The Erasmus + Youth Sports Development Ambassadors (YSDA) project involves seven partner countries from around Europe. Last weekend saw ambassadors and mentors from Wales, Italy, Portugal and Poland visiting Debrecen and Hajduhadhaz in Hungary for four days of culture, training and sports development. As project manager I had not originally planned to attend the mobility so it was an added bonus to step in and travel as a mentor to Conor Lees one of our Welsh YSDA. If I’d been told at the start of planning a European sports development project that I would end up cooking lamb stew a Hungarian Cabbage festival as part of this project I wouldn’t have believed you – but indeed this happened!
Arriving in Debrecen there was a stark contrast between the airport (a former Soviet military base) and the city centre with its mix of modern bars, restaurants and transport and some beautiful old buildings and parks. The city is the second largest in Hungary with a population of around 250,000 and a famous University.
Debrecen City Centre
The accommodation for the weekend included free entry to a waterpark and thermal baths, which proved an interesting cultural experience; the baths are natural and range from around 30 degrees C to 40 degrees C with some colder options to dive into. Due to the sulphur, the watercolour darkens in brown the hotter, each bath is and after a couple of days to acclimatise, these proved a popular way to recharge the batteries for YSDA and mentors.
Friday provided a chance for everyone to meet and take part in some entertaining icebreakers with our host Ziggy Kovacs from DEKUT leading the group. First stop was the local town of Hajduhadhaz at the Fiksz Pont project centre with activity led by Ziggy and Gabriella Lakatos one of the mentors from the Roma community. The rapidly growing group now including Hungarian partners then visited a local sports facility funded 90% by the EU, part of a community development with outdoor play and fitness provision and meeting rooms and indoor sports facilities. It was interesting that the facility was run by a small company set up in a similar way to some of the trusts that exist for leisure provision in the UK.
Following a traditional lunch, the group were joined by the local YSDA and mentors and travelled to Hortobagy national park on the Hungarian plains. Entertainment en route included some folk singing by the Hungarian YSDA, which made for an enjoyable journey. At Hortobagy the group enjoyed demonstrations of horse skills and a tour of the plains and surrounding area.
After an interesting first day, the group headed back to Debrecen for some more thermal bathing (now almost compulsory) and an early night in preparation for a very busy day to follow.
Unfortunately for our hosts we experienced some traditional Welsh weather on Saturday in Hajduhadhaz (pronounced high – doo – had – has , I think) which resulted in the first activity a 2k fun run for the Heart being cancelled. Instead, Conor and I delivered some presentations to the group on the YSDA project and Conor’s experience as a college student volunteering and planning activity in Wales.
The town is host to an annual cabbage festival with lots of community events including concerts, fitness activities and a large festival over the weekend. As part of this the YSDA project group participated in a “fitness” session in a local school led by Norbert Schobert and Reka Rubint, Hungary’s most famous fitness professionals. Arriving a bit late most of the group got stuck in to the session which was a mix of aerobics, high intensity exercises and what seemed like a thousand squats of various form. This continued for around 80 minutes with everyone from the overweight project manager to local Roma children enjoying the experience
Reka Rubint with Inez Polish – YSDA
Moving on we then visited a local school for 15+ age pupils which provides vocational training for the local Roma young people. Most of the local YSDA and mentors had either attended or worked at the school and gave a really informative tour of the facilities school had and the challenges they face. Some of the subjects being taught were very similar to those in FE colleges in Wales with childcare / social care / construction among them.
After an amazing lunch of Goulash soup back at the community centre, the group engaged in some role play games with the adults pretending to be a group of grumpy or lazy teenagers (maybe similar to some target groups for the project!) and the YSDA trying to motivate them and create new activity. They then took part in a Karate session with Jose Maia, Portuguese mentor doing a first class job of leading this activity.
After some work preparing decorations from partner countries for the main festival the next day, the last task on Saturday was to erect a large tent. This could have led to the “how many people does it take to change a light bulb” question. We actually had around 20 people from five EU countries speaking about 10 languages all working in monsoon type conditions who finally succeeded to erect a very nice new home for the group to work in on Sunday.
After more thermal bathing on Saturday night, the group had an early start on Sunday heading to the cabbage festival. At some point when discussing cultural experiences Ziggy had suggested entering the cooking competition at the festival, the rest will go down as one of the most different but enjoyable experiences I have had in a long time.
The whole town and festival is a celebration of the cabbage with decorations made with cabbages and many other agricultural materials. The festival and competition proved to be a much bigger event than I had personally expected it was something similar to a large agricultural show in Wales.
The cooking competition presented a few challenges for all involved. The first challenge being how to cook using one of the traditional 50 litre pots, secondly finding lamb for lamb stew and thirdly avoiding friendly locals offering Palinka, Hungarian schnapps made from berries and other fruit. Also having to present the food to Lazar Kovacs a famous celebrity chef in Hungary and teaching YSDA to make dumplings proved interesting but the end results proved to be a success and our Polish partners also cooked up some amazing stuffed cabbage rolls also assisted by the YSDA.
Overall, this was a fantastic experience; the hospitality of our hosts was amazing, the YSDA and mentors really ensured we all learnt from the experience, gaining hands on opportunities of physical activity in Hungary and making friends along the way. For those involved visiting Debrecen for the first time and meeting the local people from the Roma community this trip has proved to be a really enjoyable and rewarding experience.