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A US student studying in Hungary was stunned by the refugee crisis at his doorstep and felt compelled to do something.

David Karas wrote in early November at the Christian Science Monitor, “Among those struck by the extreme hardships confronting the refugees is a graduate student from Mobile, Ala., who had been traveling in Europe. Motivated to find a way to help, he used his background in information technology and software to help provide something in high demand but extremely scarce: information.

“David Altmayer has launched the Refugee Help Map – an interactive mapping platform using Google tools that provides details on where refugees are traveling and what needs they have – to assist volunteers in best providing aid.

“ ‘At the beginning, it was just to get more information out there,’ Mr. Altmayer says. ‘I started helping in the first place because I couldn’t just sit by and not help. And then I just tried to find ways that I could best use my skill set to help.’

“Altmayer had worked in Seattle on IT and software projects, and is currently pursuing an MBA and master’s degree in global management through the Thunderbird Graduate School of Global Management and the University of Indiana, Bloomington. In order to finish his degree, he had to select a couple of courses that would be held abroad. …

“ ‘I live about one kilometer [0.6 miles] from the main railway station here in Budapest,’ he says, By mid-August, migrants had begun to flock to the station to take shelter. ‘Every day there were more and more people basically living there – camping, setting up tents, sleeping on cardboard,’ he says.

“Some of Altmayer’s friends had been providing support to refugees, mainly by bringing them meals. Altmayer noticed other volunteer groups were providing assistance. Wanting to learn more, he began to explore online – only to discover a need that he and his computer-literate colleagues could help to address.

“ ‘More and more people had been asking where they could get information in English,’ he says. Most efforts to provide information were in Hungarian. Before he knew it, he had become part of a group that launched an English website, making details about locations and needs accessible to English-speaking refugees and volunteers. …

“In the first six weeks the map was online, it received more than 80,000 views. It is constantly updated with markers indicating the location and urgency of needs, as well as comments about conditions facing refugees.

“ ‘There are so many people using it and counting on it,’ Altmayer says.”

More here. I do love stories about people working to solve a problem by offering the skills they have.

Photo: Andrea Giuliano
US college student David Altmayer created the online Refugee Help Map while living in Budapest, Hungary. Here he is shopping for supplies to help  migrants in Serbia.

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Photograph: James Montague for The New York Times
Outside the Vakar Lajos rink, where the Hungarian name of the Romanian ice hockey team, Hoki Sport Club Csikszereda, is printed on the ice.

I don’t follow ice hockey, but a recent article on ethnic Hungarians playing for the Romanian ice hockey team caught my eye.

I already knew that a chunk of Romania is like a little Hungary because my church and a church in Transylvania (20 percent ethnic Hungarian) have a longstanding relationship. Exchanges back and forth occur nearly every year.

So in flipping past the sports section the other day, I couldn’t ignore an article by James Montague on the irony of Romania, a country that under communism repressed ethnic Hungarians, having so many of them on their national ice hockey team. A feeder team in Miercurea Ciuc, Romania, calls itself Szekely Land, after a former province of the Kingdom of Hungary.

“The Szekely Land, named for a warrior tribe that dates to the Middle Ages, is a Hungarian-dominated area of Romania, covering three counties in the center of the country. The roughly 1.2 million Hungarians represent Romania’s largest ethnic minority, about 6 percent of the country’s population. The fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I marooned millions of Hungarians in what is now Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and Serbia. The Szekely found themselves cut off and subject to a policy of assimilation, including heavy restrictions on the use of their language, under the former communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.”

Sometimes having so many ethnic Hungarians on the Romania team can lead to unhockeylike situations. The “anomaly reached a critical point during a 2011 game between Romania and Hungary in Miercurea Ciuc,” writes Montague. “After the game, almost all of Romania’s players joined with their opponents to sing the Hungarian anthem.

“ ‘Some of the paparazzi caught it, and it was a big scandal,’ said Attila Goga … who has played for the Romanian national team for a decade but holds dual Romanian-Hungarian citizenship. ‘It’s a little bit strange, but I can see that, too. They don’t understand our situation here.’ ” More.

My advice to autocrats: Don’t try to change people’s language. It always ends badly.

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