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Móni Szilágyi has been studying at Eötvös Loránd University in the Intercultural pedagogy and psychology master's degree program. After a vacation in London, she decided to spend her internship in the English capital. After many e-mails, the Active Change Foundation (ACF) charity organization (founded in 2003) was ready to employ her. A few months later, she got a job there, and she was entrusted to organize a separate project as well. Having heard her story, it seems that London is not only the City of opportunities but also of brave people!
How did you win the scholarship?
I applied for the Erasmus scholarship (the internship part) in September 2013. It was not difficult to get it because only few people applied from my class. However, we had to look for jobs, which was a long, arduous process. Our faculty has not had a relationship with foreign organizations, so as they have not been able to help us. I sent my CV and cover letter out over the Internet to many organizations. I got only very few responses and none of them was able to employ me. Finally, an acquaintance of my dear friend recommended this foreign organization, where in the middle of January 2014th I could start my internshipas a volunteer.
London was the favorite anyway?
Yes, absolutely, it was the chosen city, which has many causes: in August 2012, we spent a vacation here with my siblings. During these days, the idea came to me that I should do my practice abroad, in a city where I can collect more professional experience thanks to its multicultural character. During the holidays, I was fascinated by the diversity of London and the various cultural programs.
At first,I wrote to organizations in London and later in other major multicultural cities. I feel lucky that finally I got off to London.
As far as I know, you went there alone. I think there were initial difficulties…
Yes, I came out alone, and that was my plan. At home, I didn’t find any place to live in London, that’s why I spent the first couple of days in a college of my friend while I was searching for accommodation. It was very difficult to find a room which is in a safe neighborhood, close to my job, not expensive, and also clean. To be honest, it is impossible. And when you think that you have found it, the landlord turns out to be dishonest and gives your booked place to somebody else. In the first flat, I stayed with five Italians. Although the flat was in relatively good neighborhood, but it was also more expensive, so I just had to search for a cheaper one. The major difficulty was to get back the deposit from my first landlord.
The scholarship is not enough to live on, so I had to take on extra work; that’s why I was going from restaurant to restaurant for two days and handed in my CV. After a few days, I was working as a waitress in a Portuguese restaurant. The two jobs together were quite tiring, but I enjoyed both. I was working with a very nice staff and in a good atmosphere. After two months, the ACFoffered mea paying job, which made me happy, so I quitted in the restaurant.
At first, the orientation was a major difficulty too, for example to see through the eleven undergrounds and navigate through a lot of buses.
What does the ACF exactly deal with?
The Active Change Foundation is a charityorganization. The founder, Hanif went to fight to Afghanistan in 2002, where he lived through the horrors of war and realized what happens there does not lead to progress.
Their main purpose is prevention of crime, violence, and radicalization in urban communities. The other main focus is on the next generation, on the education of young people. The ACF, with the help of projects, aims to achieve that young adults coming from different cultural and religious backgrounds accept/respect each other.
Tell us a bit about your projects!
Several projects are running simultaneously. One of the most successful projects is the Young Leaders Program, which is for 15-16-year-old students. Every September, 35 children are selected after an interview and various tasks from the candidates (last year they were 140). Workshops are held for them every week, which will teach them to think and express their own opinion. Above the office, there is a great Youth Center, which is open on weekdays with billiard tables, football, and a lot of games, where they get together after school. There are many young people who come from different family background; this is a great place to find friends and to be a member of a good community.
In addition, there is also an Outreach team, which builds relationships with the surrounding schools; they invite them to the programs and sport events. The ACF also organizes programs for women; this project is called PEARLS (Positively Empowering And Reaching Limitless Strengths).
The door is open to anyone who needs our help, feel free to contact us. Recently, for example, a Syrian refugee mother has come to us with her daughter to ask for help.
What do you do exactly in the ACF?
I participate in organizing workshops, and on the other hand, I write articles into the organization's monthly magazine (NewGen). What is more, my job includes designing posters and leaflets, too. In addition, I got a project leadership called Women's Coffee Morning, which is organized on a monthly basis for women who live in Waltham Forest. Our purpose is simple, but more important: we want them to belong to a community where it doesn’t matter where they come from or which religion and nationality you're from. They can spend a couple of hours in a safe milieu to share their opinion. At first, it was a lot of work to advertise the programs. But it is worth the effort because during these occasions, you can hear interesting stories and experience that will help to accept each other, reduce prejudices, and understand the importance of human relationships. We usually talk about various topics: acculturation, domestic violence, addictions ...
It is well known that London is a multicultural city. What experience have you had in connection with this?
Yes, with a bit of exaggeration, almost every district represents a separate country. Nationalities can find their own stores, their foods. Hungary has recently opened a shop, so we already haven’t suffered from the lack of Túró Rudi.
I have been living here for 5 months,and I have met only 7 English yet. Almost everybody comes from a foreign country; you can hardly hear English speech. For example, an English priest friend of mine decided to organize an exhibition, which reflected the diversity of London. He took photos of people of different nationalities he met in Walthamstow (including me too) district. He made 120 images; in every picture, you can see people from a different country.
According to 2011 statistics, more than 10% of people living in London are Muslims. What do you think, how can they fit in?
I have been working in East-London, where the majority of Muslims live. I remember my first day when I came to the organization. On the wayto work, there were less and less white people on the bus, and people from Pakistan Bangladesh etc. got on. At first, it was a very overwhelming feeling to me that I travel only 40 minutes frommy flat, and it seems I drop into another country. Here, churches are replaced by mosque-s, HALAL restaurants, shops everywhere, and in the streets, you bump into women dressed in burka. They live in religious freedom;they celebrate their holidays just as they would live in their homeland. On Fridays, all the shops close for an hour because men go to the mosque into the Jumma pray. Right now,they are preparing for Ramadan. Of course, there are some who are more assimilated into British culture and left their habits.
Do you often meet Hungarians?
Almost every day, but this is not surprising since after Budapest, London is the second largest Hungarian city. Here, a lot of people say that Budapest is one of the most beautiful European cities, and they keep us hard-working, too, they like Hungarian labor force.
You will stay there for a month. What / whom will be the hardest to say goodbye?
I have a lot of friends here, and with my colleagues, we also have a very good relationship. They motivate me, and I really enjoy my job. It will be difficult to say goodbye to them. But I am sure that we will keep in touch because Budapest is not far away, and the flight ticket is cheap. In fact, I'm sure that this was not my last London trip.