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Insights from a newcomer to community philanthropy – my summer in Covasna County

“Ride a bike for a good cause” in Covasna


Every time you leave your home and community, particularly when travelling abroad, your life changes. You never go back as the same person. Why? Well, because of patchwork quilts. But I’ll come back to that later…

I just finished a two month internship with the Covasna Community Foundation in the region of Transylvania, Romania - which is rather a long distance from my home country, Brazil. I am also currently studying for a Masters in International Development Studies at the Palacký University in the Czech Republic.


About Covasna…

Monique in Saint GheorgheBefore I launch into my impressions of the community foundation’s work here and how that relates to my studies, it’s important to understand the different communities in the region - well, at least what I’ve managed to learn over the summer!

Historically, this region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, though since World War I it has been part of Romania. In the city of Saint Gheorghe, where I’m based, more than 70% of the population is of Hungarian origin, while those of Romanian origin make up about 20% (though overall in Romania individuals of Hungarian origin make up less than 6% of the population). Each of these groups express their heritage through language, traditions and culture. Another community is the Roma - Romania’s largest Roma community is in Saint Gheorghe, but they represent only a little less than 1% of the population here.


…and the community foundation - helping to build a sense of belonging and pride

It is here that the Covasna Community Foundation works, with a specific focus on the Hungarian community. The foundation organizes activities and initiatives that make this group proud of their own heritage, but also proud to be a citizen of Covasna. Some initiatives celebrate Hungarian culture, such as a camping trip for local children during which they learn dances to traditional Hungarian folk music, and simulate old Hungarian battles. Other actions are meant to promote a sense of community pride, belonging and solidarity across the county. “Ride a bike for a good cause” is one example, which involves different parts of the community who then have the chance to say how funds raised from the bike-a-thon should be used, via the foundation’s Facebook page.

Covasna children learning Hungarian history

When it comes to working with local business, the community foundation is part of the Community Card Programme (which turns local shoppers and businesses into philanthropists) and leads the “Made in Covasna” campaign. Both of these initiatives distinguish local shops and products, encouraging residents to buy local. These two programmes have already yielded results, though when I come back to visit my friends here (yes, in two months I made good friends - people in Covasna are amazingly kind and friendly!) I would wish to see even more local businesses and residents participating. 

One challenge that is worth mentioning, which is felt not only in Covasna but across Romania, is the high numbers of young people leaving, looking for “better opportunities” elsewhere. This makes Covasna Community Foundation’s efforts in supporting local initiatives, promoting the history and culture of the region, but especially their work with youth, so important. The foundation encourages active citizenship and pride in the local community, which in the long-term may encourage more young people to stay.


From Palacký University to the communities - my research

According to research from the World Economic Forum regarding the effects of globalization and human relations, while the world is getting more inter-connected, at the same time there is a sense of disconnection between people and their environment. In essence, this means that we understand ourselves and each other less and less, which leads to other social and environmental problems. Structures aiming to (re)connect people at the local level become all the more important in such a context.

In my research at Palacký University I’ve been exposed to the work of many experts in the fields of economics, environmental and development studies, and of course their varying theories for how to most effectively approach the social and environmental challenges facing today’s world. Though through work experiences like I’m having in Covasna, as well as my various travels - i.e. my own empirical evidence - I’m realizing that when it comes to “development” perhaps the most effective way to do it is through community philanthropy.

Community Card - turning local shoppers and businesses into philanthropists

Initiatives like the ones I’ve described above from the Covasna Community Foundation seem (to me) to be the obvious answer to traditional development dilemmas: i.e. how to get communities involved and connected in meaningful ways, while also ensuring real sustainability. The most effective kinds of initiatives that I have come across in my research create intellectual space for local people to assert themselves, encouraging them to address their own problems, and rooting this in local traditions and identities. Community philanthropy certainly ticks these boxes, not focusing solely on economic growth and asserting that these isn’t one strict “development model” to be followed. Rather, it depends on communities themselves, and is rooted in their own unique potentials. In other words: forget everything we have been taught about “sustainable development” and let each community re-invent their own way of developing themselves.


Back to the patchwork quilt

My summer in Covasna County has been a precious experience by all means. When travelling, we become more critical and expand our minds when we stop being mere “sightseers” and rather live other people’s realities. And after experiences like this, we go back home having different perspectives about ourselves, the communities we belong to, and the world. So this summer has been important for me as a researcher, but also as a human being. As Cora Coralina, the Brazilian poet, put it in her beautiful poem about patchwork quilts: “we are made of colourful pieces of every life that passes through us.” And as my own patchwork quilt has become so much more colourful this summer, I’d like to leave you with the full poem below.


By: Monique Lima Leite, student at Palacký University & former intern of the Covasna Community Foundation


We are made of colourful pieces of every life that passes through us and I am sewing in my soul, not always beautiful, not always happy, but they add and make me who I am.

In each meeting, in each contact, I get bigger...In each border, a life, a lesson, a care, a missing feeling...that make me more human, more complete.

And I think that this is how life is done: from pieces of other people that become part of us as well. And the best part is that we will never be ready...there will always be a new piece of patchwork to add to our souls.

So, thank you to each one of you, who are part of my life and who allow me to enlarge my story with the fragments left in me. May I also leave bits of myself in people´s ways that can be part of other people stories.

And that way, from pieces of patchwork to pieces of patchwork, we can become, one day, one huge patchwork quilt.

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