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"So many tiny things are needed to bring a change into people’s lives”

The Színes Gyöngyök Egyesület of Pécs works in order to make the life of Roma women and their families better. I asked Anna Kelemenné Várnai, the founder of the organisation about their activities, the challenges, and their successes.

Could you tell me a bit about the beginnings, what made you take this really brave step of founding the organisation?


Ten years ago, I decided to stop volunteering at other associations and use my own experience in order to found an organisation in which we really devote time and energy to the most critical problems to try and find a solution for them. It was at this point that, together with a few likeminded friends of mine, we called the Színes Gyöngyök Egyesület into being. There are a lot of non-governmental organisations – Roma and non-Roma alike - working for Roma people. I have been present in the NGO scene for 17 years as a volunteer and activist and during this time, I had the chance to get to know a lot of organisations. I experienced the lack of substantial change in the sphere of certain problems that NGOs  normally fight for. Through the work of my organisation, I would like to put the theoretical goals into practise.


How do you get in touchwith women who are in need of help?


For example, through the mothers’ club that we founded two years ago in the Eastern suburbs of Pécs to help Roma women spend their free time in a useful way. In the beginning, we had a really tough job because  Roma women could not understand why they needed to get out of the atmosphere and the difficulties of their homes sometimes. We wanted to show them that it is important to take some time for themselves and recognise their own needs and knowledge. During the time we spent together, a lot of things turned out about these women – that some of them are struggling to find work and that they don’t have the necessary qualifications – and we also tried to address these problems. We cannot change everything all of a sudden, , but if we are not present, and we are not in contact with the target group, then we will never be able to help.


Are there any other similar organisations that are also actively involved in carrying out significant work in the field?


Unfortunately, there are none which would be really efficient, we are not that powerful yet. There are several organisations, both at the national and local level, whom we are in touch with, but in order to form a strong community, we would still need a lot. It is a big problem that we do not have enough information. It has been working like this for a long time: people kept in ignorance are easier to control. And to make the advocacy more efficient, it would be indispensable to have a certain level of information and useable knowledge.


How are you trying to address the aforementioned ignorance? Is there a need or a possibility for it? 


We see a lot of cases where people have already come to terms with the situation and do not even want to get out of the hole they have fallen into. We must support them to try and make their situation better because we know how hard it is for those who have not been able to get back into the world of work for a long time. There are a lot of people who have turned inside and we need to move them out of this mood and motivate them. This is the hardest task. However, we are in contact with the Türr István Training and Research Institute, and we send people there for trainings on a regular basis. During the trainings, they receive a certain amount of financial help, whivh  motivates them to carry on with their studies and not to be forced to drop out of the course because they have to get the odd job to finance themselves.


What is the biggest challenge for you, what do Roma women need the most help with?


It is primarily an issue of confidence and the lack of knowing themselves. They do not devote time to themselves, and  I can see this in my own life as well. We are always the last among all the other things to do – it cannot stay like this, we must make women understand that they are valuable people as well, who are not only here to serve their husbands and children. The other really serious problem is that the families do not care about their health. They only go to see a doctor when they are in a state that they almost have to be taken. One of the most crucial goals of our organisation is to call people’s attention to the importance of a healthy lifestyle and check-ups. We try to convince everybody, we argue, but the same methods do not always work with different people.


Judit Molnár

Published: Sun, 20/04/2014 - 11:00

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