Deviszont Közösségi Tér: a new community space for teenagers in the periphery of Budapest

Deviszont is a community space located in the suburban area of Budapest. It offers non-formal educational activities and space for the socialization of disadvantaged working class teenagers. Deviszont was recently opened by a group of young professionals following a long process consisting of organisation and fundraising, as well as the refurbishment of a vacant building.

What do you hope to achieve with this organization?

Our goal is to create a community space with educational programs and projects for disadvantaged teenagers in Budapest. There are few similar projects in Budapest as well as in Hungary, but they mostly target Romani children of very early age such as 6 years old. We however, wanted to target working class children in a broader sense and in the teenage age group. Many young people lack something meaningful to invest their time with, and they just spend their after-school time on the streets. Alongside education programs, our plan is to also provide an open space dedicated solely for their use, where they can safely hang out, hopefully creating a community where teenagers get organized among themselves and with our help.

Hungarian education has always been problematic because of the huge divide between the elite high schools (where only the very privileged go to), and vocational schools for poorer segments of the population. Most of the students attending top ranked high schools leave the country to attend league universities abroad. On the other hand, students in vocational schools have little chance of pursuing higher education and receive training for vocational professions. Teenagers in vocational schools are more likely to leave school and enter the job market at a young age in professions such as carpentry painting or electrical work, because the compulsory schooling age has been lowered from 18 years to 16 years of age.

Yet we don’t propose after-school tutoring programs with Deviszont, but we envision a space making it possible to gain a perspective on society and on an individuals place in it, which is absent from traditional education. Through these projects, we want to help teenangers discover different perspectives on the world, develop interests, and propose activities themselves.

At the moment, we are focusing on increasing visibility in the neighborhood and on getting people to come to our space, but our goal is to build a group where older children support the younger ones, and share their experiences and struggles with them, as they all have similar backgrounds. We hope to establish a community that would function on its own and inspire people to open similar spaces in town.

How did you come up with this project and how did you start?
An activity with teenagers. Photo by Deviszont

We started about two years ago, in 2016. The idea came from Ági and Szarka, who were concerned with the inequalities in Hungarian education. They invited others from their network and established a team of seven founding members. Most of us knew each other form Társadalomelméleti Kollégium (TEK), the College for Advanced Studies in Social Theory in Budapest, where we were studying critical theory and political theory and we decided to contribute to the change of Hungarian education in regards to disadvantaged groups and specifically teenagers.

We began by seeking help. We met several people who had experience in developing organizations and fundraising campaigns; people working in NGOs or other civic professionals, and they taught us how to develop a working plan, manage the team, and identify objectives. We had to start from zero, by brainstorming the target, reading many articles, deciding on our main areas on intervention, brainstorming locations and possible collaborations. In short, we had to plan everything from the onset. We did nothing practical during the first year but we did have many meetings (sometimes for entire weekends at somebody’s house) where we cooked together and worked from dusk till dawn on drawing plans and calendars. Many things changed over time and our work became more concrete. We started by taking small and basic fundamental steps: we worked on our pedagogical program, built our organizational structure and our mailing list, opened a Facebook page and did a photoshoot with the help of somebody from Auróra.

We try to collaborate with the local civil society. We all have jobs elsewhere, two of us work in Gólya, a community house operating on a cooperative basis, and we usually meet there. One of us works with Közélet Iskolája, The School For Public Life, community-based training and research center, and another with Utcáról Lakásba Egyesület, an organization helping homeless people getting into housing. I collaborate with Aurora and Bánkitó Fesztivál, so we are all somehow connected with the cooperative projects in Budapest.

What does your name mean and how does it reflect your philosophy?

The name is a linguistic joke: it has two parts, de (but) +viszont (although) which have similar meanings and according to traditional grammar are not supposed to be juxtaposed. This is nevertheless, a widespread expression and it grabs our underlying philosophy – what the goal of the education is and that it shouldn’t be traditional. People from different backgrounds are disadvantaged in it, so this was our concept behind it.

We invested a lot of time in defining our approach and the initial fundraising campaign was an important learning period for us. Besides a few musical events, most of our fundraising events were talks on the Hungarian education system from different perspectives: we had researchers, people who were running similar after-school activities in Hungary and experts in the field, a field that we were trying to enter. For example, we interviewed two professors teaching sociology and educational studies in Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) and we were discussing educational equality and what the purpose of education should be. We believe in shifting the focus from “competencies” or “skills” to “thinking together”, always reflecting on society’s function and our role in society, and on how this reflects on our everyday actions.

This is the Deviszont team. Photo by Deviszont.
How is your organization structured?

Legally we are an association, we are not yet a non-profit association but we will apply for the status next year. As an association, we need to have members, so we registered a few external advisors, but ours is actually a small group: we are a group of 7 people, from 24 to 31 years old. We have a weekly meeting on Friday afternoon and we have more frequent meetings in smaller groups on specific issues. It is funny: each sub-group has 5 members and because we are few, everyone is in three or four groups at once! But having smaller units of work helps us. We also have administrative roles. I for example am a financial officer and we have people in charge of legal paperwork, communication and advocacy. None of us have a specific professional training but we try to keep everything in the house and for free. We have an external accountant, but we only contact him if we need professional advice. In terms of decision making, we are a democratic group. If there are serious issues, we vote and everyone has to agree on each matter and can veto anything.

How did you develop your fundraising campaign?

This was one of the main questions from the beginning, since we knew we had the necessary competency to build such an organization, yet lacked the financial resources. We are not trying to create a job for ourselves, we are all volunteers, but we still need money for rent, equipment, utilities, and events.

We started with fundraising events such as concerts or talks, on a donation basis. We participated in a fundraising event series organized in Szimpla, a famous ruin bar in the city center in Budapest. Every month during their weekly Sunday market, they give a space with a kitchen to an organization to use and sell lunch for fundraising purposes. It was great for us because this is quite a well-known event, and it helped us gain visibility. I don’t exactly know how

much money we received through these activities; sometimes we didn’t make any money at all, but other events helped raise a few hundred euros.

We didn’t consider grants because we knew it was hard to get grants as an emerging organizati

on. In 2017, we applied to the Learn & Engage program of the Community Engagement Office at Central European University, a private graduate university in Budapest. Their original idea was to get students involved in Hungarian civil life and to help them with small civic projects. We were selected and received €1000 from the program. We applied because two of us were masters students there at the time, and we were eligible. We also participated in a competition launched by Tesco. Customers would receive a coin to vote for an organization that Tesco would then support with money. We applied to this program, were selected, and came in third place in our district. The money we won helped us pay towards the purchase of an oven for the kitchen and some board games. At some point, a Hungarian diaspora in the United States promised us to double whatever the amount of money we would fundraise. They were the ones that contacted us and made the offer, it was very nice!

We talked a lot about a crowdfunding campaign since it’s such an interesting system and there are Hungarian NGO crowdfunding platforms as well, but we thought we were not experienced enough to conduct the kind of campaign they require. Now, we have a grant from the Open Society Institute. We applied together with Közélet Iskolája, The School For Public Life, who supported us over the time. We are working on it together, and it provides a few part-time salaries so that a few people could dedicate more time to Deviszont. We don’t have a recurrent source of money but we are covered for this year and we are planning future fundraising campaigns starting January 2019.

How did you choose the space?

Finding a proper space to rent was very hard. We looked at a few districts and searched for rentable community spaces close to a vocational high school so we could reach young people with a working-class background who attend there. We rented it from the local government in District 19 because we found this environment there, and our members also have personal ties to this district – I for example live there. The mayor of District 19 was very enthusiastic about the project, and he offered us space for a price below the market fee.

Our venue was in a rundown state since it had been vacant for years, requiring us to undertake massive renovations. We refurbished the entire space, and the costs of our investment are now being subtracted from our rent. This allowed us to extend our contract for two years. We were lucky! This is a special district, the district mayor is one of the few in Budapest to be a member of the opposition party. Working with a governmental body was a challenge for us because of the different styles of the organizations involved, but it was a great kick-off. The local government has a few venues around town available for rent. The one we rented was a former restaurant ,yet there already were social activities in the same building: a small theater where schools usually host proms and public performances, as well as a dance school operating in the afternoons.

How did you adapt the rented space?
Working on the venue’s rennovation. Photo by Deviszont.

We refurbished the venue which needed renovations and was empty. We managed to collect all the furniture we needed from donations: we wrote on Facebook asking for a specific list of objects including lamps, a couch, chairs, tables, and it worked out. We launched a call for cleaning, and some people helped us as well. We only had to pay for things we couldn’t to ourselves such as painting.

The venue has a main undivided room where the main activities take place and where we have a projector, a Play Station, board games and a table football game that children can use when they come to Deviszont. Behind the main room, there is the old kitchen and the storage. The kitchen was also empty when we rented the space. In the future, we’d like to have projects in which we cook with young people, so we maintained the kitchen and bought an oven for it, but we transformed the storage into an office.

You opened the space recently, how was the first weeks of activity?

We had our official opening in November. Our advisors prepared us for the difficulty of getting children to come in during the first few months. We are happy because we already had around six or seven teenagers coming in after our first four events. Gaining visibility and getting people to return will take at least a year!

We are open every Thursday from 3pm to 7pm. We host a different event that would interest people of our target age group, each week. We organized a foosball competition in cooperation with the district’s Football House; we had a Fantasy day where we played games and baked cupcakes with thematic icing, and an Anime day. Another one was about street art and we invited a person who spoke about the history of graffiti in Hungary and the U.S.; and a break-dance teacher came by and showed some moves. These activities are planned to attract the teenagers, to build a group with which we can plan the longer term projects, from the beginning of 2019 onwards.

At the beginning, we were advertising our events on Facebook, but we noticed that we couldn’t reach teenagers in the 19th District because they simply don’t follow us on the media platform. We turned to more traditional advertisement formats: we have stickers, posters, and flyers that we distribute around schools, at metro stops and in malls to teenagers passing by. All those who came here learned about us thanks to the flyers or posters.

We reached out to schools directly as well. Last year, before opening the space in District 19, we developed a series of projects for high schools and we offered schools to teach classes with their students. A few professors invited us and we held two seminars, one on global sustainability and another one on gender issues, meeting four classes in two different vocational schools. We had a positive response, students were enthusiastic, and it was interesting to compare the group of 18-year-olds with the 14-year-olds: the older ones were already quite aware of our society.

What are your future challenges?

We’ve just opened the place! Now, our main challenge is to get children to come here regularly, but this also depends on the relationships they form among themselves,because they don’t know each other. Other than getting teenagers into the community space, we want to help them establish an actual community that can become sustainable in time. We are also very excited about the upcoming longer projects. It will definitely be a challenge for us to put our methods in practice in these new forms of  activities, and see how we can actually add the societal aspect to our participants’ interests, which our projects aim to do.

Interview with Péter Susánszky in December 2018.