Alexandra Vajgel and her three siblings grew up in a SOS Children’s Village in Battonya. This serious-minded 18 year old girl talks about what lead her to be in the village and about her relationship with her foster mother, parents and siblings.
How long have you been living here?
For 14 years. I came to the village with three of my siblings, all girls; we were between 3 and 8 years of age when we were taken away from our family. I’m the third sibling.
How did you survive losing your family?
Now I consider that it was the right decision because my parents did not treat us well. But of course as a kid I did not feel that way, I did not want to go to a strange place. My mum brought me in and said we just came here to play and have a vacation. We played 1-2 hours and then my parents were gone. In the beginning, they visited us regularly, then less and less frequently, in the end we were slowly forgotten. Today, we have almost no connection.
Did they make any effort to get you back?
Does this hurt you?
On one hand, yes, it would have been good if they had supported me, if they had come to a handball game, but on the other hand, I got used to it. I don’t keep any contact with my mother, my father sometimes calls me, but I don’t really keep in touch with him either.
Do you have any idea why they did not come?
There’s always an excuse…
Obviously, it was inconvenient for them to be so excluded from their children’s life, when there is a foster mother here who knows everything about the children better…
They should at least be proud that their children can live in a better place, and a wonderful foster parent is taking care of them. We are very fond of Panni; she’s like a real mother to us. It is different here; we receive more care and love from everyone, not just from Panni, but also from the whole SOS Children’s Village and from everyone in this village. The office staff also helps a lot with our learning, searching for a school or a summer job. When we were struck down by an illness, we could always rely on Uncle Laci and Uncle Gergő, they took us to the hospital by car accompanied by our foster parents.
The gardener was also at our disposal whenever we needed him; the yard was always in good care in his hands. Csabi and the other men from the workshop were eager to teach the young boys things that will be useful to know in their lives, things a boy needs to know such as: drilling, carving, painting…
Is Panni your foster mother?
Yes, she has taught my siblings and I a lot. I had some more serious speech difficulties up until I was 5, I had a lisp, so she took me to a speech therapist and she helped me a lot learning certain words. She treats us like we are her own children. When I left primary school, I did not know where to go next, but everybody was very helpful, they told me their opinions, we checked schools together, but they let me decide what I wanted to learn..
Are you a good student?
Around, 4 (B).
Now you have passed your school leaving exam. Don’t you want to go to university?
I do, but I applied late. No problem, I have time, first I will acquire a profession then I will go to college.
What will you do when you leave the Children’s Village?
I will visit as much as possible. My elder sisters do not live here anymore, Zita is studying in Szeged, she will graduate soon, I’m extremely proud of her. Niki has a son, they come back often to visit Panni, she is treated like a grandmother.
How long would you like to stay here?
As long as I can, I’m thinking about buying a house from my grant, I want to live with my boyfriend.
Where did you meet him?
At an athletic competition in Békéscsaba.
And would you move to an own house at 18?
Yes, slowly, but my foster mother would help me. I would stay in post-care, of course. Here everyone helps a lot in work, in choosing schools and they try to teach everybody to be independent.
A normal 18-year-old rebels against their parents…
I don’t. Sometimes we argue but we can always solve our problems, at this age you have to think like an adult.
Are your siblings just as seriously-minded as you are?
Zita is, but the other two are not really, they are quite stubborn. Niki became a mother at a very young age; we did not agree with it, we were worried about her, as her relationship was not that stable. There were some disagreements and arguing, but we ultimately respected her decisions. And my younger sister is still a little girl, but as time goes on she will change a lot and become wiser.
You sound really mature. Are you different than others of your age?
They do just fine; they have a mum and dad and don’t have to be so mature about life. That’s why I don’t talk so often about the Children’s Village, people tend to think that I’m very serious. I kept it a secret for quite a long time at school; only a few friends and teammates of mine knew that I live here. I’m not ashamed of this life, if someone asks about it, I don’t mind speaking about how it works, how families get in this system. On these occasions, they listen and pay close attention. They bombard me with questions because it is unknown and new for them. This flow of questions used to bother me, it was difficult to explain, and sometimes they felt sorry for me and tears filled their eyes. It did not feel right, as we are happy, we have a good life. Now I understand. We have to talk about it proudly, because we couldn’t have had a better place to live, and we can and will become somebody, which would have been impossible staying with our parents.
Do you know others raised in state care?
In another system? Yes. They live just as we do, but we got used to living close to each other, our friends live just a few steps from us.
Would you like to have kids?
Yes, some years later, maybe.
Will you raise him/her that way Panni raised you?
Would you be influenced by the way your biological parents raised you?
No, this is hundred percent certain. The problem is not that we live here, but that they did not even come to see us. Another pair of siblings lives here, in this house, their parents are able to visit them, by bicycle if necessary, and the kids regularly travel home to spend some days with them.
Did your parents do everything wrong?
Yes. I think they could have worked out a way to avoid us to be taken away or to enable them to visit us regularly.
Did you make this clear with them?
I talk a lot with my father about why I don’t talk to them. I told him these things, but now it’s only up to him if he understands it or not. Unfortunately he doesn’t. My sister arranged a meeting with him with great difficulties, they settled the time, the place, but my father didn’t show up in the end, saying he was hungry and went home to eat. There’s always an excuse. It’s difficult to take steps obviously, especially after these things. We’re now grown up, he’s also hurt, and we completely understand that. But we were children, and that makes it more painful, due to the fact that a child is much more attached to his/her parents, no matter how he/she is treated. We were attached to them like this. Unfortunately, looking back, after a while they no longer tried to contact us, they did not face the things, they ran away and then we lost contact with them. Were they scared? Yes, they may have been scared that we were growing up and started to realize what was going on. Running away is easier than face reality. Zita took some steps but my father is still running away. He missed another chance, and he may not have a third one. For us, this rejection hurts very much, and after a while you get tired of trying and don’t care anymore.
Do you ever think about what would have been the best solution?
I think this one; that we were raised up by a foster mother.
And if you had been adopted?
Only a few people would adopt four siblings, and then we would have been torn apart from each other, but now we are together, which is a very good thing. We can rely on each other, and we can talk about anything.
Translated by Éva Lapu
Reviewed by Rita Veres and Jessica Mazey Holland