The ‘Aunt Miep Playhouse’, based in a former pub of Tarnabod, 120 kilometers (75 miles) outside Budapest, is part of a plan to fight malnutrition among children in this relative new European Union member state.
"We wanted to name this institute after Aunt Miep" as she is known locally "because we are impressed that a woman from the Netherlands will go all the way to come here and help poor people," Mayor Zoltan Peto told BosNewsLife at the opening ceremony, referring to her previous work.
Aunt Miep, a 93-year-old widow, spent at least $425,000 and arranged 16 trucks with aid for homeless people and other impoverished Hungarians, said her Dutch-Hungarian co-worker Tivadar Udvarhely. Much of that money apparently came from her dealings in real-estate and shares.
The ‘Aunt Miep Playhouse’, run by the Hungarian Maltese Charity Service, will continue her tradition by providing children free meals. "Parents here have no money to provide their children three times per day food," said Peto. More than half of Tarnabod’s 850 residents are gypsies, who prefer to be known as Roma. "They have no money to buy fruits, ham or other nutritious food products," the mayor added. The institute will also educate children and provide jobs for at least six gypsy women.
As soon as Peto cut the ribbon, dozens of thin children rushed inside, where on Friday, October 12, the kitchen was not yet running at full capacity.
The institute comes on the heels of claims by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization that about 200,000 Hungarians lack adequate diets. Aunt Miep was not attending Friday’s opening, apparently because of health problems. However Mayor Peto said he would travel to the Netherlands and personally hand over the institute’s "honorary key" to Aunt Miep during a ceremony October 30 at the Hungarian embassy in The Hague.
Aunt Miep already received a Dutch royal award in 2006 for her humanitarian activities. Yet, she lost a live televised race for the title of Dutch ‘Hero of 2004.’ "She came in second. But she said: ‘if I would have been 20 years old and blond, I would have been first’," recalled Udvarhely. However she will remain a hero in the eyes of 34-year-old Maria Sapi. "Without Aunt Miep my husband and our seven children would still have been living in a one room home without running water," she told BosNewsLife. Sapi is pleased that Aunt Miep also enabled the Hungarian Maltese staff to buy homes for homeless families.
"There are an estimated 30,000 homeless people in Hungary, most of them in Budapest. Often they are families who left everything behind to live the dream of a big city," said Hungarian Maltese Spokesman Istvan Kuzmanyi. "Many of them lost their jobs after the collapse of Communism when many factories and workers hostels were closed." He said the Hungarian Maltese Charity Service wants to reintegrate homeless people in rural areas, where most of them came from.
In addition his group, with some financial support from Aunt Miep and the Hungarian government, also provides jobs, including at a recycle factory where about 30 men and women break open computers, faxes and other equipment. Villagers are also taught how to hold pigs. And, a Maltese bus transports other workers to big cities. "Perhaps the villagers aren’t the most happy people, but at least we see some future for us," said Mayor Peto.