“These [troubled Hungarian] children do not require less or different love than refugee children.” – Rita Rubovszky, principal
Although their education is not easy, it is natural for a Catholic school to accept refugees, according to Rita Rubovszky, principal of the Patrona Hungariae Catholic School Centre, which has accepted six refugee children over the past year.
In an interview with abcug.hu, Rubovszky spoke about how supportive the school community was towards the refugees and the everyday challenges faced by refugee children and their teachers.
Rubovszky said the school accepted the refugees after the Jesuit Refugee Service contacted it. The principal recalled that the school did not give a positive answer right-away because of the serious commitment involved. Although the Jesuit Refugee Service initially asked the school to accept only six refugee children, teaching refugees requires an investment of additional energy on the school’s part, so the leadership had to consider the scale of the undertaking, she said.
Dealing with children coming from a difficult social background was not unfamiliar to the school, as Patrona Hungariae had accepted such children well before the migration crisis. However, given the refugees’ different cultural background, teachers faced additional challenges according to Rubovszky.
“The teacher has to prepare separate exercises from class to class,” she said. “They have to teach a student that does not speak their native tongue. It is up to the teacher’s love and professional competence to come up with games, worksheets and dialogue situations that make the child work in class – one lacking the non-verbal knowledge that their classmates have. This is a difficult professional task.”
Rubovszky also cited the initial solitude of refugee children as a challenge the school had to face.
The principal argued that there is no difference between Hungarian children who have recently lost a loved one or experienced abuse and refugee children who have traveled through three countries: “These children do not require less or different love than refugee children.”
Refugee children are educated both by Patrona Hungariae and the Jesuit Refugee Service. Patrona Hungariae provides elementary school education while the Jesuits provide Hungarian-language classes and their social workers are in regular contact with the refugee families. These families arrived in Hungary more than a year ago and all contacted the Jesuit Refugee Service for help.
“In a Catholic school, if it takes itself seriously, then sensitization is the gospel,” Rubovszky answered to the question whether the school had made any effort to prepare students and parents for the arrival of the refugee children. The principal cited the case of an extremely poor Congolese family which had to flee their home country because of Christian persecution.
“They lived in a 20-square-meter ground-floor apartment that did not have a floor, all of its windows were open, a sole tap was dripping, the toilet could not be flushed, and the nine of them lived there. We did not think at all whether to accept this family or not, it was so natural.”
The family was welcomed and received much help from the Hungarian parents. They gave clothes to the refugee family and one of them even purchased a complete IKEA furniture set and assembled it for the family.
Speaking about cultural differences, Rubovszky recalled an occasion when one of the Congolese boys who was around 10 at the time called a Hungarian girl “sexy baby”, and this caused somewhat of an outrage among some students and their parents. Rubovszky argued that since the boy had learned English in Congo, in his vocabulary this was merely a compliment that meant he liked the girl. On the other hand, the girl might have thought that the boy wanted to have sexual relations with her. Rubovszky said such situations can be handled well by the teachers, like telling Hungarian students that “sexy” can be used not only to express sexual attraction but also as a general compliment: “A well-written test can also be sexy, it’s a good expression for that as well.
“This is a cute story but it very well portrays that if someone is a stranger in a community, then one will have many gestures that are incomprehensible for the others.”
Rubovszky also stressed the importance of being able to realize what is best for a child. She cited the example of one of the Congolese boys who struggled to perform well in the school. He was not motivated and could not bear to sit all day long in classes he did not understand. “This child has lost everything, his mother country, his father, his mother, his language, everything. He arrived to us and started to learn with such a psychic fatigue that he could not bear. Sometimes he was aggressive, other times he was constantly crying.”
Eventually, they thought that sports might be a good breakout point for the boy so they helped him to move into a sports school. One of the Budapest sports clubs has contracted him since then.
Despite the success of these stories, Rubovszky said they oppose launching a program dedicated to accepting refugee children. Although a German foundation even offered to finance such a program, Patrona Hungariae declined.
“I think that a school accepting a refugee child or a child of poor fate cannot be a product. It cannot be either a charity product or a pedagogical product.”