Blog post by Brussels Volunteer Evelin
A few weeks ago, we took some of the youth from the WSP/Uccle centers to Mini-Europe. For those not familiar, Mini-Europe is kind of an outdoor museum, housing replicas of famous European sights and landmarks. The youth seemed to enjoy it, especially taking pictures, and trying all the fun interactive bits in the park. It was a great way for them to see some of the different cultures and landscapes that exist throughout Europe, and allowed them to maybe learn a bit more about their current place of residence, and hopefully, their new home.
I’ve been volunteering with SB Espoir since last September, and it’s been a great experience getting to know the youth and participating in the many different weekend activities with them.
In many ways, SB was a first for me. I had met refugees in Brussels, but all of them adults, most of whom had already been here for a while and were slowly integrating into Belgian life. My experience meeting the youth with SB was quite different – these were unaccompanied minors, mostly teens, who had very recently arrived in Brussels, and were still trying to find their place and adapt to this very new environment. As volunteers, we are warned to be respectful of their privacy, not to pry into their past, circumstances, or personal life. However, the youth are usually very friendly, and keen to share and bond with us. We’ve heard some of their stories, and it can be very surreal to witness them recounting their difficult experiences, while doing something as banal as painting or playing Uno.
These stories can be particularly hard to hear, especially as a Hungarian.
When we got to the Hungarian display in Mini-Europe, standing in front of a replica of the beautiful and historical Széchenyi-spa, some of the boys from the center overheard me talking to someone about my country. They turned and asked ‘Oh, you’re from Hungary?’. I replied yes. One of them started sharing their story with me and some others around us. He told us how he and his fellow travellers had been treated at the Hungarian border, and how law enforcement and nearby villagers treated them. I stood and listened, and couldn’t think of much to say, except ‘It’s a bad place. I know. I’m sorry.’
As uncomfortable and awkward as I felt in that moment, I in no way felt attacked or offended throughout this conversation. If anything, I was surprised the person recounting this did so in such a nonchalant and respectful manner – more anecdotic than accusatory. I am of course aware of the anti-immigration stance and the resulting policies that dominate Hungarian politics. This is an unfortunate truth that I admit and acknowledge. I would never want to ignore it or shove it aside, because I believe that is how these issues get normalized and are allowed to continue.
I grew up in Hungary, and still consider it my home, for all intents and purposes. I love the country for its buzzing, ever-changing capital, its hidden little wonders of nature. I love our ridiculously complicated but wondrously unique language. I love and miss the food, the quirky traditions, and my friends and family I’ve left behind.
But at the same time, I feel very conflicted, especially when hearing stories like this. I am ashamed that this country I have only fond memories of was such a source of distress to these boys.
I realized that by hearing such stories, I was being confronted with the reality of what is happening. Having an actual human stand before me, representing the consequences of the political decisions and actions that have been taken – something that most of the Hungarian population has not experienced. It was disquieting, humbling, and emotional.
I hope that the youth will get the chance to create positive, happy memories living in Europe, to balance out all the hardships they have endured to get here. I hope they will succeed in making this their new home. I hope that we at SB Espoir can make this transition a little bit easier for them, through recreation, inclusion, and education. I wish them the best, and I am grateful to have gotten to share so many pleasant moments with them, throughout my year of volunteering with SB.