Over the past three years, the Mahájána Foundation (Mahájána) has been primarily working with Roma children in Csörög, a disadvantaged community situated 37km north of Budapest. The community garden project was set up with the aim of providing work experience for unemployed adults and useful activities for the local children.
20% of Csörög’s population are Roma, one of the largest proportion in the region. With a high rate of unemployment, opportunities for long term and secure employment are scarce. Local infrastructure and services are poor: roads remain unfinished and there is no local school.Mahájána has been running tutoring programmes to help the local Roma children raise their standard of education enabling them to meet basic school requirements and also help improve their chances of progressing into higher education. In order to help improve the living standards of the children’s families, Mahájána has also initiated a number of community projects. For example, a biomass briquette project which provides a cheap and renewable source of fuel for cooking and heating, one of the major problems facing families, especially during the winter.
The community garden project was set up to become a space where unemployed adults can learn new skills and local Roma children can take part in useful activities over the weekends. Access to physical activity opportunities and nutrition education is limited in the community. Both the adults and children involved in the project learn “how to grow” skills and cultivate their own small parcels of land. The community members will use the produce grown as a source of fresh, healthy food for their families which they would not be able to afford otherwise.
Mahájána believe their role is to help the community kick start the project by providing regular training through the growing cycle and thereafter act in a supporting coordinator role. It is their view that this is very much a community led project with members driving the decision making process.
Before the community garden was created, many of the children had no access to activities at the weekends, a time when young people are more likely to experiment with unsafe and dangerous behaviour, such as drugs and alcohol. By providing the children an alternative, the community garden can help steer them in healthier directions. For those involved, working in the garden has developed a spirit of teamwork and work ethic and has motivated families to participate more in general community life.
The Foundation’s funding has helped to purchase the necessary materials for the garden. The project not only looks to provide education and other skills but seeks to address social issues such as family and community values in the hope it can re-energise this disadvantaged community.