Creating opportunities through the arts

In the past years, Nóra L. Ritók, Director of the Foundation, and her colleagues strove to offer breakout points to families in disadvantageous situations; families whose life-organising rules focus on bare subsistence and often go against the legal system, by developing a special integration model.

It was only through 13 years of work that the model developed and best practices consolidated into a system, and into an activity driven strategy. The success of the method is witnessed by approximately 500 prizes won annually by their pupils at domestic and international fine arts contests which are held for children the world over. The background image of the Foundation’s website consists of the children’s drawings. To date, the name of the arts school of Igazgyöngy Foundation has a prestige name in the international fine arts education for children; its teachers participate at conferences and workshops and their pupils at exhibitions; and their recognition is witnessed best by the fact that they were invited to Strasbourg at the time of the Hungarian EU Presidency. Their publications (13 textbooks, auxiliary materials) are used at many places at home and also by teachers of ethnic Hungarians abroad.

What is the essence of their method?

The first and most important constituent is arts education based on a special methodology. The methods they developed have an almost unbelievable impact on the children. In the afternoon arts school maintained by the Foundation, they learn the importance of self-expression and the use of the language of visual signs by alternative methods, and their entire personality develops by leaps and bounds in the meantime. Their work discipline improves; they learn the process of planning-implementation-evaluation, in a positive, creative atmosphere, in which their self-image turns positive and they experience the feeling of “self-efficacy”.

Creation develops every competency, every thinking skill; it expands one’s knowledge (for you can only draw on what you know about), and it develops the social competencies. Co-operative skills are developed through a series of co-operative exercises.

Teachers participating in arts education pay special attention to transferring the positive effects manifesting themselves at their sessions to their daily life and throughout their schooling. It is highly important that children take the news of their happy and joyful artistic activities and their feelings of success back home. This provides a good basis for contact-building with the families.

The second component of the strategy is family care, as the arts school programme interprets the problem of underprivileged status in its complexity. No change of merit can be achieved with children coming from families living in deep poverty by staying within the school walls. The Foundation teachers have embarked on family care: in the interest of the children, they have made the parents their partners. The first and foremost task was to build a relationship of trust with the parents; this is the springboard for all other action. It was this atmosphere of trust that let the teachers understand the extremely complex set of problems implied by underprivileged status.

In the context of family care, the Foundation applies with success a particularly high number of “best practices” which have been adopted by an increasing number of other actors in Hungary. Their ‘support models and programmes’ differ from those applied previously. To mention a few: small garden programme, bio-briquette making, electricity metre installation project, special grant programme, needlework and handicrafts activities for women, mentor contact network.

During the years, local community-building acquired special importance through the family care activities. With families socialised in destitution, it is difficult to speak of a real community, especially if co-operation is aggravated by ethnic differences. Each of the groups of the Roma and the non-Roma, of Hungarians and Romanians living along the border and, within the Gypsy community, of the Vlach, Gypsy-Romungro-Roman Gypsy types has its own value system which is different from those of the others. However, the community programmes of the Foundation, driven by the principle of creation, can bring these groups together.

The third component of the strategy is inter-institutional co-operation. The Foundation is unique in Hungary in that it contributes to the development of strategic joint thinking by the official—service provider—helper institutions and organisations.

Apart from the artistic successes of the pupils, the achievements manifest themselves also in their motivation, the improvement of the mental state of the parents, changes in the residential environment, the search for opportunities and the development of the communication of the children and their families.

In 2011, the National Talent Support Council awarded the honourable title of Ambassador of Hungarian Talent to Nóra L. Ritók, Director of the Foundation. This award is granted to persons excelling in their profession, who assist and represent the importance of talent through the accomplishment of their individual mission.

The mission of our Ambassador of Talent is shown best by the following quotation which could also be considered the motto of her Foundation work of 13 years: “The positive energy produced by creativity, by human activity, can shake up even people living in the deepest misery. Talent is born there too, but destitution often suppresses it so it cannot be asserted.

Creation has many faces …the common denominator being that its effect is always positive on both the individual and the community. And community creation offers one more benefit: the joy of collective creation and of recognition. It generates hopes where there is only hopelessness. The miracle of “creation and sharing” must be taken to every human being, to every community. Let it assert its effects; let it show the way. To all of us.”

Talent is a special kind of natural resource that is available in every country.