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Norwegian picnic: EEA and Norway civil grants at work

Hungarian NGOs supported in part by European Economic Area and Norway civil grants are holding open days this week. The Beacon’s Blanka Zoldi visited three of them.

Youth for Understanding

website: www.yfu.hu/hu/onkentesek/coloredglasses.html

office: Budapest, District II, Frankel Leó út 6, ground floor 1.

Organizing student exchange programs is the main activity of Youth for Understanding. However, the organization has been preparing for some time to broaden the scope of its activities to include the development of programs intended to promote tolerance. The objective of its “Colored Glass” workshop, which is funded by the Norway Civil Fund, is raising children in an intercultural environment and the development of tolerance in youth.

“Next to the exchange programs this is just a side project but an important one,” says marketing coordinator Orsolya Polanyi. “The project represents about 20 percent of our overall activities.”

Volunteers have held workshops in 60 middle schools within the framework of the year-long program, which started in August 2013. The workshops usually involve working with a classroom of 20 to 30 students during lessons appropriate for discussing issues of acceptance and prejudice, such as moral studies, religious studies, ethics or philosophy. Those attending the Norway Picnic open days were invited to sign up for such a workshop. The fact that only five individuals signed up did not prevent the organization’s volunteers from conducting a full workshop.

A typical 45-minute workshop consists of participants being “labelled” with a piece of paper stuck to their foreheads containing a nationality, ethnicity, vocation or physical condition usually associated with prejudice (priest, arab, handicapped, etc.). The participants are then required to act out everyday situations, reacting to other participants as though they were a member of that group. “In the end the person who first figures out which group he or she belongs to wins,” explains Polanyi. “The point of the exercise is for the participants to experience for themselves the kinds of stereotypes and prejudices that exist in society, and to empathize with the people belonging to various social groups which actually experience this over the course of their daily interactions.”

Youth for Understanding received EUR 9000 (USD 12,000) from the Norway Civil Fund, which covers 80 percent of the cost of the project. “With the money we won we were able to employ a project assistant who deals with the tolerance development workshop and to hold programs for middle-school studies free of charge,” says Polanyi.

Refuge Foundation (Menhely Alapítvány)

website: http://menhely.hu/;www.facebook.com/menhely.hu

So many people signed up for the Refuge Foundation’s City Walk that its Facebook page suggested people register for a later walk. In the end 22 people met at the Fovam square to become acquainted with the new face of the downtown. “What is special about the program is that the leader of the group is a homeless person,” says Zoltan Aknai, president of the Refuge Foundation. “The chosen route is one that is related to the life of a homeless person – where he spends his days, where his memories and experiences are tied. During the walk the homeless individual tells the story of his life. Participants are taken to places where perhaps they have never been, and familiar places are given new meaning with their own stories.”

He says it is important to organize such programs because they help combat social prejudice. “If a person sees how a homeless person lives, how they came to be homeless, he has an ‘aha’ experience. The personal connection makes it possible for the initial revulsion to be replaced with understanding,” says Aknai, adding that one cannot tell from the external appearance of the tour guides that they are homeless.

The Refuge Foundation regularly organizes these walks (register on Facebook for the next one scheduled for July 7). Participation is open and free to everyone. The tour guide accepts whatever contributions are offered up at the end of the program.

The Refuge Foundation received EUR 120,000 (USD 155,000) from the Norway Civil Fund with which to realize the Equality for Homeless People Program. The program is to run for two and a half years and contains two program elements employing different methods in a mutually reinforcing manner in pursuit of the same objective: their acceptance by society as equal members of society.

The one element is the Homelessness First Hand program, which includes the homeless-led city walks. In addition, the Refuge Foundation organizes extraordinary lessons for school classes as well as communal feeding. “These programs address social sensitivity,” says Aknai. “People obtain authentic, first-hand information about the lives of the homeless, and with the help of their understanding they can become socially sensitive.”

The other program is the Homeless Legal Protection Forum, which equally assists the homeless and those experts dealing with them, as well as legislators and those responsible for applying and enforcing the law. The program provides free consultations to the homeless and those helping them, either in person, by telephone or electronically. “We provide help in matters involving criminal proceedings, the loss of a home or where a person is not employed only because he is homeless,” says Aknai, who thinks it important that good practices developed in Budapest be extended to other parts of the country. For this reason, part of the money received from the Norwegian Funds is being used to grow his organization and providing training to organizations in the countryside.

Association of Informed Consumers

website: tudatosvasarlo.hu

office: Budapest, District XI,  Móricz Zsigmond körtér 3/A, ground floor 3. 

Those participating in the training for growers held by EESRG research group member Balint Balzas barely fit into the Association of Informed Consumers’ small Moricz Zsigmond square office. Association employee Aniko Haraszti spoke about the association’s activities while fixing a healthy joghurt snack in the kitchen. “One senses that healthy eating and environmentally aware lifestyles and consumption are becoming increasing popular,” she says. “We hold regular group discussion forums where participants hold presentations which are then discussed. This has a community-building effect as well. In general the group discussions are only for their members, but on the occasion of the open days there are three new interested parties among us.”

The small, EUR 5300 (USD 7000) grant it received from the Norwegian Civil Fund gave the association a big boost: its membership increased from 50 to 300. “We spend the Norwegian fund money on building a system of informed consumer discount cards,” says Haraszti. “This means that association members receive a discount of 5-10 percent in certain shops, for example organic grocery stores, vegan shops, bicycle shops and businesses that value sustainability and renewability.” Haraszti says the fund money is spent mostly on administration of its membership, building and maintaining relationships with shops, and building an internet database. The project was short term, starting in August of last year through January. Since their grant is so small their activities were not audited by Government Control Office KEHI this year.

With regard to future plans Haraszti says they want to submit a new application for funds with which to expand the scope of their activities. “We would especially like to deal with small communities that are often neglected, sensitive groups, and open a greater cooperation with local governments.”

Blanka Zöldi :