Following months of dedicated work, the RCH and Swiss Church Aid (HEKS/EPER) have cooperated on a Country Program (CP) for Hungary to be in effect from 2017-2020. This is the second CP between the two organizations and will focus on the RCH’s Roma Mission as well as the Refugee Integration.
The process began in June 2016 when members of the RCH gathered with HEKS/EPER representatives to review the current CP, lasting from 2013-2016. This CP focused on fostering the empowerment of disadvantaged groups, with key communities being the Roma population and people with disabilities. In a synthesis workshop on June 23, 2016 in Budapest, the results of the project evaluation were presented in a workshop and discussed by the implementing partners as well as with other representatives of RCH’s General Synod.
The participants of the workshop then developed the broad lines for the program phase 2017-2020, agreeing to the focus on Roma and refugees/migrants. The process then continued with additional workshops and consultations with the Roma project coordinator and members of the Roma Mission, as well as with the Ecumenical Office, the Diaconal Office, and Kalunba Social Services Ltd Ltd. (the General Implementing Partner in the RCH’s work with refugees) for the refugee integration project, culminating in a detailed 35-page Country Program.
The new CP, with its thematic focus on Roma and refugee integration, was well-received by the HEKS/EPER Board of Directors and was approved in the beginning of February, 2017. The Board was particularly impressed with the focus on disadvantaged groups and the efforts planned by the RCH to improve relationships between majority society and Roma/refugees. The CP will be in place from 2017-2020. This strategic cooperation on the issue of Roma and refugee integration between the Swiss and Hungarian churches highlights the commitment to work on urgent social justice issues from both organizations.
The Integration of Roma into Church and Society project, “will continue to support local congregations in their work with Roma children and youth, especially through afterschool programs, mother and child groups, and life skills programs. In addition, the project will address the inclusiveness of reformed schools with a new project component that aims to support reformed schools in reflecting their role in processes of inclusion and exclusion and in setting up programs for Roma inclusion.”
The newly developed project for the Promotion of Life Perspectives and Integration of Refugees in Hungary will, “focus on the sensitization of the church constituency and will involve congregations in an after school tutoring program for refugee children and youth.”
In this CP, HEKS/EPER seeks to support the RCH in building up the necessary capacities and structures and create dynamics for strengthening the church’s work with Roma and refugees as well as migrants and foster openness for their integration into church and society.
In the area of Roma inclusion, the program will build on the structures built up in the previous phase: A coordination structure allows congregations to set up and further develop projects supporting the inclusion of Roma, with a special focus on addressing the needs of children and youth and making congregations more inclusive. The congregations get financial support, mobilize their own resources, and are in regular exchange with the coordinator and the network of other participating congregations.
In the area of refugees, a coordination position will be created in the newly Unit for Refugee Integration in the RCH’s Diaconal Office, and cooperation with the specialized NGO Kalunba Social Services Ltd. has been institutionalized. Kalunba will serve as a competence and training center and will accompany the establishment of afterschool tutoring programs first at St. Columba’s Church of Scotland, English-speaking Congregation of RCH, as a pilot project and then as it spreads to Hungarian-speaking congregations in Budapest.
Throughout the upcoming Country Program, important principles of work with both Roma and refugees include using a participatory approach in developing programs, the continued professional development of staff and volunteers, a respect for cultural and religious diversity, as well as transparency and reliability in the work. Community building is vital to both projects in addition to using different pedagogy forms in the work with students.
After a long history of cooperation which focused on various needs, HEKS/EPER and the Reformed Church in Hungary (RCH) agreed to work in the framework of a thematic country program for the first time in 2012 and have once again committed to work within a similar framework for 2017-2020. HEKS/EPER believes that churches are in a good position to foster social inclusion because they are present on a local level in villages, towns and neighborhoods of cities and have access to many groups of the population. Through its connections in Hungary and beyond, the RCH is an ideal partner for HEKS/EPER in its overall theme of community cooperation for social inclusion, focusing on Roma and refugees for the coming years.
Article by Kearstin Bailey