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Group of graduates want to help teenagers bogged down in residential area life

Ágnes Fernengel and Alexandra Szarka | Photo: abcug.hu/András D. Hajdú

A group of graduates are about to launch a new community space in the outer 19th district of Budapest to provide meaningful after-school activities to local teenagers who otherwise spend their free time on the streets, reports abcug.hu.

Alexandra Szarka and Ágnes Fernengel, both graduates of the College for Advanced Studies in Social Theory (TEK), got fed up with the constant nagging about the poor state of the public education system and decided to do something to provide meaningful after-school activities to teenaged vocational school students.

Their initiative, the DEVISZONT Community Space, aims to be more of a youth club than a study hall, and concentrates more on the interests and problems of the teenagers than their actual curriculum. “We aim to create a place which is suitable for two things,” Szarka and Fernengel told abcug.hu. “On the one hand, for studying, and we mean studying in the broadest possible way. On the other hand, for community activities, like table football, table tennis, and chatting.” According to the two women, traditional after-school support programs concentrate too much on helping students to catch up with the curriculum – something they would not have to do if the schools were better.

Szarka said teenagers in the outer districts are in great need of such initiatives. “During the day they are in school that usually does not arouse their interest. They have no opportunity to show what vast knowledge and curiosity they have inside.”

The two twenty-something women conducted several interviews with people who grew up in a similar milieu. “They told us they would have been happy if they would have been able to deal with things that they were interested in. One of them really liked movies and they might have turned out to be a good esthete, but it never came out because they never had the chance to seriously deal with this.”

In DEVISZONT, they would build upon the interests of the teenagers. “If somebody likes movies, then our job will be to organize a film club and invite someone who can involve them in this world. Our aim is to help them learn new things according to their interests,” Szarka said, adding that it can include anything from analyzing lyrics to learning about the football history of the district.

“These kids often feel that nobody is interested in them, or curious about what happens to them, what is in their head. However, this 14- to 20-year-old age group is exactly the one which wants to show itself to the world,” Fernengel added.

The two women said their collective currently consists of seven TEK alumni who believe in tools that are lacking from the current education system’s inventory. “In the school there is a teacher to whom you repeat the curriculum, for which you get a mark which will significantly determine your career,” Szarka said. “The critical pedagogy we believe in questions this approach as a whole and instead asks questions. Namely, we have a topic which is interesting to everybody and then we start to work with this topic together, we build a project upon it. […] What is most important is to think and explore the world together.”

According to Fernengel, in addition to helping the children develop their skills, DEVISZONT might help to “create an active community which is able to reflect on its own situation. The long-term aim is to [help] children to become conscious and active citizens.”

Members of the initiative estimated they would need at least HUF 260,000 (USD 970) to cover the costs of their first six months of operation, which would consist of rent and overhead. In order to round up the required funds, members of DEVISZONT will organize multiple fundraising events throughout the autumn. Coordination with the district council is already under way about the renting of council premises in the middle of the residential area.

“It seemed that people at the council were happy about our project. Although there are good community initiatives in Kispest, for example the community gym and the community garden, this age group does not have too many options.”

Balázs Pivarnyik :