Community, connections, healing through meet ups

The Find your way to the world of work project is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Youth Employment.

Caritas Alba Iulia`s projects: Together for All, Prospera Sepsi, United Networks and Find Your Way to The World of Work jointly organised for the 7th time the Conference of Community Builders. The event took place in Odorheiu Secuiesc at the Town Hall and in the „Gondűző” Restaurant in between the 11th and 12th of October this year.

They named this event Protection. Our mutual responsibility for tomorrow’s society. The aim of this event was to provide an opportunity to meet, to talk, to exchange work experiences, to build professional networks and to be able to solve problems, a meetup of all those people whose work involves supporting people from disadvantageous backgrounds or communities.

Togetherness with those who are involved

Márton András, the director of Caritas Alba Iulia, opened the conference. He said: „We can see the need. We must get closer to see what to do, how could we be more efficient in our work. If we provide only, this could lead to dependency either on us or someone’s support. This will not necessarily build inner strength or willpower to get through hardships in life.” He spoke about the changing perceptions of Caritas. From being a provider of social support to individuals, Caritas has become involved in supporting and developing whole communities instead. He said „Communities are in continuous development. We recognise the importance of observing closely this, and that we provide our support and create opportunities for further learning and development. We wish to join those who have similar aims. Over ten years ago the United Networks project also formulated very similar aims, hence our conference today where we want everybody involved in this work to be seated together, to form our community, to feel the connection, to benefit from the healing effect of this meeting. This is where we have based our hope and trust on. We must speak up about less supportive connections and communities which may have more destroying effects. Because of this the main topic this year is about protection”.

Ölvedi Zsolt, the deputy mayor of Odorheiu Secuiesc, spoke about his gratitude for working in partnership with Caritas Alba Iulia. He mentioned the big difference what this supportive work can make in individuals’ and communities’ life when it comes to areas such as burn out or aggression in families. He spoke about the importance of prevention and intervention work.

The presentations were held at the magnificent „Szent István” Hall at Odorheiu Secuiesc’s Town Hall with an important message embedded: all people working for the same goals are welcomed as equals at the Town Hall, messaging togetherness, equality, and partnership with the council. Ludescher László, department director of Caritas Alba Iulia, spoke about the programs: „We have a wide range of topics, they may even sound slightly eclectic. They all have a common denominator which is around protection. The term suggests danger around us. This is true. The individuals, the families, the communities, and the service providers, they all may be in danger”. The presentations drew the attention to the potential dangers and the resources which the service providers could rely on to build their defence. We will share some parts of the presentations.

Families in danger

György Enikő, leader of the Social and Child Protection Directorate of Harghita County, presented the following:  The victory of indifference. Aggression against women. She reported that women become victims not only of physical but emotional abuse as well. She provided short films to demonstrate the psychological games what the aggressors may play with their victims. At times the outsider may only see a regular family, but the truth is we may be facing aggressors, victims and silent witnesses within these people. The aggressor may seclude his/her victim, so the victim does not always realise that it’s not normal the way how she/he is treated. Other times the victim may feel shame or fear, they may think it is easier to stay in the abusive relationship than to risk breaking out. We want to think about the children in these families and the impact of the parent staying in the abusive relationship on the children. And there are those who recognise their situation and break up with their aggressors. For those who become victims of abuse in the family now there is a Protected Shelter in Harghita County, a home where they can find safe accommodation, food, support, and counselling. People who experienced abuse or if they may witness abuse are advised to report to the authorities their cases.

What is abuse in the family? Is it abuse if the husband gets home drunk and falls asleep without a word? Or is this the best-case scenario? Or is it abuse if the husband may slap the wife, which he regrets greatly next day and says sorry? Are there only men who may become dangerous or may be women aggressors to? What kind of adult can a child become who witnessed or experienced abuse in the family? Why is the parent staying in the family, is it because of the children really? – Szigyártó Adrienn psychologist of the Safeguarding Team, and Mészáros Katalin special educational needs teacher provided workshops for the above topics. There is a conclusion for all professionals and support workers, not to be indifferent and that the focus of their work is prevention. To quote Ludescher „We are not allowed to be indifferent. Our task is the prevention; therefore, the future generations will recognise what is abuse as well as they won’t become aggressors in their adulthood”.

Safety nets
The safety networks in our society may become better over time but also less. There are promising plans – said Vass Mária, leader of Social Services and Child Protection Directorate of Covasna County.
Her presentation was about safeguarding vulnerable adults. Firstly, she spoke about the safeguarding system for disabled people in Covasna County. They succeeded in founding two smaller centres. These were self-funded, with support from the county council. These homes were able to accommodate 14 and 27 disabled people each. To provide round care to people, they needed to get more funding, this has been done by contracting with civilian organisations also involved with supporting and caring for the disabled service users. „We have 30-35 contracts throughout Covasna County with different civilian organisations. They work perfectly. We managed to get government funding, 90% of our expenses are covered by them. The contracts are very interesting, they are sealed with three parties, the service provider, the principal, and the service user or their representatives. Each party takes part in covering the costs and shares equal responsibilities”.

Vass Mária reported that the local and the regional council works in perfect partnership in Covasna County in order to provide the best social care system in the county. „There is a similar success in the care system around safeguarding elderly people too. There is one elderly care home, from Hăghig, which can accommodate 110 elderly residents. I would like to reassure you that whoever has no relatives or has very little income, or if the person cannot be cared for at home, he or she will have a place in the elderly care home. The expenses are shared within the local and regional council”.

According to her there is hope for building a better social care network throughout our country with efficient support network staffing, as well as to succeed with the integration of the service users into their local community.

School of different professions

Ramona Vasiloae Nastasache is the representative of the Concordia School of Different Professions from Ploiești. She brought the next topic to the conference. She presented their organisation, a private school. Their school is composed of elementary years as well as higher education of 18–28-year-old young grownups who are supported to learn a profession. They can become bakers, waiters, cooks, or learn gardening and growing vegetables. While they learn their new profession, they also cover the school’s hot meal programs.

This organisation can provide further support and mentoring for the students in cases of facing hardships in finding their first employment. There are success stories, they reported, and they highlighted the importance of the role of support staffs in promoting their organisation and the support what they can provide: students can learn foreign languages, integrational skills to their society and ways of independent living. Their wish is for those 18–28-year-olds who may find hard to study a profession, to be directed towards their institute by the support workers.

Between building communities and preserving identities

This presentation is about minorities needs, of receiving external and internal reinforcements. Some of them stand neither here nor there in the larger community, they are looking for ways to keep a balance in belonging and yet preserving their cultural identities. This was the topic of Isztojka Máté from Avrămești, member of the community building project. „I belong to a minority group; I am a Romani. I think I broke off from the usual way of living the Romani culture by attending university instead of getting married. I was lucky because I had educated people in my surroundings, they were my role models”. He is 24 years old now, he has a BA in anthropology. He reflected on a list of internal and external factors and the impacts of them on his decision making, and the hardships which came with it. In his opinion, going for higher education may be influenced by the environment too. In his own experiences he felt the Hungarian community backing up his decision in further learning. Also, he had a role model in his Romani family too, his grandmother who was 45 years old by the time she made her choice to learn for a high school degree. „Although her family had a good reputation in the Romani community, she didn’t want to bring shame to her family”.

Isztojka Máté has learnt a new way of coping with difficulties, instead of dramatizing a situation he has been reframing the events: „Throughout the years people realised I am like them only browner skinned. I feel I am accepted when they say here comes our Romani brother. I defeated the stereotypes by taking ownership of my cultural characteristics”.

He feels part of both communities, the Romani and the Hungarian, and yet he is worried about his cultural inheritance. According to the Romani culture he is too old now to get married, or he is worried about not spending enough time within his Romani group. His worries have been soothed by his lecturers’ support and reassurance. They prompt him to show more of his cultural inheritance. Máté is planning to issue a bi-lingual collection of tales and stories which he has collected from his grandfather.

Faces instead of the statistics

Creating opportunities via integrational services, this was a Prospera project by Joós Attila chief coordinator and Diós Boglárka field coordinator. The team would like to focus their attention on people and their stories instead of individual cases becoming part of the larger statistics. They highlighted the fact that discrimination has become sadly a factor of their service users’ life when it came to getting employments. Around 2 million euros was allocated for this project. The project will be running for two years. The aim is to support disadvantageous families, especially to keep families together throughout hardships and challenging times. There are three locations involved and around 600 people with disadvantageous backgrounds. The support consists in making changes for better in their poverty lines, creating better opportunities for studying, getting employments, and making health care more accessible to people. They try to help where help is necessary „We wanted to get 60 people employed from the 600, and this hasn’t been an easy task. Some of these people may not want to work, this isn’t because they are not able to. People make deals with each other in repaying each other debts. And if they get an income, this is what will happen”. Another challenge what they may face is discrimination by their employer. Boglárka was saying „Once an employer was interested in the skin colour of the future employee, what sort of shade is his skin? What would be an acceptable skin shade? They were suggesting once to send only those whose behaviour doesn’t involve stealing tendencies, and who’s general hygiene is good and they literally they won’t smell bad, their reason being that the diner is shared with everyone”.

Diós Boglárka concluded that this project may not be able to change the world but in an individual level they are able to offer better opportunities and chances for better life experiences for people from the Romani minority groups.

Bodó Csilla, chief field coordinator of the Together for All project, presented their work. Their project is providing a safe environment for people from disadvantageous backgrounds. They hope that within a safer environment people may feel more trusting and motivated to come forward about their challenges, they may get involved with further educations or trainings. They can get support to attend interviews and get employments. She shared one important aspect, the case of young parents and their succeeding in getting a professional training and through education opening new chances to them for better options in life. Once they have got a new job their family life and background has changed for better too. Tests were held in Sfântu Gheorghe and for some people that was the first opportunity to travel outside of their hometown. The project made it possible for a smooth travel and stressfree attendance of these tests for these individuals who experienced stepping outside of their comfort levels.

„Let’s count by individual stories and not numbers” – prompted Ludescher his colleagues. „Our work is about providing dignity, safety, to reinforce decision making and to support taking responsibilities, to provide belief and hope to those with disadvantageous backgrounds. Our success indicator is their gratitude. If we only concentrate on statistics, we may forget to observe the feelings, and this leads straightforward towards burning out”.

Stay on your feet!

Récsei Mária,coordinator of the United Networks project of Caritas Alba Iulia, held a presentation about Coaching, a way to keep our Professional Self preserved. We can avoid burn out at work, or becoming trapped in routines, or preserving our flexible mindset by applying coaching, a way of training which involves thorough preparations, trainings, and practise in the field. Let’s imagine our situation at work being this metaphor of a dark, dusty room with only one door and a tiny vent on it. Once we realised, we are heading towards either boredom or burn out, we must look for a second door in ourselves, this door symbolises our inner strength and creativity. Our key element here is our consciousness about having around us help, support, the fact that we aren’t left alone. This project provides exactly this support, and opportunities to speak with others to overcome feeling burnt out.

Jakabos Barnabás, a Jesuit monk, brought his workshop to the project. He spoke about ways to overcome burn out for support staffs.

„I am in the right place”, „I am valuable’” – values which are important when we want to create or work. He notices the changing perceptions in our world. In the past children may face some challenges but with the safety and support of their parents’. Nowadays youths may face much bigger challenges, for example in their identity search. This task overtakes them, they become fatigued, everything has become fast paced and they don’t have enough time for self-reflections or closures. He concluded a general truth: either it is about a self-discovery process of a youngster, or a burnt-out grown-up, or someone with disadvantageous background, our help will be necessary but only in a level which the person can complete. We must recognise that we are not allowed to push and expect more than what a person is capable of.

The conclusion was that the opposite of reaching burning out is when someone recognises and can follow their wishes and aspirations, if they can be proactive, if they can set their goals and their achievement plans for themselves, if they create something rather than to become a bearer of things.

Imagine being in someone else’s shoe

As a closure of our conference all participants were invited to a City Tour by the mentors of the project Find Your Way to The World of Work. All participants had to navigate on foot in Odorheiu Secuiesc without phones or any other devices, just like once in an activity for the service users. The task was to find the Budvár organisation and to find out about their services. The next task was to find out how many washing-machine the organisation operates. The participants had to get help from the locals about travelling and in finding their way back to the Town Hall, complete their last task there of finding out how many employees work at the social care sector’s office, then they had to get back to the „Gondűző” Restaurant.

We may conclude that all participants had a very rich and memorable experience throughout all the presentations and workshops during our 7th conference meeting.

Written by: Júlia Orbán, Katalin Balázs
Translated by: Teréz Fazakas

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The Find your way to the world of work project is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Youth Employment.

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