Dance: A Universal Language

Me in my teacher clothes battling this boy who was cleary way better than I.

Me in my teacher clothes battling this boy who was cleary way better than I.

All my new friends. These children took a piece of my heart <3

All my new friends. These children took a piece of my heart ❤

Coco and I dancing some Salsa and trying to get some Hungarian dance moves down
My little friend Amanda. The sweetest little girl.

My little friend Amanda. The sweetest little girl.

watching the children play games

watching the children play games

Some of the children in the dormitory playing games

Some of the children in the dormitory playing games

Traditional Hungarian work and design

Traditional Hungarian work and design

The main school building where the Headmaster's office is

The main school building where the Headmaster’s office is

On January 9th, 2013 we went and visited a small village school in Abuiker, a town of 600 people about three hours outside Budapest. This school is a branch of the John Wesley Theological College, the school we have been working with in Budapest. This college also owns Heated Street, a homeless shelter and other organizations in the area that help those who need help. I am very impressed with this college and all they do to help others, it is very inspirational. The school we visited, the John Wesley Primary and Secondary school, serves about 1000 children of which 90 percent are extremely poor. This primary and secondary trade and vocational school is the biggest employer around the village. Some children have to travel 45 minutes a day to get to school and then to get back home, some live in the village and can walk to and from school while about 100 of the children live in the dormitory at the school because they live too far to travel everyday to and from school. The children who stay in the dormitory range in age from age 6 to 20. These children get picked up on Sunday early afternoon and go back home Friday late afternoon. I have never seen or heard of an organization like this. I was shocked that these children hardly see their parents. We were told that many of these children do not have electricity, heat or running water in their homes so they prefer the dormitory. The headmaster of the school told us that many of the children do not eat when they go home for the weekends and that the children hate having breaks from school, they dread having breaks. This really hit home with me and really made me think. I love school and have always loved school but whenever I had a day off from school I was very excited. It usually meant time to hang out with friends or time to do something fun with my family. The headmaster said it is usually only the rich children who enjoy breaks. This is a very true statement and makes me once again realize how rich I am. I remember in middle school I had a friend who hated breaks too. She told me she would rather be at school because she always got food. Her telling me this must have had some impact on me because I still remember it. I am mentioning this because I know it still happens in America too, but without being put into a situation to think about it, it can easily slip your mind. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to absolutely dread having time off of school.
This has easily been my favorite day in Hungary so far. The children at this school honestly stole my heart. I would love to return and spend another day with these kids. It is amazing to me that although we cannot speak the same language through smiles, hugs, laughter and a translator a lot of communication can happen. Our day began with a three hour van ride to the village. We left early in the morning and I slept a lot of the way, which was a good thing because when I was awake I had a pulse about twice as high as it should have been. Our driver spoke little to no English and drove like he had never taken Driver’s Ed. Every time we ride in this van it is such an adventure. I always feel like we are going at least 100 mph, although I know we are not. To say the least driving in a snow storm added to the effects and I honestly felt like I was on a ride at Disneyland. I would call it Indiana Jones in the Snow. We arrived at the school and were escorted up to the Headmaster’s office were we were all seated. There were many other people in the room. The two English teachers who would be our translators for the day and spoke very good English, Gabour, a history and Hungarian language teacher, and Peter another secondary level teacher. I have honestly never experienced such hospitality. I am sure the definition for the word hospitality was created by someone who had visited Hungary. Everywhere we go and everyone we meet treats us like royalty. I am always amazed and how welcoming the people here have been to us. Every single person we have met has been extremely nice to us. Once again we were offered coffee soon after we sat down and were presented with a snack or bread and cheese and meat. The coffee was once again wonderful. I am never going to be able to drink coffee in America again. It is so wonderful here that I can drink it with just a little milk added. I could never drink black coffee with milk in America and enjoy it. We talked with the headmaster for a while through the two translators. He was such a humble man who clearly cared for the children. It is amazing how much all of the teachers and administrators loved the children. It was clear that their primary goal and concern was the children.
Next, we split into smaller groups to get a tour of the school. I went with Gabour and Peter. They did not speak as much English as the two women but did their best and we got by. This school has a day care, nursery school primary school, secondary trade and vocational school as well as classes for adults in the community. This school offered specific vocational paths for jobs as bakers, cooks, hairdressers and military training. We first walked through the special needs classroom. It was so different then what I had expected. These students were so well behaved. I remember hardly seeing special needs children at my high school. I felt like the acceptance of these students was much more apparent here. Later, when we visited the dormitory the children with special needs were 100 percent integrated with the typical children and from what I observed none of the other children were mean to them. It was amazing to see this. In all my years of public schooling I have never felt like the special needs children have been integrated at all. The children with special needs were so happy too. They danced along side with the other children and laughed and laughed. When we visited their classes they were so attentive and were full of smiles. We next went and visited the children in the cooking school program and well as a room full of first and second graders. There were only four first grade students and nine second grade students all studying in the same room. Observing the interactions between the students and teachers in each class it was obvious that all the students had really close connections and relationships with their teachers. The headmaster did tell us that the teachers here were like mothers and fathers as well to their children. This was evident during the tour. We also went and visited the day care where the younger children can stay during the day. The buildings were all kind of spread out. The main building with the headmaster’s office had about 400 students in it of which most were secondary classes. It was a bit of a walk to some of the other building. The dormitory and cafeteria were close by the main schooling building.
After our tour we ate lunch and then went and visited the dormitory. The children were out of school so everyone who was staying in the dormitory that night was there. We walked in to the children all playing games. They were going up and trying to put keys on a wire and being timed. I tried it and although I got all four keys I took about four times as long as some of the kids. Next we watched them all play a game with empty pop cans. It was clear all of these children had very little to nothing. We toured their building. There were 10 to 16 beds in a room with a small pillow and one blanket on the bed. In the rooms all I could see were coats and hats. There was very little space more extra clothes so I am assuming the children had what they were wearing. There were 81 children staying that night and 10 adult figures. This seems like a camp ratio to me. I thought about being a camp counselor and having 7 or 8 children to watch after at a time. Although this is a good ratio for camp I thought about when I was in elementary school how much time my parents spent with me; feeding me, helping me on homework, getting me ready for bed, taking me to soccer, church and dance. I cannot imagine what life is like for these children. They all seemed happy despite how hard some of their lives were. An older girl shared her personal story to someone in our group and it brought tears to my eyes and made me feel sick. I cannot believe what some kids have to go through. After getting a tour of the dormitory we observed all the children playing games from the second floor. It was Thursday night which meant it was disco night. They music started playing and all the kids crowed the open floor. It was so much fun watching them dance!! They were so good!! It was unbelievable what some of these kids were doing! They all knew how to move their feet! That is for sure. After watching for a bit we went and joined them! I had the time of my life dancing with these children! It was such a blast! We danced the evening away, about 2 hours straight. One little girl, Amanda, was a seven year old who clung to me for most of the time. I loved her. She had such a big smile and we danced and danced together. I loved her giggles. A lot of the little boys would take our hands and dance with us too! They were so good and too cute. One 11 year old boy was one of my favorites. He was so sweet and just had this sweet persona to him. When all the younger kids left for dinner we got quite the show by some older boys. I even battled one of them! I definitely could not hold my own but it was fun to try. They were fundamental! When we had to leave for dinner the children surrounded us to say goodbye. I received so many hugs and waves and goodbyes. I honestly wanted to cry. I was so overwhelmed with emotion. These children were amazing. I could have danced with them all night long! I could have stayed there the rest of my Jterm. I want to return badly.
I was never expecting to experience this in Europe. I was never expecting to see such poverty. When I embarked on my semester in Oaxaca, I had know the kind of poverty I was going to see and I knew I was going to work with street children. Embarking on this trip I thought, “Well it is Europe, I should bring my cute, nice clothes.” How ignorant am I to have thought I wasn’t going to see such poverty here. I know about the poverty in America. And I know when people think of America they do not think of a lot of poor people. It just shows that poverty exists all over the world. One thing I did notice though was the amount of opportunity we have in America. This school was an opportunity for these children. They could live there until they graduated with a secondary or vocational degree. In America there are tons of after school programs and before school programs to help children in need. Children can still join sports teams and find ways to fill up their time with activities offered through the public schools. I feel like public schools in America have a lot of resources for children who need them and although I believe that they could still do more after having two school visits in Hungary I realize how much our systems do offer.
Overall, this was the most incredible school. I would be my dream to one day work in a school like this. It was amazing to see an organization doing so much good in the world with such a wide array of offerings to the people in the community. It really touched my heart and was an amazing experience. I felt shell shocked during the three hour drive home and could not turn my mind off. I was never imaging to experience something like this in Hungary. I feel like I am still processing my experience and will be for a long time. My heart was truly touched. Children who do not speak the same language as me and can somehow still touch my heart. Children I may never see again have touched my heart. I have never wanted anything more then to take all of these children home with me, to give them all opportunity and a place to feel loved.

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  1. I liked your observations! (I’m also so glad you got pictures of Amanda and the other kids.) I found it especially interesting that you weren’t expecting the poverty in Europe. Not because you’re really stupid to think that (you’re not) but because I am having a parallel reaction to America. I expect poverty to exist everywhere but America. When I hear things about children in countries like Hungary or India or Thailand, how they don’t look forward to school holidays because things are rough at home, or how much opportunity the school gives them, I internalize that and understand it as much as I can. But I don’t think about how that happens in America. One way I’ve been noticing this is through the lack of extra-curriculars in the schools we’ve visited so far. For me, that’s been a positive thing. My mom severely limited our extracurriculars and it fostered independence and kept us from being stressed out; we could just play once we were finished with school. I watched my conventionally-schooled friends spend all day in school, all afternoon in extra-curriculars and all night studying, and I thought that was horrible. I still think that’s horrible, though not in a judgy way. But when I see that lack here, I understand, OK, some students might not have great home lives or resources so extra-curriculars can help them. I don’t stop to think that in America some students (not all) may actually benefit from a life so full of extra-curriculars that they don’t have time for home. And yet, that’s probably the case . . .

  2. Amy,
    I agree with you that this is such an amazing school. I am exposed to so much poverty through the children I work with in Tacoma that I instantly felt a connection with this school. It is also my dream to work at a school like this. Students of poverty need strong individuals who are willing to do everything in their power to advocate for them and that is exactly what this institution is all about! I was so impressed with how apparent the bonds between the staff and students were; it melted my heart! Not to mention the sheer joy that radiated out of everyone we came into contact with at the school. I couldn’t help but smile everywhere we went in the school because we were always greeted with such warm smiles. It is amazing how those with the fewest “things” are really the richest of us all. It is so profound, yet so simple. It has made a huge impact on me over the last couple of days and I am realizing, now more than ever, just how blessed and rich I truly am. No amount of money could ever buy the amount of happiness I saw in those smiles! Such a great blog, I really enjoyed it Ames!

  1. Dance: A Universal Language | frankmkline

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