Feature Stories

Jewish Family Service Model Helps Single Mother in Hungary Overcome Hardship

JDC-supported social services in Hungary help families like Hanna’s acquire greater access to community, local, and government resources and ensure that their most pressing needs are met. Photo: Zoltan Szabo
JDC-supported social services in Hungary help families like Hanna’s acquire greater access to community, local, and government resources and ensure that their most pressing needs are met. photo: Zoltan Szabo

The circumstances of poverty are as diverse as the people struggling to overcome them.

Consider Hanna, a 56-year-old single mother of six who lives with youngest son Gábor, 13, in a small village in Hungary.

Several years ago, Hanna’s husband died and her family was thrust into a spiraling period of hardship. She found herself involved in a complicated dispute over her home. While embroiled in this legal battle, she lost her job and was unable to keep up with the monthly bills. Eventually, the family was forced to move to a house in a small town outside of Budapest.

Hanna was grateful to find shelter but the new house was a hovel—no drainage system, no running water, and no gas for heating or cooking. The family gathered wood and twigs to burn for heat. They washed their clothes in an old wash basin and heated the water on an open fire in front of the house. Hot meals were a rarity, and even affording school meals for her children was a problem. For months, Hanna’s inability to pay created problems with the school administration.

In a state of desperation, Hanna turned to the JDC-run Jaffe Jewish Family Service (JFS)*.

Based in Hungary, JFS is a JDC-supported umbrella organization that provides and coordinates comprehensive social support services and referrals for nearly 1000 children and their families struggling to overcome diverse economic, psychological, and other challenges. JFS extends the reach of existing social relief programs so that they can provide additional programming and professional support; and helps families like Hanna’s acquire greater access to community, local, and government resources to ensure that their most pressing needs are met.

JFS immediately arranged for Hanna’s children to receive three hot meals a day, helped Hanna purchase the children’s school supplies, and paid the family’s outstanding debts and the cost of medicines. They even helped her make repairs in the home so the family could have running water and cook warm meals every day.

But as Hanna soon discovered, JFS assistance goes well beyond an initial helping hand. The staff contacted the JDC-run Foundation for Holocaust survivors about her mother, who remained behind in Budapest after the family moved three hours away. The foundation purchased a water heater and installed gas and draining systems in her house, ensuring she would live in dignity and warmth well into her old age.

Meanwhile, Hanna enrolled in a support program for troubled parents run by the JFS, and in the Jewish University of Budapest where she is studying Social Work.

Gábor began attending a Jewish day school, but after being diagnosed with serious learning disabilities he needed to transfer to a local school for children with special needs. With JDC support he attends private developmental therapy sessions and has enriching Jewish experiences at the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation/JDC International Summer Camp at Szarvas, Hungary in the summers.

One by one, Hanna’s older children moved out of the house. Her son József, 19, comes home every weekend to visit his mom and brother. He is still in secondary school, but he no longer needs to make the multi-hour commute to Budapest from the countryside; the JFS helped him move into a dormitory in the capital and assists him with his living expenses while he studies.

Now able to think beyond day-to-day survival, Hanna credits the program with helping her gain confidence and improved communication skills: “Thanks to the Jaffe JFS, I live a happier life and a more meaningful one.”

* JFS is made possible through the continued commitment of generous donors like the Jaffe family of Tidewater, Virginia.

Tags for this story: Children, Disabilities, Employment / Entrepreneurship Training, Families, Water

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