The future of the Roma cannot be a taboo

In the programs of Caritas Alba Iulia, the employees of the helping profession working with disadvantaged young people and families living in deep poverty, tried to reach to the Zsolt Erőss Arena on the first days after the fire from Șumuleu Ciuc. Most of the professionals are in continuous contact with the Roma communities, so their impressions and suggestions can help us better understand the reactions of those in trouble.

Zsuzsanna Benkő, social pedagogue and facilitator, came from Mureş County. As a colleague of the day center in Cotuș (Sîngeorgiu de Mureș), she is in a daily connection with the roma community. “On Friday afternoon, my colleague called informing me we could go if I had an internal motivation to do so. It wasn’t even an issue, and when I arrived at the arena, I was amazed at how many people wanted and could help. As for the families affected by the fire, I had the impression that there were adults who had not lost hope and the children had not yet realized what had happened, the new environment was like a trip for them.”

Zsuzsa believes that the Hungarian community fairly helped those in need, there were many who did not choose contempt or judgment, but diverted their attention from generalization to individual values: “There was a thirteen years old girl among the people from Șumuleu. She was admitted to an orphanage by her mother at the age of one, and her grandmother went after her at the age of two, taking her out. She attends school now and wants to be a confectioner. That deserves recognition.” According to the social educator, there is a need for a change of perspective among both helpers and helped: “The new home should be a place in the building of which they are involved, where they can say: yes, my house has burned down, but I can start a new life with some help.”

Kinga Györfi supports Caritas’ activity in Őrkő as a social pedagogue. In Miercurea Ciuc, she tried to spend more time with the teenagers: “A couple of them went back to Șumuleu street and showed me the burned animals on their phones. I saw crying teens. I saw the mother who was bathing her child when she had to flee. She wrapped her child in a blanket.” The loss, the large crowd is sure to cause difficulties, several people complained that they could not rest at night because the teenagers were up for a long time, they were loud, and when the sports hall quieted down, the babies started to cry. “It may be strange for many to hear that after such a loss someone mourns a little red dress burnt inside the house. Behind the object is something more: something that belonged to her identity, what she had just lost. She sees her life before the fire as ideal.”

Mónika Tilinger works as a psychologist in the Roma program in Sîngeorgiu de Mureș. Arriving at the scene on Saturday, she found that a professional team was coordinating the work, and it seemed that spiritual support was already being provided. “The people I talked to were still in the initial shock, saying they still see in front of them as everything burns. There were people who turned their attention to invented problems so that they did not have to acknowledge the reality: they lost everything.” The conversations revealed there were people who had been building their home for many years, and they could finally move in last summer, but now they lost even that little bit. “If we understood how many slaps these people received in life, if we felt this total vulnerability, we would set aside our prejudices, and value, help to grow the inner strength that helps them break out of the inherited destiny, which gives them a chance at a better life.”

Katalin Györgyicze works in Miercurea Ciuc as a social worker with young people with disabilities. She had no previous professional relationship with the Roma until Friday, and when she arrived at the arena, it seemed there were just enough helpers, she was no longer needed. From up close, the picture was different: the professional briefing, the frequent meetings coordinated the work of the helpers, making it clear: those in trouble are grateful for the help, but they cannot yet predict what will happen next. “We have strengthened their gratitude because they have been there since Thursday night, in isolation, and in a situation like this, it is possible that aggression will appear in such a crowd.” The social worker sees it as a great positivity that the fire victims are not only provided with hot food and housing, but there are those who can talk to them, help process the loss, the grief. “A lot of people think Roma people don’t need help because they’re Roma. I say that humanity does not generalize or discriminate among nations. Here we have people in trouble. Now is the time to show, first and foremost to each other, what kind of people we are.”

As a psychologist and knowing the community in Cotuș, Hanna Dósa had the same experience in Miercurea Ciuc: the Roma are a very cohesive community, and although it may seem for outsiders that they have no laws, they are kept by kinship. “I asked a woman who she belonged to, and she showed half of the people in the room as relatives,” the psychologist said, highlighting that there was peace in the community when she was there, gratitude was the prevailing feeling for helping them. On the other hand, it is feared that as the days go by, this will change and the helpers will have a bigger task: to prepare people for the future, which is the only way to avoid chaos. “Several people said they were afraid this luxury would expire; they also indicated they were bored. Suddenly they will get tired of doing nothing and will want to go home. They need to be informed that they cannot go back to their old lives and they need to be reassured: although their lives will not be the same as before, they will not be left alone, they will not be homeless.”

Balázs Katalin