My Fulbright experience as a lecturer at Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary in fall, 2009, began with visits to Roma health fairs with local Susan B. Komen Foundation staff that were arranged by Komen of Fort Worth, Texas, where I taught at UNT Health Science Center.
We rode in a taxi from our flat near Erze’bet Hid (bridge) with a staff person from Open Society Roma health services while passing other towns. Our driver, a Jewish Community Center technician, treated us at a landmark ice cream/pastry restaurant on the way. This event at the end of summer, coordinated with the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Open Society Roma Initiatives, Red Cross, and local health services, was set for several days.
On the first day, the Roma Minority Self-Government leader welcomed everyone to the community center grounds – the regional health director, health agencies’ staff, nurses, volunteers, and Roma residents. Many families came to spend a day of health and cancer screenings, feast on sandwiches and goulyash, and enjoy Roma singing and dancing; this memorable introduction to Hungary contrasted with events in more marginalized villages. That same evening as we returned, our hostess and her colleague departed for a Leonard Cohen concert, and the driver took us back to our flat.
At a second health fair in Ny’rezhaza, an industrial (former military) town near Ukraine and Romania, Roma HumanNet health and social services provided health education, screenings, and referrals to a healthcare center for mammograms with Austrian social work students observing. During the return trip, our taxi broke down outside of Miskolcz, but was soon repaired.
The third health fair, in a former school building in Tizabo, a Roma farming community north of the city of Szolnok, was to be coordinated with a nearby town that did not want to participate with Roma; this meant that separate fairs were held and Open Society staff did not attend the latter. We were driven to Tizabo Cultural Center by Budapest health agency staff. A large number of families came for health and cancer screenings, education, and vision tests; children displayed their drawings, and several women challenged a Roma National Health Development speaker on “empowerment” for “not helping the Roma” with basic needs. The day ended with a performance by Budapest singers and dancers, who drove us back to Pest. These experiences, and our research on the historic American Medical Association of Vienna and family history, enriched my international academic role with valuable insight into Hungarian society and history.
Sue Gena Lurie – Fulbright to Hungary 2009