TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs respond to COVID-19: Hungary

In March 2020, when COVID-19 began to sweep across Europe, services provided to children, families, and communities were heavily impacted. Physical distancing has exacerbated many issues present in communities across the globe, from the lack of access to technology for many families to violence within homes.

The measures that were taken across Europe, and elsewhere, are impacting all aspects of life. TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs are no exception, but their quick mobilization and innovative practices have meant that staff members are still reaching out and engaging with the community even without the physical space the Play Hubs normally are housed in.

TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs, which operate in 8 countries to provide inclusive spaces for young children and their families, have continued to support them through flexible solutions. The Local Action Teams tasked with operating the 15 Play Hubs under this project have sprung into action to adjust activities to address community challenges, often ways formal services haven’t been able to. The work of these teams has continued and, in many cases, intensified.

Due to their unique and well-established position within communities, they are a trusted resource and support system for families that are facing any number of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic shines a light on the essential elements of the TOY for Inclusion project – intersectoral work as a way to address complex issues, innovative and flexible solutions tailored to communities and the development of inclusive and easy to reach services.

Each country has developed a tailored response under extremely challenging circumstances. In the coming weeks, TOY partners will share insights into their response efforts. Here, we share the response from Hungary.

Collecting data and addressing immediate needs

Schools in Hungary were closed on March 16th and immediately went to online platforms, highlighting some of the challenges for children attending Play Hubs. Online education is not accessible to many children who were attending Play Hubs.

The most disadvantaged groups of the society are the most vulnerable in this situation, especially poor Roma, and segregated school communities. These communities have less access to health services. Individuals in these communities also often lose their jobs first and become food insecure, have trouble education their children, and staying isolated in small areas.

TOY for Inclusion partner, Partners Hungary, is also part of a consortium working toward desegregation in Hungary. Thus, they have decided to start a survey that targets teachers, Civil Society Organizations that operate extracurricular activities for Roma children (called Tanodas) and Roma organizations to map how the pandemic’s impact on the poorest with special focus on Roma communities.

Within a week, more than 400 teachers filled the online questionnaire. The data collected shows that one third of the Roma children are totally excluded from education. It is also clear that teachers are not receiving proper support from school authorities to improve access for Roma children.

Partners Hungary is supporting many communities through various projects in five locations. They’ve distributed health and sanitary products, such as maskers and hand sanitizer. In addition, they are facilitating parent-teacher dialogue online to support Roma children in the move to online education. For children without access to devices, they’ve collected and distributed 45 tablets. 

Both Play Hubs in Csobanka and Nagydobos have closed down physically but have continued their activities online.

In Csobanka, the Play Hub organized a live-streaming session with local experts to share information. The local pediatrician, a psychologist (expert in stress management), and a teacher live-streamed a conversation discussing the challenges caused by Covid-19 according to their expertise.

The Play Hub offers information on activities that parents can do with their children on Facebook and there are several events arranged online. The first May Day celebration will happen online with active participation from the Play Hub Coordinator. May 1st is Labor Day in many countries, including Hungary. The Play Hub will play a crucial role in providing activities for families that day.

In Nagydobos, a Facebook page also offers families information on playing together and encourages them to take pictures and to activities with others.

A community gardening project has started, which will cover more land than in previous years. Though families are keeping the required distance from one another, this opportunity gives them a sense of belonging in the community. Which is of particular importance now with physical distancing measures. And, families will benefit from the fresh produce they harvest!