There’s so much peace in Györgytelep. As you enter this neighborhood of Pécs, in Hungary, your eyes are immediately drawn to the horizon – where a gargantuan construction project leaves you marveling and pondering its purpose.
Once upon a time, this behemoth took workers down into the main shaft of the nearby uranium mines. Now it is merely a relic of Hungary’s socialist past and the symbol of a long-gone era. Although many workers lost their livelihood when the mine closed, somehow this monstrosity still stands tall among the lush greenery that encases it.
Tilt your head down a bit and your eyes will then meet the rows of newly renovated houses that line an idyllic community, spread across the sunny slope of a hill. What is most fascinating about Györgytelep is that there’s an air of childhood all around you.
You seem to know the calm breeze coming from the trees - whizzing slowly past your ears as you sit silently on the shores of a mountain lake, holding your fishing pole and waiting to pull something out of the water. The atmosphere here teleported me to the bygone summer evenings at my grandma’s house. The dusk brought with it a sense of calm and liberation. Grandchildren around the table enjoying grandma’s inimitable cooking. These were the good times.
That’s how Györgytelep feels to a visitor on an April afternoon. A community that has so much to offer. Remnants of the past mixed with the harmony of the present. Györgytelep is a community that has good vibes - very good vibes. But only a few years back it was a place of severe socio-economic problems stemming from limited opportunities and poor housing conditions.
A 5-minute walk from Györgytelep and you’re in the adjoining neighborhood of Hősök-tere – Heroes Square. Here, a new playground and a basketball court face a monument dedicated to the miners who sacrificed their lives during World War II. They stand in the same place where, I am told, drug dealing and commercial sex work were commonplace until not that long ago.
Today, new benches offering shade welcome any rambler. It would take snapshots from a drone flying over these two communities to truly capture the beauty of this landscape. It’s magnificent.
A few years back, these two communities on the northeastern edge of Pécs, benefited from support aimed at renovating dilapidated housing infrastructure. The results: better living conditions for more than 400 people, many of them Roma. As many as 35 families were also moved to an integrated environment after previously living in conditions of housing segregation.
It took leadership from local authorities and the local community, support from NGOs like the Maltese Charity Service and the Khetanipe Association for Roma Cooperation, and a lot of hard work from local social workers to turn things around. All of these efforts were improved by a vision of coordination, woven among all the supporting actors.
As I was strolling through these neighborhoods with one of these social workers, he told me that initially there was little trust between local people and the authorities. When members of the community were invited to the city hall to discuss the incipient idea of housing renovations, trust was low and the prospect of success was dim. This wouldn’t be a surprise in many places around the world.
But, the fact that all parties managed to overcome the fear of partnership, and the pessimism of failure, to achieve great things for hundreds of people facing poverty and living in deplorable conditions is remarkable.
In Györgytelep and in Hősök-tere, I saw families gathered in circles with their children, smiling and chatting about neighborhood things. I saw children coming back from school, a 6-year old boy training to become Hungary’s next football star, and teenagers racing on scooters and having the time of their lives. Three young boys raced down a slope in their miniature cars. A genuine feeling of home - the type of home you always yearn to come back to - was present all around. The type of home that echoes throughout our lives regardless of where we end up.
“I feel at home here. This is where I was born. This is where I want to live,” said one of the local residents.
In both Györgytelep and in Hősök-tere, primordial and genuine community values intersect the hopes of a better future for the younger generation. The future that any parent would want for their child and the one that every child should have the chance to pursue.