Hungarian elderly help refugees find new purpose
In caring for others, refugees leave traumas behind and gain new friends in 'sceptical' Hungary.
BUDAPEST, Hungary – Rita pushes an old man in a wheelchair down the corridor to his bedroom. Radwa lays the table for lunch. Refugees, training to look after the elderly in a Hungarian care home, are proving to be an asset to a society with a mixed record of welcoming asylum seekers.
“It is not easy to be old,” says Rita Joy Osazee, 32, from Edo state in Nigeria. “I feel a strong desire to take care of the elderly. I don’t know why but I just love them.”
“I like this work,” says Radwa Al Nazer, 29, from Damascus, Syria. “It requires a lot of patience and kindness but sometimes I want to cry when I see I have made a patient happy.”
Rita and Radwa are on a training course at the Albert Schweitzer Reformed Elderly Home in Budapest. The course is organised by MigHelp, an NGO that aims to help refugees and migrants into employment by giving them skills.
MigHelp was co-founded by James Peter, a former refugee from Africa, who was shocked by the violence he sometimes saw in the old Bicske reception centre, now closed.
“Muslims and Christians would get into fights,” says James. “I understood it was not really because of religion but because of boredom.”
James began by collecting old computer equipment and organising computer courses. MigHelp now also runs language, driving, age care and child care courses to boost refugees’ chances of getting jobs.
The age care course involves 110 hours of lectures and practice. Radwa has already completed 40 hours and got to know many of the old Hungarian people in the home personally.
“Let me introduce you to Ilona,” says Radwa, bringing in Ilona Karpati, 93. Ilona, immaculate in a pink dress, speaks excellent English. “I lived for 46 years in Canada, near Niagara Falls,” she says. “I miss Canada but I came home because my heart is in Hungary.”
Ilona is happy to be cared for by the refugees and enjoys the opportunity to speak English with them.
“They are very nice, lovely; they smile,” she says.
By caring for others, the refugees are starting to put behind them the traumas that forced them to flee their homes.
Radwa and her family left Syria because of the war but did not come to Europe in the influx of refugees in 2015. Rather, they chose to move to Hungary four years ago because Radwa’s father, Anas Al Nazer, had studied medicine here in Communist times and spoke Hungarian. Radwa, who studied psychology at Damascus University, has taught Arabic and done artwork in Hungary. Married, she is expecting a baby.
“When they take food from you, it means they accept you.”
Rita came to Hungary with other refugees in 2015. Now she works in a restaurant but hopes to make caring for the elderly her career.
“It’s satisfying to work with people,” she says. “I make the old people’s breakfasts; I feed them. If they don’t speak English, we use body language. When they take food from you, it means they accept you.”
Other African women who have finished their training at the care home are on hand to give advice to Rita and Radwa. Coming from cultures where the elderly are almost always looked after by their families, they express surprise at the European approach to elderly care. “Working here can be quite emotional,” says Mercy Asizu, 30, from Uganda. “Sometimes the old people cry.”
Tamas Szebenyovszky, a carer who has worked at the home for three years, praises the contribution of the refugees but says if they hope to make full-time careers in the profession, communication will be crucial. “My best advice is that they should take Hungarian language courses,” he says.
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Language barrier aside, Gezane Fekete seems satisfied with the care she is receiving from the refugees. The 97-year-old widow and great-grandmother is nearly blind and her hearing is poor. She can no longer go down to the assembly hall but listens to broadcast services of the Reformed Church on a little radio in her room.
“I have no complaints about the refugees,” she says. “They are running around, doing their duty very well. One of them helped me in the bathroom. She did it quick, nice and smiling. I can only say good things about them.”