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János’s Turn of Fate

 Flaszter (Hungary) 15 February 2019

When Hungarian street paper’s Ibolya Moldován met János, she did not expect to be moved quite as much as she was. Here, she shares the story of János’s life, from his difficult childhood, disrupted by family deaths and neglect, to the present day, as the young man lives in a hostel trying to get his life back on track. (1228 Words) - By Ibolya Moldován


I have found it very difficult to come to terms with what I learnt about the life and struggles of a 21-year-old young man. It has taken me weeks to decide whether I had the right to shed light on every detail of his life to our readers. Have I got the right to shock and sadden others? The realities of János's plight do not allow for indifference. Considerations of human rights issues may also deem a full account of his sufferings brought on by his family (mainly his mother) inappropriate. But the decision was made: I cannot remain silent. It is the knowledge of his background that enables us to fully appreciate the journey that he has made through sheer determination and hard work - and the support of others.

Let's start with the basic facts. János was born in Esztergom, Hungary, in 1988. He grew up in the village of Dömsöd with his parents and four brothers in a small flat. Later his parents built a two-level flat with help from the local council, but they did not stay there for long. His eldest brother went to live with his mother's relative in Piliscsaba, a village in the Budapest metropolitan area, without his parents' consent. This caused a lot of friction in the family; despite his mother's efforts to keep him home, he continued to run away. János's father had previous problems with alcohol, which were worsened by his eldest son's 'escapes'. The children, including János, couldn't sleep at night because of the constant arguments.  Things became really bad when his mother met and fell in love with another man for whom she would later leave her husband. She moved out with three of her five children, János and his two younger brothers, Balázs and Zsolt. Their old home was now empty, as János's father moved back to grandma's house while János's mother and three of her children were now living with her new partner and his daughters in Piliscsaba. The girls from János's stepfather's previous relationship did not take to their new stepmother and vented their anger on the younger children, who were often subject to beatings. They also suffered physical abuse inflicted by their stepfather.

János was only eight at the time but he has lived through three moves, vicious night time rows, and unjustifiably severe beatings which his mother did nothing to stop. When the children told their grandmother about their treatment during one of her visits, she took them all to live with her in Tahitótfalu. Their mother was pleased to learn about their departure; she continued to claim benefits for the children, spending the money on herself. She never once visited her young children at their grandmother's.

Death dealt another blow: János's stepfather died in 2002 and his grandmother died of a brain haemorrhage. In the meantime the local authority in Dömsöd demolished their old home, arguing that they did not live there on a residential basis. Balázs had a place to live, he met a girl whom he moved in with. Zsolt fell ill and was taken to a psychiatric hospital from school, where he underwent long-term treatment. János was taken in by his godmother. The death of his gran and the change of environment had taken their toll: János didn't seem to care about anything; he dropped out of school in his sixth year of primary school.

Where can we go from here? What gave strength to this young man to get back up on his feet? It is worth mentioning that he stayed with his older brother for a while and was able to contribute to his keep after finding a job. However, due to redundancies János had to take a pay-cut and was less and less able to pay his share, to his sister-in-law's dismay.  As a jobseeker he completed his primary education with the help of his local job centre. Despite the importance of his studies, his brother's family gave him a hard time because he did not contribute to the household. When he could take it no longer, he was advised to apply for a place in Dózsa Halfway Hostel by his classmates.

His mother, who moved back to Gran's house, died in February. That summer János was invited back to his older brother's house, so he could look after his nieces. Once they did not need him anymore in August, he was sent away. He got another chance to stay in Dózsa Hostel, despite the long waiting lists.

Things turned for the better with the help of a non-profit organisation. Studying was still important in order to achieve his goals, but he arrived in Budapest without a penny in his pocket. He applied for admission to a secondary grammar school without having any money to cover his registration fees.  Kölesné Zsuzsanna Bukovics, a worker at his local jobcentre, suggested he try the Nonprofit Alapítvány (Non-profit Foundation). It was at the jobcentre where he completed a retail course for cashiers and shop assistants. In October he applied for a job with FKFSZ (Budapest Public Employment Service) and was given a job after a successful interview. He has been working there since November and has been attending various training courses as well as an evening secondary course. He has no contact with his family; his oldest brother became a drug addict, his other brother lives in Szeged with his two daughters and does not keep in touch. He is unable to help his mentally ill brother, Balázs, and his fourth brother, who has his own family now, will only speak to him when János is able to give him money. János's father is now a chronic alcoholic, unable to communicate. János, despite staying at a hostel, dreams of living in his own home without fights and arguments, and wants to study, to progress.

János has support to achieve his goals: the employees of the Non-profit Foundation and his colleagues who give him emotional and professional support. He can also rely on the invaluable support of Nagyné Tímea Simon, the social worker at Dózsa Hostel, along with all other hostel staff. His daily routine is very demanding, study and work being the focus of each day. Despite starting work at 7.30, he is up at 5am and does not dare to go back to sleep. He washes, he gets ready, he thinks through what he needs to do that day. He fulfills his duties on very little sleep.  He has friends at school now, who have only recently learned about his secret: he doesn't have his own home, he is 'only' staying in a hostel. I had to reassure him several times throughout our conversation: it's OK, he has nothing to be ashamed of. He is able to stand straight after so much hardship, he hasn't gone under… is it worth rebelling? He is doing just that: he is waging a war against ignorance and cruelty - he is carving out a better future with his own hands.

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