Disadvantaged Hungarian Kids Enjoy Billie Eilish at Sziget 2023

In Hungary

Photo by Bálint Bárdi

Most of us have the luxury of choosing whether we’ll go to the Sziget Festival. This year, none of the bands appealed, so I gave it a miss. Not long after, I read an article on the Telex website about a group of underprivileged children taken to Sziget to see the hugely popular 21-year-old U.S. singer-songwriter Billie Eilish by charity InDaHouse Hungary. I was made painfully aware of how privileged I am.

InDaHouse, whose sponsors include Forbes, KPMG and UniCreditBank, was founded by social worker Fruzsina Benkö in 2015. Angry at the “spiritual holocaust, where social racism destroys the dreams, self-esteem and abilities of Roma children” in Hungary, Benkö decided to act. She began in the village of Pere, about 215 km northeast of Budapest by road, near the small town of Encs.

For those of us who rarely venture outside Budapest, it’s hard to imagine what life is like in deeply poor rural Hungary.

In Encs, where the children cared for by InDaHouse live, 62.5% of the students are highly disadvantaged compared to 0.6% in Budapest. Kids learn in classes where the highly disadvantaged are in the majority, not the exception.

InDaHouse is staffed by volunteers with two goals: to “learn and play with the children so that they become more skillful and smarter” and “to encourage and show love to them, to counteract the negative effects of societal racism as much as we can.”

The charity operates from its own center, completed with the assistance of more than 600 volunteers, more than 1,200 private individuals and 20 corporate sponsors, and works with children from birth to the end of their education. InDaHouse prepares the older children “for the situations they may encounter later on in everyday life.” Its program includes online classes. Mentor and health programs are also offered.

Today, InDaHouse Hungary helps more than 250 children, has 20 permanent employees and more than 300 volunteers.

An Idea is Born

According to Péter Szabó, head of the InDaHouse fundraising division, the idea to take a party of kids to see Billie Eilish came about when she was confirmed as one of the headliners of Sziget 2023.

InDaHouse kids love Eilish because “she’s not a typical pop star who only sings about beauty, happiness, love and money,” Szabó tells me.

“She’s always faced her own difficulties in life. In her songs, she writes and sings about her confusion and depression, despite being a very successful artist. This self-identity, and the fact that the children of InDaHouse also feel and experience a lot of negative things, makes her very popular with our kids. They really like and respect her authenticity. She’s also helped some of the youth to face their own problems, their own difficult feelings and also to articulate them to others,” he adds.

Knowing how much Eilish means to the children, InDaHouse began planning for a group to see her perform as soon as she was confirmed for Sziget. InDaHouse contacted Sziget in March, and the two organizations worked closely together until Eilish performed on August 15. Arranging the trip for the children wasn’t as simple as it is for the rest of us.

“We had to explain to the children, their parents and volunteers what was going to happen,” Szabó tells me. “They had to know the scale of the event. We had to set clear rules for the day of the festival and be prepared for the unexpected. We not only had scenario ‘A,’ but also ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’”

Sziget also took place at a time when InDaHouse’s resources were stretched as it managed its usual series of summer camps. The organization had to schedule how to deploy its limited number of vehicles so that kids could be taken to Sziget without disrupting the camps.

Covering All Bases

“Our goal was to make sure that the kids taking part had the best possible time on this great adventure but in a way that was as safe as possible,” Szabó explains. “For example, we had different volunteers driving the minivans to and from the festival to make sure that our drivers would be rested for the night.”

Watching Eilish perform in front of tens of thousands of people, the overwhelming response from the children was that there was a girl on stage who was just like them.

“As we were walking out of the festival, one of the children said, ‘At first I thought I was watching a YouTube video, but when I realized it was live, I cried.’ This was my favorite comment on the whole day,” the fundraising head says.

“The other feedback that made us think it was a great project came from a boy who said the whole day was amazing and perfect, and he really enjoyed it. But what he’s most happy and proud about is the fact that he worked hard for this. He made a commitment to read a book and write about it, and he managed to do so,” he adds.

Szabó is sure that the experience of being part of Sziget 2023 will stay with everyone from InDaHouse who went for a long time.

“We wanted to show them that seemingly unattainable goals can be achieved if we put our minds to it. The result was a wonderful day soaking up the colorful and varied program events at the festival, ending with the unforgettable experience of seeing their idol Billie Eilish,” he concludes.

To find out in English how you can support InDaHouse Hungary, visit www.indahousehungary.hu/make-it-possible

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of September 22, 2023.

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