George Soros Would Introduce the Harlem Program to Support Hungarian Roma

George Soros Would Introduce the Harlem Program to Support Hungarian Roma

Link to original Hungarian article:

English version of the Hungarian interview

George Soros Would Introduce the Harlem Program to Support Hungarian Roma

Link to original Hungarian article:

English version of the Hungarian interview

George Soros Would Introduce the Harlem Program to Support Hungarian Roma

00:51 Friday, 22 October 2010

Given the gravity of the situation and Hungary’s imminent EU presidency, George Soros is willing to contribute euro millions to national educational and health programsdesigned to help the Roma building on the experiences gained in the Harlem program and also in Hungary. Own funds for the program would be covered jointly by the billionaire and the Hungarian state. The larger share of the funds would be covered by the European Union’s cohesion fund. Viktor Orbán is positive about the project, said George Soros to Index reporter.

According to reports George Soros met with Viktor Orbán on Tuesday and discussed details of rescue and recovery work in the wake of the red-sludge disaster and also talked about Roma-related EU-programmes. What was the specific subject of this latter discussion?

Hungary is scheduled to take over the EU presidency next year. The western world is showing great interest in the Roma issue and this has only intensified with the French scandal. This has brought about an opportunity for us to make a real difference for the first time since the change of regime. This, however, requires the EU to formulate a strategy on what it wants to do and how it will tackle the problem in coming decades.

So with the Prime Minister you talked about the ways EU cohesion funds may be used to improve the lives of the Hungarian Roma and how Hungary’s presidency may facilitate such efforts?

Yes, that’s right. I also proposed that the Decade of Roma Inclusion should be extended because the program is working and it has the added benefit of linking neighbouring member states with countries outside the European Union, and the advantage of involving members of the Roma community. What I would like is for the EU to take the project over and monitor its operation better.

Obama’ Favourite Program
The Harlem Children’s Zone is one of the most recognised and successful community rehabilitation programs in the US. It aims to stop poverty from being inherited from parents to children. Its conception dates back to the 1970s: it was originally the first truancy-prevention programin New York’s renowned black quarter, Manhattan. With the penetration of crack, later it also dealt with drug related harm reduction.
The present president and CEO, Geoffrey Canada joined the work in 1990. Under his guidance, emphasis was gradually being shifted to education to pave the way for impoverished Harlem children to higher education and the labour market. HCZ looks after children practically from their conception and their families: they run parental workshop practices, pre-kindergarten and pre-school programmes, they operate three special curriculum high-schools (charter schools), and a child-oriented healthcare program affecting many thousands of families.
The HCZ is a non-profit organisation; it had a budget of app. USD 40 million in 2010. Its activities encompass 97 clusters of houses in central Harlem. In 2010, the Obama administration earmarked USD ten million for the extension of the HCZ-model in other large US cities. The HCZ is declaredly Barack Obama’s favourite social program while the First Lady has repeatedly called Geoffrey Canada a hero.

What is the role of your organisations in this process?

The foundation has been dealing with the Roma for decades now and we have several recommendations to make building on the experiences we have gained.

Could this be related to the fact that there have been reports suggesting that a program is about to launch in Hungary with your support on the model of Harlem Children’s Zone, which had been supported by one of your organisations, the Open Society Foundations. Are there any such plans?

It is very important that already before the birth of a child, during the pregnancy of the mother, we intervene and after giving the mother the necessary support, we provide educational and health support to the child from the moment of birth quite until the completion of studies, even well into the university years. Now the HCZ have wide experience in this. But I would like to clear here: we are certainly not about to build another Harlem here. Harlem is in New York; the problems there must be addressed over there.

But has the adaptation of the model been on the agenda?

What we want to achieve is that Roma children regularly go to school where they are not segregated. Now for this they need our help otherwise all the other parents will fear that their kids will receive poorer education. The general standard of education must be improved while Roma kids need additional tutoring after school in the afternoon to help them perform better in school.

Am I right to believe that there has been talk about Geoffrey Canada, the president and CEO of HCZ, coming to Hungary on a visit?

Geoffrey Canada is a very busy man. He has been very successful at running the HCZ, and has been given federal support to bring about similar initiatives in other cities as well. He is ready to visit Hungary, but he will not be able to deal with the Hungarian program in person.

Did you talk about any specific program with the head of government?

We talked about the European Union. I also met up with János Lázár, the mayor of Hódmezővásárhely, who has been very successful in the integration of the Roma and children living in poverty. The Hódmezővásárhely model can also be used elsewhere. I have also visited Ács, where there is a very successful program under way. Using European funds, they have improved the quality of education and school facilities and eventually elected the school principal, a Roma himself, to be the mayor of Ács.

If there was a national program launched in Hungary with serious EU funding, would any one of the Soros organisations be joining in?

We have already been active in Hódmezővásárhely and Ács mainly through the Roma Education Fund. There are many tens of millions in the European Union earmarked for such purposes, but only a small fraction of it ever reaches the Roma, because the cities and counties tend not to submit applications to try to win these funds.

So then, what we are essentially talking about here is that if the Hungarian state together with one of your organisations contributes to ensure that own funds are available for any such program, then large amounts of EU funds will be available for the purpose, is that right?

Yes, that’s right. We can see which programs are able to function and can make a difference. Along the lines of these projects, we have to start working with pregnant mother, then we must carry on with the program in the kindergarten where children need personally-tailored education. And if any particular child is not given the necessary support at home, a school mentor must be appointed to provide him/her the help and assistance other children receive at home. This is what works, and this is the kind of initiative we would like to dissipate.

But this also requires that the EU’s support schemes be changed. What opportunities will be available for this under Hungary’s presidency?

We must change the way the EU works because according to the current regulations, there is money available for the launch of programs, but there are no funds to sustain them. Now these programs require years and even decades to make a difference. What we ought to be aiming at during the Hungarian presidency is to ensure that funds are also made available for the operation of such programs.

How did Mr Viktor Orbán react to your proposition?


Approximately how much money are you ready to put into this?

We are already spending large amounts today and I am ready to spend more. However, we can only promote the birth of such programmes, but are unable to sustain them in the long-run.We cannot operate them on the scale that would be necessary. The Roma Education Fund, which is by and large run on my support, is planning to raise the number of supported children in 5 years’ time to 30 thousand. However, this is still only the tenth of what there is need for. This I am not able to finance myself, this requires the additional inclusion of public money.
How much would you be willing to contribute yourself to ensure that own funds are available for such a program?
We are essentially talking about millions of euros, but I cannot tell you exactly how many millions because it largely depends on the circumstances and the opportunities behind them.

How problematic do you think it is that government politicians have been talking about the failure of integration in education?

I do not have sufficient information on this. I do not read the newspapers and do not follow events. We do not only have programs in Hungary and not only Hungary has a Roma population.

Was there any talk with the head of government about scheduling?

No, there wasn’t.