A day in the middle of a roma settlement

by | Jun 9, 2023 | Blog

Author: by Gyöngyvér Barcs

A neat house stands in the middle of the roma settlement in Nagykálló. This is the house where the Somnakuno  Drom Roma Women’s  Association. This house is not only the centre of the roma settlement, but also the centre of the world for the children and mothers and women who live there. We visited them on a gloomy November day.

[This article is from MotherNature – Mother Nature  Association Ukrainian competition of the article series for a series of articles. The series continues on Fridays.]

Arrival at

I was really looking forward to meeting Zsanett Bitó-Balogh, the professional leader of the association, with whom I had interview but so far we have only met on screen. As it is not appropriate to go empty-handed to a guest, we brought the children some fruit, clothes and toys. Everything is needed there, especially since the flood of refugees from Ukraine. Yes, the association goes above and beyond to help them.

By the time we got there, the kitchen was already bustling with activity, as they had two programmes that day. So that we didn’t just stand there with our mouths agape, we jumped in to help. Lizi, a young mother (she’s on the right with her young son in the featured photo) started kneading the gypsy bread, known locally as bokolyi, but also known as bodag, or scratch bread. As we busily chopped the vegetables and fried the bokolyi in the glistening oil, we grew hungrier and hungrier.

A képen személy, fedett pályás, előkészül, asztal látható

Automatikusan generált leírás

Jolika, the grandmother of the association bakes gypsy bread

Work? For a roma? There is non

The preparations were still in full swing when Lizi’s husband, who is constantly looking for a job, turned up. Now, too, hopes of a casual job as a labourer were dashed. He would have worked on construction sites, but only those who could do anything were chosen because they were so ignorant. According to him, in the area around Nagykálló, a Roma has little chance of finding a decent, registered job. But the young man, a father, is full of ambition, he wants to support his family. If he doesn’t want the family to starve to death, he can either do public work or perhaps even go to the border as a border hunter.

Sándor, Zsanett’s father, also turns up. He came to help heat the house. He says the same thing. He works as a night watchman in Nyíregyháza. He is “lucky”. But Sándor could have been a doctor. At least, his intelligence, his choice of words, his bearing, his dress, the twinkle in his eye all suggest that to me. Sándor also told me that he had been called for interviews at several places, but when they saw that he was a roma, they told him that the job had already been filled. Therefore, at the end of the phone conversation he always says that he is a Roma and asks if he should be. He doesn’t want to go round in circles any more.

Discrimination is fuelled by ignorance

The association has initiated a discussion on school segregation, because it is certainly present in Nagykálló. Roma go to the state school and “Hungarians” to a new church school. Everyone was anxious to see if all those invited would come. But they were disappointed to learn that not everyone wanted to discuss the situation. This could be a step towards mutual understanding and integration. It could be.

One of those absent was the mayor. The local public health nurse came to the meeting. We learned that even a few years ago she might not have accepted the invitation. She has only dared to go to the roma camp since she met the Zsanett. Until then she was afraid. What was he afraid of? The unknown. Of the horrors of stereotypes implanted in him and in us. But rejection was replaced by recognition and acceptance. Because after knowing, it turned out that there were mothers there just like anywhere else.


In the meantime I also got to know Giza, Zsanett’s mum. She founded the association with her mother. Her mother was a wise and hard-working woman. Her alcoholic husband was, to put it mildly, a hindrance, but she never let him. She was widowed at the age of 37 with 7 children. From then on, she became the head of the family and even the head of the colony. (In the Nagykálló colony, there is always a strong and wise gypsy woman to whom people turn for advice, whose word counts.)

Although the conditions were harsh, there was one significant difference. There was no gap between Roma and non-Roma. The “Hungarian” children went to the roma camp to play with the roma children and vice versa. The adults also lived in peace with each other, they also got together, stopped to talk in the street. As Giza said,

there were no Romas and Hungarians, but there were good and bad people.

And there was work to be had, whatever your background.

Giza also told us that the house that is home to the association was also built by her grandmother. She took a loan from the bank and slowly built the house with her own two hands. She did all this while they were very poor. Many times Giza was literally starving. Because of the Roma culture, Giza had no chance to continue her education, even though she wanted to. It was only when she married that she started to educate herself.

But he gave his children what he could not have. Both girls, Zsanett and Boglárka, are now graduates and, together with their mother, are trying to help us “Hungarians” to get to know and accept the Roma.

A képen személy, fedett pályás, piros látható

Automatikusan generált leírás
A képen ruházat látható

Automatikusan generált leírás
A képen személy, szemüveg, visel, ember látható

Automatikusan generált leírás

Mrs Sándorné Balogh, Giza, one of the founders of the association and her daughters Zsanett and Boglárka

In their school, they develop children and educate women. There is so much energy and will to do something in these three women that if they were connected to the grid, half the country would be ablaze. And how nice it would be if the light would go on in their heads! It’s not up to them.

A képen fedett pályás, gyermek, padló, bútorok látható

Automatikusan generált leírás
A képen személy, fedett pályás látható

Automatikusan generált leírás

Developing children from birth to age 8 and educating mothers

Childbirth trauma for a Roma woman

Towards evening, the mothers started to gather. They came with the children, who Bogi was taking care of in the other room. Two lovely ladies from the EMMA Association led the women’s circle that day. The EMMA is a community: a community of peers and professionals, which looks at women’s lives primarily through the period of childbearing and works to improve the social situation of mothers.

I could go into the room. I was honoured to be welcomed by the local women and to participate in this event. I wondered for a while what it would be like if it were the other way round. If I were a Roma and I walked in, unknown to me, as they say, into a tight-knit group of women made up of Hungarians. Then the thought faded as the introductions began. The EMMA people asked us to introduce ourselves by first names, who we are on our mother’s side, whose granddaughter we are, who you are and who your daughter(s) are.

A képen személy, fedett pályás, emberek, csoport látható

Automatikusan generált leírás

The EMMA Association  held az  that day női kört

We then moved on to the birth stories. Well, I’m not saying that light-skinned people are always treated the best – I have personal experience of that – but what they do to Roma women giving birth is the lowest of all. They humiliate them and treat them like dogs. If a pregnant woman begs them to look at her because she thinks something is wrong, they just look down and ignore her. Some women have given birth in the corridor because of this, others have had a caesarean section literally at the last minute. If someone is conscious and has their first child over the age of 20, they are told that they must be lying, because they cannot have no children or ten children, because they are gypsies.

Thanks to EMMA, the women present now know what they are entitled to in the hospital and what their rights are. They now know that there are doulas. And if the doula is with them at the birth, they don’t talk to them like a capcarong, because there is a witness. Not to mention how much the doula can help around the birth. She not only massages the mother, but also supports her spiritually. In fact, they already know that they can become a doula and how much they can help their community. What’s more, they pass on the knowledge they have acquired in the women’s circle.

A chilly, yet warm farewell

By the time the women’s round was over, I was freezing. Sándor said he would fire, but there was no firewood. They have no money. And no hot water either, because they’re saving money.

Before leaving, Sándor offered me some homemade brandy, which he had received from a colleague. It was very nice in that cold weather. I made a mental note of this, and Sándor gave me the whole bottle. He gives me presents when he has nothing? When he can’t even afford food for the second half of the month? But if I don’t accept the gift, it’s an insult. It’s part of the Roma culture. It is Roma culture, which is not perfect when it comes to the treatment of women, but apart from that it is beautiful. Everyone should get to know it.

Giza, Zsanett, Boglárka, Sándor, you who are carrying your hard fate with integrity and a straight back, thank you for this day! Thank you for the light you have lit in my mind! Now I know what I suspected, there is no Hungarian and Roma, there is only Hungarian.

If you want to make a difference, support the work of the association. You can help a lot with donations, money or volunteer work. Find them at Facebook, or on this phone number: +36 30 746 0591

This article was written for the MotherNature – Mother Nature Association‘s Ukrainian competition article series for a series of articles. The series continues on Fridays.


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