Our Story

As a newly graduated teacher, Nóra. L. Ritók, the founder and leader of Real Pearl Foundation Hungary, faced the fact on her first lesson that the knowledge she obtained at her university would not be enough in a class where the majority of the children were disadvantaged, handicapped, or overage.

A less motivated person would have raised her voice to gain the attention of the group of troublesome children, who were generally rejected and avoided by others. At that point in their education, other teachers have found it difficult to intervene or motivate students. However, Nóra started with her other passion: she sat down to draw. Since it was an obvious choice, she started to draw the children. They were first examining the final works with surprise, then they complimented her, and finally they felt motivated to do something.

The work had begun…

Nóra decided to create practices with which the children could easily achieve success, so they felt motivated and confident during their classes and wanted to join after-school activities too. She did not want to train artists: the main purpose was to create, and draw to get their attention with a playful, effective and very creative interaction.

This recognition became a fundamental element in our philosophy and activities. The creative process is crucial and an essential part of not only visual communication, but also a vital part of personal development..

In 1999, in one of the top 33 most underprivileged subregions in Europe, and in the subregion of Berettyóújfalu, we established the Real Pearl Foundation, and in 2000 we opened the Real Pearl Primary Art School.

1999-2002: Art Education in Berettyóújfalu

When we started our school in Berettyóújfalu, only children from stable and average or good circumstances could join our courses because they were after school and their parents were responsible for dropping off and picking them up from our programs. We realized that this method would not achieve what we wanted because it would be nearly impossible for children from underprivileged communities to join our courses so we decided to take these courses to children in nearby villages. We organized our lessons in such schools to be available for everyone who would like to join.

2002: New Establishments In Nearby Villages

Initially, we developed child-centred visual education and its method. We focused on self-expression, to emphasize the individuality, and to use the most creative technical solutions. Luckily, it was a period when this style of education became popular on an international level.

From the beginning, we had a very conscious methodology in order to compensate the challenging circumstances of any child, but it was quite obvious that a great amount of our students arrived and still arrive from underprivileged families. With time our methodology had more and more practices by age group and those practices developed visual memory, fine movements, concentration, and logical skills. We included more and more tasks which helped to strengthen other subjects such as biology, history, literature, English etc. These practices have a strong connection with the development of visual communication.

Since we began our mission, the world had changed, providing us with more challenges. It became quite obvious that in order to achieve the integration we needed to develop strong social competencies. We realized that the individual competencies such as self-confidence, self esteem, self-assessment, identity, social skills, the level of cooperation, tolerance, or solidarity can be easily implemented into the development generated by art.

That’s how we developed our current methodology we call the threefold focused visual education, which develops not only visual communication but also compensates the underprivileged circumstances and evolves social competencies. In every lesson we apply all 3 focuses.

Despite several difficulties, it is fair to say that we were able to achieve international recognition for the Real Pearl in the field of children’s art education. Our students win several prices per year, on a local, domestic and international level.

2009: Beyond The School

Our national and international success, the increased number of invitations to conferences and workshops and the other professional requests strengthen us on a pedagogical level; however, it became obvious that the integration of highly disadvantaged children would never fully take place solely within school walls. The families and communities play a large role in eliminating poverty. Although we are working for future generations we realized that this also means supporting the parents and families of our children. Because of this we began a long-term (20 year) complex strategy which is based on three pillars: education, family care & community development, and institutional cooperation. The communities themselves are involved in deciding what is needed and in helping to implement it. The emphasis is on ‘enabling’, the slow but sure aid to building a participatory democracy.

We started with the “Szuno” (Romani for “Dream”) Craft Program and the “Amari” (Romani for “our own”) Food Processing Program. In addition to the Primary Art School, we also run an After-School Activities Program (“Tanoda”) to assist children with their school work as well as a scholarship program for the children, provide support for school equipment, as well as organizing programs to assist integration which often involves parents and families. We assist in the development of their various individual competencies such as crisis management, self-support, work and social competencies which leads to an overall improvement of the community.

This model was first introduced in Told, a small village near the Romanian border, and certain elements are now being used in 20 other settlements. When we started in Told, the problems appeared to be magnified. The village has approximately 270 ‘citizens,’ 70% Roma, the other 30% Hungarian and Romanian. Within the group of Roma people there are romungro and oláh-gypsy families. The level of hatred was extremely high when we started our work.

Today after 9 years we have a stronger community with a cohesive group who help each other and seek out new opportunities. The level of criminalization minimalized, there are no girls in the last 5 years who given birth to her child under 18, drug-use and prostitution practically vanished. The importance of participatory democracy became relevant and extremely important.

Where Are We Now?

We believe in long-term strategies. This is the 9th year of our 20 year strategy, and our efforts now show measurable changes in the integration of underprivileged, mainly Roma communities.

The social innovations of the Real Pearl Foundation have gained international acclaim, and we are constantly contacted by organizations, universities, educational institutions and local governments from both Hungary and abroad. Possible adaptations of our model are now being developed, and certain elements of our program are now being used in 20 other settlements. We provide material, educational and financial support to approximately 1200 families per year.

We believe that a community can break the circle of extreme poverty. Real Pearl Foundation is working toward eradicating poverty for future generations by helping the current one. And we know that there is always a way out.