Young Hungarians find volunteering to help refugees an enriching experience

Wednesday 5, December 2012 BUDAPEST, December 5 (UNHCR) – On World Volunteer Day, three young volunteers in Budapest talk about why they signed up to tutor refugees and how the experience has touched their lives. Diána Labát has been teaching Hungarian to Benafsha, a 12 year-old-Afghan girl, once a week […]

Wednesday 5, December 2012

BUDAPEST, December 5 (UNHCR) – On World Volunteer Day, three young volunteers in Budapest talk about why they signed up to tutor refugees and how the experience has touched their lives.

Diána Labát has been teaching Hungarian to Benafsha, a 12 year-old-Afghan girl, once a week for just four months. But she almost feels like a member of the family now. She tutors the girl on Sunday afternoons, and the family never lets her go without sharing a meal with them. In the beginning, two meals were set for her: an Afghan and a European one, just in case she did not like the first one. “It became clear soon, however, that the Afghan kitchen, the spices and everything fit my taste perfectly, and today they prepare only Afghan dinner for me,” says Diána laughing.

The student at the faculty of international relations of the Corvinus University of Budapest volunteered on June 20 this year, at an event organized by UNHCR for World Refugee Day. She got in contact with the Refugee Mission of the Hungarian Reformed Church. “I was touched by the campaign slogan ‘No one chooses to be a refugee’. Ran through the options in the leaflet recruiting volunteers, and understood that I could not offer a job or a flat, I get lost in the bureaucracy myself, what I could do was teaching” – she recollects how she came to the decision.

Katinka Pintér signed up to volunteer at the same time, and has been teaching Rita, an 18-year-old Iraqi, every since. But the philosophy student of the University of Pécs had been volunteering already for about a year, helping homeless people at the Menhely Foundation. “It was depressing to realize, how strongly the mentality inherited, probably, still from the socialist times, that everybody expects everything from the state and nobody wants to do a hand’s turn is still with us”, Katinka says, explaining what motivated her to become a volunteer.

Gábor Csomor has a similar view. The recent political science graduate of the Central European University also signed up on World Refugee Day. The Refugee Mission of the Reformed Church entrusted him with the teaching of two 20-year-old Afghan boys, whom he helps to get prepared for their class exams and aims to help them graduate. While Gábor has a job now, he still teaches the two young men on Thursday mornings. ”It does not mean an extra burden, everybody could sacrifice one hour of his or her time per week on it,” he says.

The two young Afghan men do not yet know whether they want to stay in Hungary in the longer run. Meanwhile, Benafsha’s parents are determined to do whatever they can to ensure she never goes through what they suffered in Afghanistan. Her father, an electrician by profession, still has no job even though they came to Hungary five years ago. Nevertheless when Diána asked him once how he was feeling here, his answer was harrowing: ”Here I don’t have to be worried about whether my daughter comes home alive or not”.

Diána does not probe the Afghan family on what happened at home, and the family fall painfully silent when conversation heads in that direction. ”I feel that I would reopen deep wounds and I can’t do that, and it is none of my business anyway,” she says. Rita’s family, on the other hand, told Katinka Pintér they fled Iraq when the anti-Christian atrocities escalated some time after the death of Saddam Hussein. “They had almost got used to the bombings which had been going on for more than three years at the time, but the hunting on Christians was targeted directly against them,” Katinka says. After their church was blown up twice, friends kidnapped and threatened, the family sold their house, took a plane and ended up in Budapest. Rita’s family is among the few lucky refugees able to buy an apartment in Budapest from the sale of their house. But the father, who had had his own air conditioning business in Iraq, is still a cook in an Arabic buffet after six years here; the mother, despite having taken several vocational courses, is still unemployed.

Gábor Csomor was always interested in multiculturalism, refugees and other socially excluded groups. He signed up to volunteer to help and expand his horizons. He hopes the experience will help when he applies for volunteering appointments abroad. Katinka Pintér also sees herself on a life-long path. ”I do believe that volunteering and donating is for the whole life,” she says. Diána seems irrevocably ”infected”, too. Each of her words tell of how proud she is of the Afghan girl who is the top student of her class. ”I have already told Benafsha that I don’t want to let her go once I had a hold on her. She is so talented. I want to develop this talent and want her to go to a good secondary school and a good university,” she says.

By Ernő Simon in Budapest, Hungary

For more information on volunteering to help refugees, visit the take action page on  our No one chooses to be a refugee campaign site.