23.08.2016 PROJECTS

Kalunba Social Services: a holistic approach to refugee education

EAEA GRUNDTVIG AWARD 2016. “Integration works if we work together,” says Dóra Kanizsai-Nagy, co-founder of Kalunba Social Services in Budapest. The organisation implements a number of projects to support refugees in building a new life in Hungary through various forms of learning. In a conversation with EAEA, Dóra shares the challenges and success factors in working with refugees.

The article series shares good practices by introducing the nominees of the EAEA Grundtvig Award 2016.

A friendly environment for learning: this is what Kalunba Social Services in Budapest aim to provide for their refugee learners. Dóra Kanizsai-Nagy co-founded the organisation with a firm belief in a cooperative spirit: “We all have talents that we can share and enrich each other with,” she explains.

Kalunba Social Services offer various forms of learning: vocational trainings with internships, non-formal cultural learning experiences and counselling sessions with social workers, mentors and peer helpers. While the offer is wide, Dóra singles out Hungarian classes to be of crucial importance for refugees.

“We believe that the first step of integration is the language of the country which they live in,” she says.

Language as the backbone

With a license from the Hungarian Adult Education Office, Kalunba gives refugees a chance to learn the language and ultimately receive a certificate. This is particularly important since adults recognized as refugees have no official opportunity to learn the Hungarian language.

Kalunba’s staff members admit that teaching refugees requires specific skills.

“As a novice teacher, having to teach Hungarian without a common foreign language was my greatest challenge,” says one of Kalunba’s teachers.

“Sometimes it is difficult to explain a word to them, especially if it is a concept. In some cases there are also problems with the Hungarian-Arab dictionary, so you can barely rely on that.”

An additional difficulty arises when a student does not know the Latin alphabet or is illiterate even in their mother tongue. It is with those learners in mind that the center is developing a special teaching material. Kalunba is also running a project that aims to create a tool to help diagnose and manage the therapy of students with learning difficulties.

The friendly way

Dóra stresses the one aspect that all refugees, regardless of their background, need to succeed: an informal atmosphere that fosters cooperation.

“Friendliness can create a peaceful environment for learning, and peace is necessary if we want someone to learn efficiently,” she tells EAEA.

Dóra adds that a relaxed attitude to the learning process is of paramount importance to make sure that the students continue learning.

"They do not have to know everything without mistakes, but they need to be able to communicate and express themselves in every situation,” she says. “We do not want to deter them from learning Hungarian because of the initial difficulties, we want them to use the language and be able to express what they intend to say.”

Kalunba assures a peaceful atmosphere and a personalized approach to learners in a number of ways: by running small groups, with up to five students, by helping out learning mothers with childcare and by involving volunteer mentors and peer-to-peer helpers as well as local schools, family support centers and municipalities.

Engaging such a wide network of collaborators is essential for yet another reason: Dóra points out that most of the Hungarian society remains mistrustful towards refugees and it is important to prove otherwise.

“We want to emphasize that integration of migrants and refugees really can be successful – in today’s Hungary few people believe this. It works if we work together,” says Dóra.

“And learning and knowledge are among the most important tools to succeed,” she concludes.

The project: Kalunba Social Services



Text: Aleksandra Kozyra
Photos: Kalunba Social Services