(Books and Soul interview – Anita Pegán)
The idea to create a „Books and Soul interviews” series struck me not long after I started my blog at the beginning of the year. I had been wondering whom destiny would bring in my way to have these heartwarming conversations with. Luckily, there are quite a few people living among us who make our lives better with their open personalities and selfless actions.
I met Emese Sántha while working on the project „Library that connects”, hosted by the Library of the Parliament. Ten transborder Hungarian librarians spent a month at the library where they took part in meaty professional programmes.
I saw Emese smile almost all the time. Her smile may have a healing effect, whenever we met and she smiled at me, I felt the energy of love emanate and fill me. She is probably not aware of the power of her smile, but those living around her must know it, especially her sister’s four children who call her Manya (the contraction of Mesi – her nickname and Anya – it means „mother” in Hungarian). She spends much time around them and – as she once said – often caresses them to sleep. I believe there must be a magic atmosphere on those evenings. But others also receive affection from her. She volunteers at Caritas where she works with Roma children.
– Tell me about your family and childhood! I assume that’s where your fondness for children comes from.
– I had a very happy childhood. I have a sister who is barely an year older then me, and we have always been very close (interestingly enough she followed this trend and her children are only 11 months apart). We took up sports, English and religion together. My father was very strict, but my mother has always been a typical mother. She pampered us and she still does. The one thing that we missed out on as children and have never repaired since, was the love for animals. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to manage our fear of them, so we are still not on good terms. Apart from that, we had a valuable childhood with a very solidary family (my mother has two sisters and a brother), cozy family events and rituals. Every year in September I still remember the days we spent preparing for school, wrapping our textbooks and copybooks. My mother always paid close attention to create the appropriate atmosphere for the big events. And that goes for all the holidays as well.
– How did volunteering come into your life? What kind of work do you do?
– I first got in touch with volunteering in 2005 in the United States. I was working at a public library at the time and we had many volunteers help us. I immediately liked the idea not only due to its practical use, but also because it gave a sense of usefulness to those who where doing it. Elderly people, as well as disabled people had a chance to make themselves useful. I joined Caritas not too long ago. I take part in a programme aimed at Roma children, it is basically a coaching programme for children aged 6-10. We help them do their homework, we practice reading, writing, counting and there is also a lot of play.
– What does volunteering give you?
– First of all, it gives me the sense of being useful. Those days when I succeed in explaining something to a child and see the enthusiasm he works with, are wonderful. Secondly, it gives me plenty of sunny moments, this is always a
rule, where children are involved. They create and entertain a great atmosphere and are full of stories. Last, but not least, it gives me a chance to get rid of my prejudices concerning the Roma, because unfortunately I do have some. Luckily, less and less.
– Can you remember a touching moment that occured during your work?
– The first occasion, probably. I was very anxious and a little scared of how I would stand up to the challenge. I’m a librarian, not a teacher. There are usually 12-15 children and 3-4 volunteers on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Only four girls came that day and there were 3 of us. From the way they greeted each other, it was immediately obvious that they had a great relationship with the other two „teachers”. They worked diligently for two hours and at the end one of the girls came up to me and gave me a drawing she had drawn for me. It had hearts and flowers on it and she also wrote her name on the paper. I have kept the drawing and still have it. Nowadays they wait for me at the gate and run to be the first to greet me.
– Would you present Caritas?
– Caritas is a charity of the Roman Catholic church. Its programmes involve mainly the underprivileged: the elderly, the sick, the Roma and the poor. Every year (traditionally in November, but this year on the 12th of October) they organize in several cities an event called One Million Stars for the Poor, this is an occasion to light a candle and donate to poor families. In Marosvásárhely Caritas has two permanent programmes, one for Roma children (this is where I’m also involved), and the other for sick children. Volunteers pay them a visit at the hospital and read stories. There are several short-term programmes and they also reply to individual requests. Every summer they organize a camp in a village and volunteers help local people with whatever is needed. This year the camp took place in Máréfalva, they decorated gates, helped in construction, cleaned, and even built a playground in the village.
– What is your opinion on the role of volunteering in the society of the future? Will there be more volunteers?
– Yes, I think there are more and more volunteers. I always meet new people at Caritas events and their emails usually go out to 120- 130 people. There are also many teenagers at these meetings and they are very enthousiastic and active. I am very optimistic concerning the future of volunteering.
– Volunteering and sustainable development are linked in my opinion. Are there any programmes for sustainable development? How popular is this idea?
– Non-governmental organizations that are committed to issues of sustainability, rely heavily on volunteer work. There is an organization called Zöld Székelyföld that is involved – among others – in recycling household oil and many volunteers help them in this work. Rivers and greenbelts are also cleaned by volunteers. Every spring there is a huge cleaning project called Let’s do it Romania and more and more people join in every year. Some initiatives have a positive reception on the political or administrative level as well, a few cities have joined the Earth hour by shutting down public lighting for an hour. The paper, plastic and glass refuse must be separated in all institutions and there is a way to dispose of electronic waste as well. All in all, I think there is a campaign in this direction and more and more people adhere to this cause.