Mrs. Ferenc Gondi, host of the Morning Star After-School, an institution for Roma children in Kecskemét, is a real angel in everyday life. She has a kind word for everyone, and she goes out of her way to help her students and the children, who have long regarded her as their grandmother. The National Roma Ministry of RCH recognized her ministry granting her the 2021 Reformed Roma Pedagogical Assistant of the Year Award.
What does it mean to you that the professional jury awarded you this year?
I don't like the spotlight, but I was very pleased and surprised when the result was announced. I consider the work I do in the school as service, so it is an honour to be the winner this year. Receiving love, a drawing or a kind word from the children is the real recognition, but I’m also grateful for and enjoy compliments from fellow adults.
Can you tell us about your family you grew up in, and what memories you have of your childhood?
I was born in the so called gypsy town of Kecskemét, a former neighborhood where the big hardware store stands today. My grandparents told me that my great-grandfather, Mihály Ónodi, was the gypsy judge in the community, who was entrusted by the town council with the administration of the affairs of the gypsy people. I have been proud of both this and my Gypsy origin all my life, even though I am only half-Roma: my father was Hungarian and my mother was Gypsy Hungarian. I feel at home in both communities, and I always encourage everyone not to be ashamed of one’s origin.
What did your parents do for a living?
My father worked as a lead molder and my mother as a nurse. I lived in normal circumstances with my five siblings, and I kept a lot of good memories from my childhood. Our Christmases were cosy, we woke up to the smell of Kalács (braided brioche like Hungarian sweet pasty -ed.) and the presents were waited for us under the tree.
What values did you get from home?
That you always do what you have to do. Children should learn and adults have to look after their profession. It was no different when I was raising my own children. I have my principles in this area, although it's true that I was never a strict parent vis-a-vis my sons.
What did you study?
I finished high school in Kecskemét and was accepted to the teacher training college in Baja, but love got in the way. I had a very happy period in my life and, since I had my family, I never felt the lack of not having a degree, not once. The whole world could have fallen apart around me, I found so much joy in raising my sons.
You have a granddaughter, right?
Yes, I have Csilla, and the Lord has also blesse me with many “spiritual” grandchildren, because everyone at the school calls me Grandma Karolina. I consider these children a gift from God.
How did you come to faith?
My parents and I went to church on holidays, but other than that we didn't talk about God. Later, when I was a young woman, I started to re-evaluate things, and when I got pregnant, I became interested in how the world was formed and how it works, what makes things around us move. I picked up a Bible, started to get to know God, and with time I came to realize that He loves me and He has been with me. I prayed a lot that after giving birth to my first child everything would go well and that we would live our marriage in love. This is how it turned out. And I felt that God was pleased with me, that I regarded myself as His daughter. God also gives me the strength today to help the children in my own humble way.
Where comes the motivation from to work with children?
I am the eldest child of my parents, and as both my mother and father worked a lot, I was actively involved in raising my siblings. That was until I got married, and from then on I took care of my own children. After my brother-in-law's fatal car accident, I took over the care of the four children he left behind. To my great surprise and joy his son gave me the mother's bouquet at his wedding to me. I came to work at the school from such a background, where the children give us so much love and joy. I think I understand the children's problems because I have been through similar situations as they have. Most often I tell them that God is with them and shows them the way. It might be road full of struggle, but it is a journey worth walking.
How did you cope emotionally with the loss of your husband and the fact that you had to raise four children alone?
With deep sadness and sorrow, but I had to get on with life. I still had to provide for my children. I had to cook, wash, clean, then I had to look for a job and go to work. I prayed a lot to God, who completely transformed my grief. I only remember the good things about it. My late husband worked as a salesman, he only went to school for eight years, finished primary school, but he was a wise and clever man, he could stand on his own two feet. He always tried to help people and fought the last battle of his life with honor.
What do you consider the greatest blessing in your life?
After all my current job, for the reasons mentioned above. Also the fact that I was always able to help others - even when I had nothing myself. A hug, a kind word means a lot. Sometimes I missed my bus, cause I felt I needed to continue the conversation I spontaneously started with random individuals at the bus stop. I know that God inspired and compelled me in those moments.
How long have you been working at the After-School?
The institution was established on January 1 2019, and I have been here from the very beginning - first as a caretaker, sort of warden, and now as a host. But I don't look at it as a job, I see it as a way to relax, actually. I'm taking care of my 84-year-old mother, I help raising my granddaughter, and the school gives me peace of mind in my daily life.
In 2021, you completed the Together for One Another congregational community development training organized by the team of the Roma Ministry of RCH - what have you learnt during the two years of training?
I think that the after school is an integral part of the mission, because we are not only communicating with the children, but we are also in contact with the parents. The training helped us start a journey of bringing Roma and non-Roma people closer together. Being Church Together. I enjoyed every single training weekend. We came from different parts of the country, and had the opportunity to learn important things - from each other, as well.
What other dreams and aspirations do you have?
I would like to have my sons in "safe hands" and I would like to have more grandchildren. And as for my students, I would like to see more of them realize the importance of learning and then find their place, live up to their calling in life. It would be good if everyone in Kecskemét knew that this place is here, a real little island of peace in the everyday lives of children.
Translated and edited by Réka Komáromi