest conditions, including public health, maintenance, debt management, courtyard cultivation, and green energy programs which all help them create a more livable life.

Community building is a focal point in our work. In the case of families socialized in destitution accompanied by racial differences, it is hard to talk about real community. The different Roma and non-Roma, including Rumanian groups each have different value systems. Our social and community events bring together all these groups under a specific activity. While we respect everyone’s own identity, we try to convey the importance of respecting the rules of living together.

Another area is t find income generating activities in a micro-region without job opportunities. In a village, called Told we found one possible solution which also secures some kind of vision.

In our experience parents happily join creative activities; therefore we organized mural painting or simple painting activities where parents had the opportunity to work with their children. As a next step, we tried to create a „brand” for a specific product line based on the children’s drawings embroidered by their parents. The program started in November turned out to be a real success before Christmas; all the products were sold out thus the families had some modest income.

The work is being continued at a different level involving more women who were taught icon painting on glass which they learned with great enthusiasm. We have plenty of ideas of that kind which will be realized with our professional support.

We would not have reached success without the feeling of success emanating from the creative activities. This positive energy pushes our participants towards more achievement. The members of our dance group have rehearsals at their houses, increasingly more men join our handicraft workshops, they all started to function as a community with its rules and habits, so rebels can be resocialized, and the community can function properly.

Something has taken off in a village everyone gave up hope for. It is just a beginning, since government institutions rarely become real partners. It is hard to cooperate with families of criminals. It is almost impossible to give hope where there are almost no opportunities.

Our results proved that it is possible.

The positive energy created by creativity can shake people living in destitution. We find incredible talents oppressed by famine and poverty.

Creation has many faces. It can be visual arts, handicraft, dance, music, theater or street art. The common feature is the positive impact on the participants and the community. Community-based art activities have another outcome which is the joy of joint efforts and reward.

They aim at giving hope where there is hopelessness. The miracle of creation and sharing must be taken to each and every individual in each and every community. Let it ferment in order to guide All of Them.


The positive influence of art activities on poor communities

Soon after I began my work as an art educator in an extremely poor area of the country, I realized that in order to achieve lasting results with underprivileged children, their families – in fact, the whole community they live in – must be taken into consideration. Twelve years ago I created a framework for what I believed was “effective” art education. This is Igazgyöngy (“real pearl”) Foundation, based in the village of Berettyóújfalu in South-East Hungary, one of the poorest parts of the country. The Foundation operates a basic art school[1] in six different locations in the area, subsidised partly by the state, partly by donations. We educate 670 children, 70% of whom are underprivileged; 250 live in deep poverty, most coming from gipsy families.   The school focuses on visual arts education, which has been successful since the very beginning. Our students have won many prizes at national and international student art exhibitions (500 on average each year). What makes our school special is that the focus is on complex personality development – which noticeably improves students’ motivation for learning at school –, as well as personal and interpersonal competencies, which improve their chances in life. We developed a number of assignments for the children that contribute to bridging the educational gap by helping them develop their fine motor skills, observe and interpret the visual world, grasp the essence of phenomena, and improve their logical thinking. These assignments also help to naturally integrate different fields of learning. However, we soon realized that the problem of socially integrating these underprivileged children can not be solved inside the school alone. Most of them grow up in families where the parents are undereducated and unemployed, so the children have no positive examples to follow. Therefore, the Foundation mapped the areas of possible positive intervention. Our focus was on three closely linked areas: education, family care and community development. We also realised the need to improve cooperation between the institutions responsible for these areas. Our family care activities aim to create a partnership with the parents, to help the families develop more liveable surroundings and outline a possible future for these underprivileged children. We have developed a number of good practices that have proven to have visible results and have also been adopted by other communities. These include the home garden programme, making bio-briquettes (fuel blocks) for heating, restoring their houses, health programmes etc. In order to improve village communities, we have started to extend our art education practice and involve the parents as well. During the art workshops we organised for the children in the small villages, we noticed that parents were willingly taking part in the various arts and crafts activities. They joined in when we were decorating the village hall and the nursery school with wall paintings. Later, when a sponsor made it possible for the children to paint on stretched canvases, we invited a well-known gipsy story teller and suggested that the children choose an episode from one of the stories they were hearing and depict it with acrylic. They could take the canvases home and the whole family could join in on completing their initial composition. 1. Our stories – Planning the compositions 2. While the older children prepare a new painting, the little ones need to be occupied, too 3. Our stories – The family helping to complete the painting   4. Our stories – Posing with the picture in process   5. Our stories – Judit Kiss and Zsófia Kiss: The poor man and his daughter 6. Our stories – A friend helping 7. Children at home in the summer   8. Our stories – Norbert Mohácsi: The cunning servant       9. Our stories – Tibor Zsigmond: Peartree John 10. Our stories – Tibor Juhász, Endre Gyöngyösi: Nine riddles of the Devil   This cooperative family action led us to our most recent project in which we get the parents involved in a more purposeful, planned way. We are trying to teach them some traditional handicrafts, which would allow them to perform some meaningful activities other than their daily duties, as well as give them a possible source of income. We have started teaching them needlepoint. We gave them some motifs traced from their children’s drawings, small pieces of needlepoint canvas, and showed the mothers the various stitches. These women had never done any embroidery before; they are undereducated, some of them are illiterate. After several meetings, much discussion and encouragement, we managed to get 15 women (most of them gipsies) to do needlepoint pictures in one of the segregated villages. The embroideries were a bit stiff at first, and the choices of colour were also quite faint. Despite this, they were pleased with their own first accomplishments, and grateful that we were supportive. Then we showed them the original drawings of the children. As had been our intention, they felt encouraged by this; their use of colour became bolder and they started to use their imagination much more. By the third attempt, they did not need any further instructions; many of them started to use a wider range of stitches, seeking original solutions. 11. Needlepoint – A group of the women 12. Needlepoint – The first collection  13. -15.  Needlepoint – the ready products


16. Needlepoint – Mrs Móni Balog 17. Needlepoint – Klaudia Balog   18. Needlepoint – Katalin Mohácsi   Afterwards, the small images became the central parts of patchworks used for textile objects, like bags. In a neighbouring village, one of our volunteers had been teaching women to sew the bags. We are planning to teach them to produce other objects as well (glasses or pencil cases, for example), decorated with embroidery that bears the naive charm of children’s drawings. We also mean to widen the range of handicrafts in these communities, and involve the men as well, for most of the people who live here have not the qualifications to take a job – even if there were any available ones.   19. While their mothers are learning, the older children look after their siblings 20. Husband watching her wife learn a new technique of painting Our first attempts have convinced us that these art activities will have a strong positive influence on the community, as well as strengthen the self esteem of the individuals, provide the children with a possible model and ensure some income for the family. The idea of linking handcirafts to solving social problems has already been applied in many other places. What really is new here, however, is the use of the children’s original drawings as a basis for the embroideries, which creates a bridge between children, parents and grandparents, while also linking generating income to creating valuable objects. Several generations work together – this team effort strengthens family ties, and the sense of belonging to the community.          21. Nóra commenting on the drawing of one of her students   22. Nóra discusssing problems with Mária, a mother of seven

3 thoughts on “Activity

  1. Hello.
    My name is Pepe.I own a tiny eatery in Lincoln Nebraska U.S.A.
    I recently became aware of your program ,and love what you are doing.It would be such an honor for me if I could purchase a painting ,or two to display in my humble bistro.Are there any paintings for sale?If so.How may I go about purchasing?

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