Excerpt

After working with children in segregated Roma villages in the East of Hungary in the framework of a visual arts school, the Real Pearl Foundation realised the need to implement a complex approach for real outcomes. Their model includes in-kind support to make school attendance possible, as well as individual learning support for children, a scholarship system to highlight achievement, parenting support, crisis management, offering labour opportunities for parents and individual support for children to go on to further education.

Narrative, origins and objectives of the initiative

What kind of project is this? Please give a short description (summary) of it.

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 it didn't really help 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 Romanian border, where the most problems were. 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. The strategy has three pillars of community development:

  1. Education (social competence development through art, online learning support, board game education, debate, scholarship programs, etc.);
  2. 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;
  1. Institutional Cooperation: mediation between families, schools and other institutions; organization of local social round tables

Please tell us why, in general, this project is considered a successful one?

Where they 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 they are now
A community of 40 integrated families, which are increasingly able to 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 repeat 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.

And why would you consider it a grass-roots initiative?

The model was the initiative of the local arts school, designed, developed and built as a local initiative.

What challenges needed to be solved in this project?

  • low esteem of education among the local population
  • low self-esteem of family members
  • nearly 100% unemployment of local Roma adults
  • lack of infrastructure
  • training needs
  • lack of available financing

Is this initiative based on any particular theoretical framework? Which one?

No, it is not.

(Appendix) Is your intervention standing on its own or is it a part of a bigger and more holistic approach?

Real Pearl Foundation has been active in formulating Roma inclusion policies in the country in order to create a more holistic framework.

Please describe the group(s) intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

Why has this group (have these groups) been chosen?

The local population was the target group. This group of professionals either had to find a solution for their problem, or flee.

Could you please tell us something about the relative size of the (of each) target group, within the school/university population, region and/or country?

The direct beneficiaries of the activities are currently about 1200 children and their parents from 6 villages, but the size of Roma population in the country in similar situations is nearly 500,000.

Which social characteristics are taken into account and what is the geographical area covered?

  • It is a secluded area, little connection with the outside world or even the nearest big city
  • Grossly underprivileged population
  • Large families
  • Young parents with low education
  • Low nutrition
  • Deprived population with depriving home environments
  • Crime often seen as the only way out
  • High value of physical strength; low value of knowledge

On which level is the project implemented?

The full programme is implemented in a small municipality, but some elements are present in 18 other municipalities. The approach and methodology is now included in teacher training in some pre-service trainings in Hungary, hopefully leading to partial implementation elsewhere.

Please describe the political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

Did the initiative have political support?

On the level of rethorics, Roma inclusion has been a political priority, but there hasn't been any real support. NB. the programme started in 2009, and the country has a government that is anti-Roma and it openly has been promoting segregation since 2010.

How did it fit with local, regional or national policies?

Some of the affiliated municipalities do see the advantages of implementing the programme as they are dedicated to act for Roma inclusion.

Who are the stakeholders supporting the initiative?

The most important stakeholders are financial and in-kind supporters, but there is some cooperation with local schools' staff, social workers and the state's child protection system.

Are there particular demographic changes present that are influencing the project?

No, not in this area.

What is the institutional strategy and culture of the (educational) organization?

The Foundation’s activity in the fields of education and creating opportunities is characterized by focusing on children and humanity.

In order to understand things you need to observe them from up close. Only stereotypes and generalizations are visible from afar. Looking at things from up close you can discern many truths. But you can close up only in small steps. It takes time. That is the only way it can work.

We need to learn how to think together, to give and receive and for both sides to do something. We must keep in mind the reasons and the purposes and, most importantly, the children.

We have to look further ahead. We have spent too much time looking back, and therefore we did not draw the right conclusions. Maybe it is still not too late.

To what extent does the initiative have an influence on institutional policy (or potential influence) of the (educational) organization?

Institutional policy was affected by a change of approach and culture. It shifted from focusing on the arts education of the child to the child as a whole, as well as their families, realising that learning outcomes depend mostly on a supportive family environment. Thus the policy changed to become open, inclusive and family-centered.

(Appendix) Is there public support for your initiative and the issue it addresses?

There is major public support, the initiative is well-known and well-publicised in anti-government media. While intolerance towards Roma is wide-spread in the country (64% of the population, regardless their political views), the Foundation's PR work is very successful to gain support. At the same time they are also currently a victim of the anti-Soros, anti-NGO governmental campaign.

(Appendix) What other factors do you think have been important for the success of this initiative?

A clear vision and leadership, willingness of companies and individuals to offer financial and in-kind support, well-trained and dedicated staff, measures to support staff and prevent burnout.

Please describe the overall initiative design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

Please describe the specific activities carried out.

Pillar 1: Education

Development of social competencies in task-centered teaching

Maintenance of art elementary schools in six settlements, with 550 students

After School Activities Program: online learning, drama games, party pedagogy, debates

After School Activities Program operates in Told, Monday to Friday, with 35 participants

Scholarship program

This has been running for 6 years, and by 2016 included 51 children from 11 settlements. The Dregan-scholarship was introduced in 2016 for 4 children, with a support group and increased financial support.

Trips and camps

Trips are usually combined with an event (exhibition opening, prizes, invitations) and take place at the end of the school year (if they find sponsors for study trips). Told organises an After Schools Activities camp every school holiday, and several in other locations.

Adult education

Education to reinforce basic skills and digital training for literacy development. Almost every year, there are tenders through which we can apply for financial support. Some of these also include volunteering.

Subsidising school supplies.

Donations campaign in August and September.

Pillar 2: Family-Care and Community Development

  1. Crisis Management
  • Food donations: the “Hungarian Élelmsizerbank” network organizes donations several times a month.
  • Other donations: clothes, shoes, furniture, firewood delivery, children’s drug prevention program, glasses program, washing machines, spin driers, refrigerators, access to stoves, the “We are with you” program: continuous individual and corporate donations in the case of sudden illness or death.
  • Other supporting activities: delivering health care services; assistance with filling in applications and other forms; online and telephone assistance; ad hoc guardianship commitments, etc.
  1. The development of skills for self-sustainability

Programs for organic briquette making, small gardens, building animal housing; programs for housing improvement, building repairs, pre-paid electric meters; programs supporting contraception, baby-mother club, household cooking and cooking skills development club. It is financed by submitting tenders, as well as corporate and individual donations.

  1. Personal identity and community development

Thematic programs, held weekly (sometimes several times a week), financed by successfully submitting tenders, as well as voluntary or personal contributions.

  1. Job creation: Community program for small gardens, vegetable and herb cultivation; the “Szuno” (Romani: “Dream”) craft project; the “Amari” (Romani: “Our own”) jam and chutney making project. These are financed from grants and donations, and employ 7 Roma in Told, 1 in Berekböszörmény, as well as about 30 casual workers.

Pillar 3: Institutional Cooperation

Social Forum (organizational development innovation), case solutions in partnership with the Roma community. Social workers coordinate and continuously strengthen participatory democracy, cooperation, and attitude changes.

What were the key roles (teacher, student, management team etc.) within the project?

Management team: model design, fundraising, HR management, resources management, PR, training, networking

Teachers, social workers: highly professional, specialised knowledge, positive attitude

Families: beneficiaries, but also key role players in educational success of their children

Volunteers: offering specialised knowledge, helping locally

What ideas, tools, theories, models, methodology (etc.) have been used to reach the goals?

Family support, crisis management, scholarship programs, institutional co-operation, arts and crafts

What are the final revenues of the project?

It is an ongoing programme, but the revenues are clear even after the first 9 years: better learning outcomes, better school results, family environment supporting learning more.

Please describe if your project ensured its sustainability

If so, how did you ensure the short-term impact of the project?

The basis of short-term impact is a clear structure, well-set goals and team building.

And how did you ensure the long-term impact of the project?

To ensure long-term impact the Foundation is taking several measures:

  • creating long-term employment opportunities locally to break the vicious circle of poverty
  • ensuring long-term financing
  • ensuring sustainability by training the next generation of management

Has your project been replicated elsewhere?

Not in full yet, but some elements are used in other municipalities in the area. It became part of teacher training, the local visual education curriculum is used in the county.

Please tell us about the resources used in this initiative

What was the budget for the initiative?

The annual budget of the whole foundation is 150 m HUF, about 500,000 EUR, but it is difficult to say what percentage of it is spent on the complex programme.

How much did the initiative depend on volunteers?

Very much, they have about 100 volunteers, donating different amounts of their time to the foundation.

How were the costs perceived by the public/the sector/other stakeholders?

As mentioned before, it is controversial:

  • they have a good PR and a high esteem in certain parts of the population
  • they are under political attack
  • their public acceptance also creates some professional tension with other, really good initiatives that have difficulties raising funds

To what extent did the initiative achieve its objectives?

Please describe the evidence to support the success of your initiative.

Success can be measured by:

  • the number of families getting out of long-term unemployment
  • the number of children going on to general secondary education and then to tertiary
  • the number of children and families regularly participating in the programme

All these numbers are growing, but it takes a long time to achieve an ideal situation. According to their policy, they are taking small steps.

Did the intervention lead to any unintended (positive) outcomes?

The approach became part of professional training not only for teachers, but also for social workers.

What indicators (quantitative and qualitative) have you measured to demonstrate success?

  • number of municipalities participating
  • number of children with educational success
  • number of children in the Arts Education programme
  • number of families supported

(Appendix) How did you evaluate/monitor this intervention?

As the programme is financed 80% by individual and company donations and 20% by project funding, they regularly measure outcomes to ensure sponsors are content and keep their level of support. Evaluation and monitoring sometimes depend on the requirement of sponsors.