TOY for Inclusion Conversations: Play Hub Coordinators from Hungary

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers and activities continue to occur in online spaces, TOY for Inclusion is taking advantage of this movement online to showcase some of the most influential and crucial voices of the TOY for Inclusion project.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve shared updates on the work of partners involved in the project. We’ve also highlighted insights from municipalities about the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs’ unparalleled importance in communities.

Now, we’re handing the microphone to those who are working in the Play Hubs. Listen to hear what Teri, Piri and Bea, Local Action Team (LAT) Coordinators in Hungary, want you to know about their work.

Meet the interviewees

Name: Kanalas Terez (Teri)
Years working as LAT coordinator: 3

Name: Lakatos Richardne Piroska (Piri)
Years working as LAT coordinator: 3

Name: Szabo Beata (Bea)
Years working as LAT coordinator: 1

Q: What do you think makes the TOY for Inclusion approach unique or different from other initiatives for young children and their families?

Teri: From the very start, creating a welcoming atmosphere in the Play Hub was very important. It is a safe place for the families, not only because they have access to toys but also because they are loved and cared for. That is why it is different. 

Bea: The main difference is that most programs target children, but the Play Hubs are for the whole family; the parents, the grandparents, and the relatives. Adults can talk to each other as well, so this is for building community. Another aspect is that we target families with very different backgrounds from the community, and a group of local professionals support its operation.  

Q: We know that one of the most important features of the TOY for Inclusion approach is the flexibility, can you explain how your Play Hub adapted during the pandemic?

Piri: During the pandemic, we all are restricted; rules regulate our work, but we did not want to limit our relationship with the families, so we turned to the online space. We invited the families to contribute by reading poems, telling tales, and discussing how they spend their days in the new situation.

Bea: Following the national restrictions and rules, we changed to an online operation as well. We had a continuous dialogue with the Nagydobos Play Hub to share ideas between the local families and the professionals. Our idea was to find ways to help the families to cope with this new situation. We asked the local pediatrician (who is a member of the Local Action Team) to talk about the pandemic from a health perspective. A psychologist also guided us on dealing with distancing, and a teacher helped the children and parents do schooling from home. A special educator advised the parents if they should ask their kids to continue the school tasks during the summer or not. 

I want to highlight two community events. We held an online May Day event, which was a one-day program for the local families. In cooperation with the local professionals, we created short creative videos to entertain and activate the families for the whole day. The other was the online Advent Tale Calendar. Each day during Advent, a parent, a child, a local professional, a member of the local coordination team, or a colleague from Partners Hungary recorded a tale. We posted them on the Play Hub Facebook page. 

It has been challenging as, after six months of regular operation, we had to close down again, but it seems that the community remained together and followed us. One of our videos reached 30,000 people. 

Q: Can you tell us about one reaction, feedback or comment from a family or child attending your Play Hub that had an impact on you personally, or that ‘touched your heart’? 

Bea: There is a very shy young boy, and after the third visit, he held my hand at a carnival in the garden. I like it so much when I walk down the street and children greet me, asking when the next time they come to Play Hub will be. I heard a story from my colleague about a little boy who enjoyed playing with a toy, and he liked it so much that he asked for the same for his birthday.

Another meaningful memory for me was a therapy workshop where children talked about their fears, and the parents also had good discussions with a psychologist. For me, that was a little miracle event. 

Teri: It happened at the very beginning, a grandmother came to the Play Hub with her grandson for the first time. The little boy looked into the Play Hub, turned to his grandma, and said: “Let’s go home; I’d like to change and put on my nice clothes to come here.” It was so memorable for me that I will never forget. 

Q: What are two things you want policy makers to know about TOY for Inclusion?

Piri: In Nagydobos, the most important thing is that there is a place where families with different backgrounds can come together. They can talk and discuss things. Mothers are also able to exchange experiences, so there is a shared space. Mothers can learn how to play with their children here. There is always some housework to do if they are at home, cleaning, cooking, and there is no time to play with their children. Here it is possible: playing obliviously together.

Bea: I can connect to what Piri has said. This program builds community. Something was missing here in Csobanka. Families did not have much to do or a place where children could go after school to play for half an hour. Besides, it strengthens the community. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge that the local professionals hold about the families, and previously there was no forum to get together and share. 

Q: Can you share in a few words what makes you proud to be a Local Action Team coordinator/Play Hub Assistant? 

Teri: What I’m very proud of is that we can keep up the quality of our work.

Bea: The LAT became a professional forum here. We can count on each other, which was proven by the big online events that I have already mentioned, the online May Day and Advent Tale series. I think the Play Hub now has prestige, and it has spread in the neighboring villages that Csobanka has a Play Hub. 

Piri:  I’m the proudest that the Play Hub is three years old here, and we can count on the local professionals; at any community event, they come to volunteer. 

Whatever our problem is, whatever we would like to organize, we can turn to them. And what is even more important is that we have built and kept the trust of the families, the local professionals, and directors of the local institutions. 

Piri, Teri, Bea, thank you for sharing your perspective.

Watch the interview in Hungarian.