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Home  >  Features  >  The Coronavirus Diaries: Physically Distant but Close in Spirit



The Coronavirus Diaries: Physically Distant but Close in Spirit

Wednesday August 19 2020

The Rev Balaz Odor is the Ecumenical Officer in the Hungarian Reformed Church, based in Budapest. He shares a reflection from a student at one of the church's colleges.

When the restrictions and the temporary closure of universities were announced in Hungary, both Roma Collegia of the Reformed Church in Hungary, respectively in Debrecen and Budapest, suspended their operations – at least within the walls of the institutions.

Although the students had to go home, the activities were still just as intensive as before: taking full advantage of online opportunities, the institutions provided professional programmes, language classes and spiritual-social community.

But these institutions are actually residence for Roma students studying at different universities. They provide support in the form of financial aid, housing, additional coursework and mentoring.

Aside from academic opportunities, the students are encouraged to explore Roma spirituality and culture as well. Scholarships, social activities, as well as volunteering opportunities and community service are provided by the programme. Their operation was one of the encouraging signs that community life and social support of the vulnerable people can continue even in time of physical distance.

Georgina Laboda, Student of Political Sciences and resident of the Special College in Budapest (RefoRom) shared her reflection under the title “Don’t Let Them Down” on the social consequences of COVID-19 for the Roma communities in Hungary. Giving her a voice is a chance to listen to those who are among the most vulnerable in society.

When lockdown happened, to be honest, at first I was happy, because as a university student in Budapest, I looked forward to see my beloved family and spending more time with them. But soon I became aware of the serious consequences this situation would have on our economy, and how people’s lives would be threatened by the virus.

Due to the shutdown children and schools switched to digital education, at least those who were able to do so. In most of the underprivileged communities in Hungary, students simply don’t have the necessary tools to join the online education. Schools which were prepared for the lack of computers and internet access among pupils, have distributed offline exercise sheets for the kids, and have tried to keep them in education by using other ‘non-digital’ training opportunities, so that they can finish the school year successfully.

It has been common in underprivileged Roma communities that people financed their households from occasional jobs, and after these opportunities were gone, a lot of families started drifting towards utter hopelessness. With the loss of income they are not only unable to pay back loans, but will suffer more and slide towards the debt trap. Still there are people for whom usury remains the only way to survive and who will have to pay the money back to usurers, who misuse the Corona crisis with disproportionately high interest.

Roma people are overrepresented among socially disadvantaged communities in Hungary. Most of the time they are living in segregation, in houses without any comfort at the margins of settlements. Healthcare professionals recommend proper hygiene, frequent hand washing, and social distancing. Measures that are hard to implement under segregated living conditions. If the virus penetrated these closed communities, it would have serious consequences.

In addition to all this, the coronavirus crisis can potentially incite hatred against Roma communities. And we cannot tolerate people’s rights being restricted under the pretext of the coronavirus.

Don’t let COVID-19 divide our people and deepen already existing social fault lines even more!

For me personally, this virus has revealed that people are able and willing to join forces – as they should. We are experiencing the biggest crisis of our lifetime; we don’t know how long it will last, and what consequences it will still have. We can already see that the crisis and uncertainty particularly affect the poorest and the most vulnerable people. We all suffer from this situation, still we shouldn’t let them down!

Full reflection: 

The Coronavirus Diaries: Updates from Church of Scotland partners around the world

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Argentina: Time in Between
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Jerusalem: Being Rather than Doing
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