For the first time this year, the annual Charity Awards has a Hungarian recipient who lives outside the borders of Hungary. In 2020 the Charity Awards initiative, which aims to recognize people working in the social field, was extended with a category for those working in Hungarian-speaking communities outside Hungary. The first winner of the new category is Rev. József Sipos, Reformed pastor of Tiszaújlak and Tiszakeresztúr (both located in present-day Ukraine), who is also the coordinator of an NGO called Supporting the “Forgotten” Children of Transcarpathia (KEGYES) and chair of the Reformed Youth Association of Transcarpathia (KRISZ). For several years, Rev. Sipos has been working with devotion for the so-called “forgotten” children of Transcarpathia, and his ministry has been noticed in Hungary as well.
A record number of nominations and public votes were received during the 2019/2020 season of the Charity Awards. The initiative, announced for the fourth time by Twickel-Zichy Mária Terézia Public Benefit Foundation, is aimed at recognizing and promoting organizations, NGOs and volunteers working in the social sector, and for the first time this year, communities or individuals operating outside Hungary could also be nominated. The winner of the first Charity Awards – Perpetual Award for Activities Outside Hungary is Reformed pastor József Sipos, for his work for the “forgotten” children of Transcarpathia. Apropos of the award, we asked him about the beginnings, his current tasks and his plans for the future.
How did you react to the news that you had become the first non-Hungary-residing winner of the Charity Awards?
Already last year, I was following the news about the Charity Awards of Twickel-Zichy Mária Terézia Public Benefit Foundation, because I am curious to know about people who work in the social sector towards the well-being of others. I welcomed the idea that this year a Perpetual Award for Activities Outside Hungary was introduced, but I would never have thought that I would be the one to receive it. In Transcarpathia there are so many needs in all areas because the social safety net is in tatters, and various church and non-governmental organizations do a tremendous amount of work to help the elderly, the sick and those in need. Over the past three years, we have turned our attention to a specific target group – the children who have been “forgotten,” left behind in hospitals. I heard that my direct coworkers wished to nominate me, but I rejected the idea. It was only later that I learnt that they had found another way to nominate me anyway. Some asked for my data from the KEGYES Facebook group, while others only informed me about my nomination afterwards. I am profoundly grateful to all of them, because such recognition can make one feel incredibly happy. Still, I must point out that this award is not only for me personally. I am convinced that what the jury had in mind was to recognize how much KEGYES has done for the “forgotten” children over the past three years. I have a devoted and honest team behind me, and they all deserve recognition.
In your opinion, to what extent could this award give you a new impetus in your work?
As far as I am concerned, this recognition is more than the appreciation of the past. I believe that God wants to give special help to the children who need support. The Charity Award has given us a great boost to transform the non-governmental association KEGYES into a charitable foundation. The formal incorporation is currently underway, which is somewhat hindered by the coronavirus pandemic, but we are soon going to be an official foundation. This means a new direction besides the hospital ministry and donation collections we have been doing so far.
How did you receive the calling to start your ministry for “forgotten children” in 2017?
On 7 February 2017, a group of seven enthusiastic individuals embarked on a special journey. Our destination was the Pediatric Hospital of Nagyszőlős. We did not go empty-handed, we arrived with donations. Back in 2015, a member of my congregation, Anita Gera, who runs her own business in Tiszaújlak, came up with a great idea: “local Santas” collected donations in early December for a boarding kindergarten in Beregszász, where our congregation had a so-called “Godparent program”. The project was repeated in 2016, with other recipients. It was during a random hospital visit that Anita found the “forgotten” children. As she knew I would sometimes make short videos about the kindergartners in Beregszász, she called me to accompany her when she would deliver the Santa donations, and make a video of it. At first I was recording in secret, but when they saw the amount of donations we were delivering, they gave me permission to record. And it was this video that energized people to take action, leading to the launching of a Facebook group, and a series of fundraising campaigns, together with the Ercsi Centre in Hungary.
Since 1 March 2018, we have been officially using the name Supporting the “Forgotten” Children of Transcarpathia (KEGYES – the acronym means ‘merciful’ in Hungarian). I personally have felt since day one that it was God who called me to engage in this ministry. I have often felt that He is there standing behind us, sending us places and preparing the road for us. We have seen true miracles when the donations kept coming in and finding their way to us. I continuously feel God’s encouragement to do this ministry. The greatest boost I have received took the form of a sermon delivered via the Internet by one of my colleagues in Transcarpathia, which was also broadcast on the local TV channel, TV21 Ungvár. I watched this sermon three times a day, and ended up making notes while listening. From that moment on, it was obvious that I needed to do what God told me, I had to step on the road that was ahead of me, put my energies into KEGYES and use it to fulfil the goal of my life.
How many of you are involved, and in how many places? How many children have you reached with your ministry?
Prior to the coronavirus lockdown, 2 persons were present every weekday for 6-8 hours per day in the pediatric departments of the hospitals of Nagyszőlős and Munkács. Apart from the regular staff, there are a handful of us who can visit the children about once a month. These children need people around them who act as “pseudo moms”; they need familiar faces that they are used to. It is difficult to say how many children we have held in our arms over the years. Some are taken to hospital from a children’s home (unaccompanied), and once they recover, they are taken back to the home, and later they could be fostered or adopted. Some birth mothers leave their newborn babies in the hospital but do not relinquish their parental rights, and therefore the children cannot be placed for adoption. Months could go by this way, and if we were not there for them, the early development of these babies would stop. The nurses’ job does not involve acting as “babysitters”, and to solve this difficult situation, the Reformed Youth Association of Transcarpathia (which is a legally incorporated association that I am the chair of) signed an agreement with the hospital so that the volunteers of KEGYES could enter the hospital. The number of such permanent volunteers has now reached 8; they come from 6 towns in Transcarpathia. Our greatest joy is that 2 children have been adopted over the past year, and we are able to keep track of them, we can offer our prayers and support to them.
What are your further plans with the KEGYES group?
We have great plans for the future with KEGYES. We are hoping to return to the hospital as soon as possible. We have a warehouse full of donations, guaranteeing the future of the program. Whenever we ask for anything, we receive donations from everyday people. Such donations have resulted in a modern and lovely baby activity room in the hospital of Nagyszőlős. In this hospital we would also like to finish the renovation and modernization of a ward where “forgotten” children are placed. In Munkács we are planning to build a playground in the hospital yard. The charity foundation’s goals include setting up a counselling office for those who would like to adopt a child, providing support, even legal support, during the adoption process. We would like to work in closer cooperation with child protective services. Our most ambitious dream is to establish a home where the “forgotten” children can go from the hospital at the earliest possibility, where we can find out more about their situation, their family background, and do what we can to reunite them with their family or find an adopting family for them. If such a home existed, we would be in a better position to help children who need surgery or some other major medical procedure. I know these are grand plans, but with God, all things are possible!
Interview by Zsófia Lucski
Translated by Erzsébet Bölcskei