“The Gyárvárosi Primary School, so it was called. That used to be my school. We lived in a housing estate built for the on-call staff of the Thermal Power Plant, in a twenty minutes’ walk from the school. I remember, on frosty winter days I unbuttoned my coat the moment I stepped into the street, to feel like a big boy, and ran to school shivering with cold. I loved to arrive early, among the first schoolkids, to sit in the bench reading and listening to the murmuring of the oil stove. Feeling the peace that smelled gas oil.
The school is still there, beside the parish church, almost a part of it. Only it has been “rebaptized” into Robert Szieberth General Primary and Art School. I had no idea who Robert Szieberth was, so I decided to check it on the school’s website.
Now comes a big, long and painful, heartbreaking pause.
The website held an obituary: ex-staff member Mrs. Császár died at the age of 85. Rather: Teacher Mrs. Császár. That’s the right way to put it. But not in ALL CAPS, She would think it ungrammatical.
I’ve been promising myself for years to visit my Teacher. Each time it was going to be “very soon”.
I owe Her so much. So very much. She told me once – and I remember every second of this moment, the way I half-rose from my bench as She said: “I can see you grow up a man with a big Heart, dear, spelt with a capital H”. I did not get the meaning of it then, only realized from Her emphasis that it was a fine praise. I didn’t say a word, just sat back to my bench. She didn’t praise us too often, the boys in blue synthetic school cloaks.
I feel it my duty to write this. Dear Mrs. Császár, my Dear Teacher! I have no idea what size the capital H is, or how big it should be. I’ve been trying to make my way, doing right things, doing wrong things, in turn, now and then, so, please, do not go yet, stay with us, stay with me, teach me, tell me, how a man with a big heart would act in my place… Please, please…
My school is right beside the parish church. We are standing face to it with my best – half-brother – friend, my former schoolmate. We start going, make a few steps, then turn left, and then there is the small house. “The guys would love it”, – Robi says, and I simply nod, what else can I do.
“The guys” are the kids going to my school nowadays. Some of those would deserve more care and attention. Like a dinner. Or a game together. Or a good company.
The guys from my school. They’re the same age as my kids.
Mrs. Császár, my Dear Teacher, what is the right way? What should I do with the knowledge that I, a former schoolboy, am aware of what the current schoolkids really miss? How strong should one’s heart be to…? I know you know what I mean. And this is what I will be missing badly from now on.”
“I’d like to give a chance to the children who were born into deep poverty. I want to give them a hand to grip and help them use this support smartly in order to become successful in their adult lives.” The leader of the ÉLMÉNY TÁR TANODA (Educational Experience Club) in Pécs, ZSÓFIA TASNÁDI used these words to sum up why she choose to devote her professional life to setting up a child-centered, school assisting community. The Tanoda came to life as a grassroots initiative in one of the less imposing parts of Pécs and has been constantly growing and improving its standards since then. However, it had to make its way through a number of crises and difficulties.
Team building as a by-product of a failed grant application
“In 2015 we were full of hope and excitement waiting for the response to our new EU grant application that had been compiled with great care and due expertise. We knew that institutions with a longer operational history could enjoy priority during evaluation. This said, we were completely devastated when after a long wait we received the verdict that our application had been rejected.
I just sat in my car and sobbed, without a single clue of what to do next. I didn’t know how to break the news to my colleagues. I was their supervisor and a person responsible for setting a place for the kids to study at. Well, finally I told them I’d never give up and I’d get hold of the funding necessary for the Tanoda operation – no matter what! A few tight moths followed, but we continued the struggle. I’d say that was what we call genuine loyalty and commitment.”
The “lean years” and the fairy tale
“Our “seven lean years” lasted for about eight months. We were terribly short of money. My absolute priority was to pay wage to the mentors. As to myself, I did the administration and professional management on voluntary basis. In the meantime, we paid an incredible rent for the premises where the Tanoda operated.
And then, we suddenly found ourselves in a fairy tale. I was contacted by an acquaintance who told me that a friend of his was looking for an NGO to support. His previous experience was discouraging, as on many occasions the NGO he chose to finance spent the money on something quite different. We had an hour-long discussion with his friend whose name was Tibor Jakabovics. It didn’t take much time to find out that our views concerning major social problems, concepts of development, helping, poverty and integration were surprisingly similar. In the end of the meeting, Tibor asked: “So, what do you actually need?” “A place where the Tanoda could work”, – said I and told him that we could not afford renting the current place anymore. “You are lucky”, he said. – “I am just about to buy a house here in Pécs! Pick one that would fit your purpose and I will buy it.”
So we spent the following several weeks looking at houses on sale and in a few months we already moved to the new campus. The building is the right size for our purse. I mean, it’s not too large, but there is room for everyone there. And – it has a huge and beautiful garden! We fell in love with the place that came as a rescue – literally – at the very last moment. It kept us afloat in the time of need when the state did not find our work worth of its support.”
On the way to self-sustainment and setting up a school
“We moved to the new place in November, 2016, and Tibor first visited us in spring, 2017. It was such a pleasure to see his satisfaction and approval of how our kids and volunteers and colleagues made the place stir with life. Then he noticed the neighboring house that was also on sale. “Let’ buy that one as well!” – he said. – “And open a school in it!”
That was a long cherished dream of both myself and my colleagues. To start our own school! A school where our kids would not lose their desire for learning, but instead foster and build it up over the years!
Right now, we are busy making the neighboring house operable! It’s a great thing, as the number of kids attending the Tanoda is ever growing, and this winter our current premises could not anymore hold all of our indoor programs. Our garden has so much increased that we are now thinking of setting up a social enterprise that could be a source of income for the Tanoda. We are planning to make a mini adventure park in the garden of the Tanoda, which would make a perfect place for both entertainment and educational sessions for the children.”