The Association for the Visually Impaired Hungarians from Transylvania, that was founded in 2014, is willing to serve the community through representing and protecting the interests of the Transylvanian Hungarian blind people in multiple fields such as culture, education and sports to name but a few, both in and outside the country. 

Its goals:
  • guaranteeing an institutional frame, in which the visually impaired individuals and their families can express their wishes/expectations, and can get support in practicing their general and specific citizen rights
  • organizing, supporting and developing school units, cultural-, sports-, educational and professional preparatory centers, while trying to assure an organizational frame, professional staff and professional assistance
  • trying to find solutions for social problems that visually impaired individuals might encounter while trying to create the life style that suits and aids them in finding a natural way to fit into society, on the other hand, putting into perspective the commands, the moral regulations and the internal and European legal requirements to which the society as a whole needs to comply, so that the visually impaired individuals can enjoy equal rights with others and at the same time be able to contribute to the development of the society to the best of their abilities
  • summarizing all the internal and external legal regulations that control the rights of the members in the case of social development and necessities, working out legislation plans that will be presented to the authorities, advising the modification of the existing regulations, participating in the public discussions of law and draft that regulate the rights of the visually impaired individuals
  • taking part in the visually impaired adults’ basic rehabilitation, retraining, enabling their reintegration in society
  • help the visually impaired individuals choose and buy the right aids which best suit their needs and requirements.
The school project
“Lumina in tenebris clariora sunt” (The light shines brighter in the dark.)

We formed our main objective in the year of 2017 and ever since 2018 we are working towards establishing/setting up an independent, Hungarian, residential, special educational needs institute for blind, partial- and visually impaired children, with particular attention to reopening the visually impaired Hungarian children’s education on their mother tongue that has been closed for 99 years. 

According to our statistics, there are 193 Hungarian national visually impaired children living in the three Secler counties altogether, 13 of them learns in a segregated, Romanian school, most of them learn integrated but unfortunately there is a large number of children who don’t go to school at all, especially in the rural areas. The leaving of school at an early stage is also very common and this results in almost the complete absence of visually impaired intellectuals in society. It is our belief that the Transylvanian Hungarian visually impaired community, whose members possess a qualification, profession, income and what is more, a perspective, will be capable of a higher level of cultural, economical and civil self-organization that will be an example of a life model to all the visually impaired individuals and not only. 

At the moment, there are seven segregated institutes in Romania, where the blind and visually impaired individuals can learn, none of these have Hungarian education for the Hungarian nationals though. There is only one place for the visually impaired children to learn in Hungarian and complete various activities and this is in the institution of Kolozsvár, where an enthusiastic Hungarian teacher reads fairy tales, poems and literary works to children. 

Although it is part of the constitutional right the right to learn in our mother tongue, which is also emphasized by the law of disability 448/2006, reinforcing the right for the visually impaired individuals as well as to learn in their mother tongue, decades went by without any progress due to the lack of safeguarding representatives. Acknowledging the situation, we put into perspective the subject matter of the education, constantly working on sorting this problem out and ending it for good. Whilst we have accomplished a lot already, this seems insignificant compared to what is still to come. It is not only the establishment of the educational institution that we have to work on but we also have to provide training for Hungarian special educational needs teachers who are specialized in this area, because as far as we know, there is no special educational needs training in today’s Romania. 

Summing up our work so far, after carefully consulting with the parents involved and the Secler and motherland Hungarian special educational needs teachers, as well as analyzing the Transylvanian Hungarian visually impaired children’s situation, we’ve come to the conclusion, that it is essential to establish an independent Hungarian national educational institution which is segregated and has a boarding school. We have listened to a lot of opinions, pros and cons, professionals and non professionals as well, which differ concerning integrated education versus segregated education. One thing is for certain, the theoretical teachers are on the side of the integrated education whereas the teachers who worked with visually impaired children think the segregated education is the way forward.

It has also come to our knowledge, that the adults who went to a special educational needs school, even if it was only for a short period of time, got the skills that made them feel more confident, self-supporting and independent. 

The situation of the children who are being taught how to use their instincts, improving and forming them to prepare them for life is not the same (can not be compared) with the situation of adults who we are trying to teach how to be independent or how to get by in life because by then, the adults might either do things incorrectly due to the lack of professional help that makes them frustrated, fearful and reserved or they could simply not be independent because there was always somebody there to help. It is not necessarily the assistance that makes the individual feel vulnerable but it is in fact the constant support of the overprotective parents, which is understandable in a way, and the lack of professional background.

We would like to point out the fact that we are on the side of gradual integration, where the primary education would happen in a segregated way, the secondary education would be half-integrated, meaning that the visually impaired children could interact with the children who can see during break time or after school activities, while the high school education would be totally integrated. At the same time, we would also like to make sure that children who can’t or don’t want to finish high school due to poor abilities, will get the right training to be able to have a profession. It is also important to mention the fact that, we would like to offer an alternative solution to the parents who chose the integrated education in Hungarian or the segregated education in Romanian and an alternative to those who are looking for the most suitable educational institution and form for their visually impaired children, following the nationally accepted well-tried methods. 

We are aware of the fact that we have a big and noble objective, a plan ahead of us. We are handling a subject that nobody dealt with in the last century and that, at the same time, requires a lot of collaboration and significant financial support. It is also clear to us that we can not count on the help of the Romanian government, the evidence for this being the last almost one century, while the Hungarian visually impaired individuals got no support from the state in learning in their mother tongue. 

Following the example and being enthusiastic about the story of the first Transylvanian State Supported Institution for the Blinds in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca) that initially started and made possible due to the civil sphere (donations from wealthy people), we feel that the time has come to work on our fellow partners’ case. We need to work to the best of our knowledge in creating, building and starting an educational institution for the visually impaired children that will be a special educational needs school for the Hungarian nationals, will have a boarding school and will be based in Székelyudvarhely. The reason why we think this town is the ideal location to open the school, is because besides having the title of the “Secler mother-town”, it is also called “school-town”, which is due to its great past and strong educational institutions, nevertheless, these institutions together with the teachers can provide the primary and secondary school education to our visually impaired children. 

The past

“He, who doesn’t know his past, doesn’t deserve his future”

In Transylvania, it was in Kolozsvár that the State Supported Institution for the Blinds in Kolozsvár opened its gates for the very first time on 15th October 1900 due to the decision and support of the Free Royal City Council of Kolozsvár. 

In Pozsony it was opened in 1825, in Budapest in 1826 with the direction of Károly Herodek, in Vienna it was opened in 1804, in 1784 in Paris under the management of Valentin Haüy, in 1790 in Drezda, in Liverpool it was opened in 1890, in Edinburgh in 1793, in Saint Petersburg in 1806, in Amsterdam it was opened in 1808, in Munich in 1836, and in Temesvár it was opened in 1901. 

The Hungarian queen, Elisabeth, dies on 10th September 1898 in Genf and Kolozsvár decides to set up a foundation for the blind people in memory of the queen, then announces to offer the foundation for the construction of an institution for the blind. The following step is the listing of blind people in 1899 in East Hungary. It is revealed that they need another school for the blind apart from the one in Budapest. The listing shows that there are 470 young blind people and only 38 of them got some kind of education at home. They chose 175 children under the age of 14 who they thought might be competent for learning in Kolozsvár so they sent a formal note to these children’s parents. 

About the uncommonly interesting and turbulent existence of the State Supported Institution for the Blinds in Kolozsvár, that was opened in October 1900, there are hardly any historical or to be more precise, any reliable historical works that we can find. Lajos Katona, the formal mathematics teacher of the school in Kolozsvár (who worked from 1968 until 2003) wrote a scholar-like historical work about the past years of the institution with the title “The history of the institution of blind people in Kolozsvár between 1900 and 1920”. We can also find archive historical works about the situation of the institute in between the two world wars, but we can not find any written authentic and scientific like historical works that would tell us more about the 100 years or so.
In the following part we will be presenting the story of the institutionalized education of the visually impaired people relying on Lajos Katona’s documents and on the writings that also had these documents as a source (Katona, 2016; Gaál, 2018). 

 

It is known that Géza Szvacsina, the mayor of the city at that time, played a leading role in setting up the blind people’s institution. At the beginning of 1899 the general meeting of the city names a committee with 19 members to lead the project which consists of teachers, priests, lawyers and wealthy citizens who chose Szvacsina, the mayor of the city, as the president of the project. The committee had its first meeting on 4th April 1899. Here, they accepted the plan for the institution of blind people and sent it to the ministry for approval. The general meeting of the city accepted all the suggestions of the supervisory committee on 22nd December 1899 and gave permission to rent a building that is appropriate for this purpose. The constitution of the institution was endorsed by the minister of culture on 27th March 1900. On 25th June, the general meeting of the city acknowledged, that the institution will be given 3.000 crown annual grant from the national budget and the minister of culture made a promise of sending a teacher who will work in the institution. Therefore, in the autumn of 1900 the National Institution of Blind People opened its gates on Honvéd Street, having 10 blind students enrolled with the guidance of professor János Vucskits sent by the ministry of Budapest. The operating framework was defined by the Constitution that contained 8 chapters and 17 paragraphs and was approved by the Ministry of Religion- and Public Education. The goal of the institution is to enroll boys and girls regardless of their religion or nationality and educate them according to the primary schools’ rules, nevertheless give them an industrial education in the bounds of the Hungarian government. The training lasted five years and for three years the students got industrial education as well. Besides the usual subjects – Mathematics, Grammar, Geography, History, Natural History, Gymnastics, Arts and – Music lessons – the students also had: perceived education, manual activities, writing and reading using the Latin alphabet, writing and reading using the Braille signs. The industrial education has three types of activities: brush making, cane-chair making and basket-, straw- and typha wattling. 

Apart from the benefactors, the maintenance of the institution was ensured by the Ministry and the Borough of Kolozsvár and (not least) by the Blind People’s Guardian National Association that had already been running effectively. The circumstances of the enrollment of students was set by the internal operating rules of the institution. They only took on children between the age of 8 and 14 who did not have any other physical or mental disabilities apart from blindness. Those, who had some kind of education in a theoretical class, were taken on until they reached the age of 16. The number of children who were taken on the industrial courses was limited and only children between the age of 16 and 18 could apply. The pupils could choose to live in or out of the school, there wasn’t any school fee but those who lived in the school, had to pay a certain amount of money for food (food fee). The pupils could go home during holiday and the parents were asked to practice everything they had learned previously at school. According to the annual report, there were 135 pupils up until the year of 1914. These children came from 47 different counties 22 of them being orphaned. The parents, with a few exceptions, belonged to the poorest social class. This is why only a few of them were able to pay the monthly food fee after a long delay. 

The institution had a permanent eye doctor who is now resting in the Jewish cemetery, Dr. Sándor Mezei (1867-1933). He was the one who identified the cause of blindness and the quality of the eyesight. This is when we find out that 47 percent of the pupils were totally blind, 21 percent were light-sensitive, 2 percent were finger reader and 30 percent large object sighted. 

From the educational point of view the National Institution of Blind People in Kolozsvár was under the authority of the all-time ministry. The teaching staff was trained in Budapest in the Institution of Royal Hungarian National Pedagogical- and Training School for Blind People which had been opened ever since 1897. The economical matters were taken care of by the city’s supervisory board, this having as president the all-time mayor of the city. In financial matters, the principal of the institution was subordinated to the supervisory board and as such was bound to accept its actions.

Apart from the president, who was also the mayor of the city and the principle of the school, the city council chose 12 members for five year intervals to be part of the supervisory board. In legal aspects the institution was represented by the supervisory board. The decisions were made by majority vote. The supervisory board handled the institution’s capital funds, the benefits, could make a decision about the hiring and discharging assistant staff, the enrolling of pupils, the constructions and could monitor the observance of the curriculum that was approved by the ministry. The supervisory board had a meeting once every month which was organized by the president who checked out the enforcement of the commission’s decision, led the correspondence and signed the money-orders as well. The principle of the institution was the moderator of the committee. His main duties included the inspection of the teachers and pupils, the leading of internal matters and the editing of the annual reports. The institution’s stock was handled by the city’s main treasurer who reported everything to the supervisory board who then presented it at the city’s general meeting. In the end the listings were sent to the ministry as well.

It is worth specifying without limitation the names of a few illustrious supporters. As we have already mentioned, the Institution of Kolozsvár was sponsored by the Hungarian Royal Treasure House with an annual of 3000 crown (the currency of Hungary at that time). Furthermore, the institution can take pride in having supporters and founders such as: Géza Szvacsina, the mayor of Kolozsvár, senator Dr. Ferenc Nemes, abbot canon Béla Bíró, Károly Balogh teacher,  Antal Dávid proprietor, Albert Deáky lawyer, Antal Dobál lawyer, Arthur Feilitzsch imperial congressman and royal chamberlain, József Ferenc unitarian bishop, Manó Gajzágó officer’s attorney, Zsigmond Gámán commercial and industry chamber secretary, Mór Grátz evangelical minister, Sándor Kiss commercial manager, Mihály Magyary page editor, Lajos Pollák inspector, Domokos Szász reformat bishop, József Sándor congressman, the vice-president and the secretary general of the EMKE, Antal Salamon city councilor, Ákos Szekula, the chief inspector of the Adria Insurance Company in Kolozsvár and Ferenc Taritzky, the director of the Deaf and Dumb People’s Institution. 

The supervisory board of the institution was formed out of these historical names. The person whose name should be mentioned first in the establishment of the institution is Mózes Berde, who left 10.000 crown in his testament for the Institution of Blind People in Kolozsvár that was about to be set up. The money, together with the interests (11250 crown including the interests), was put down on the institution’s table by a Unitarian bishop called József Ferencz on 14th April 1899. But the following were also among the supporters of the institution: widow countess Gáborné Bethlen, baron Győző Offermann, count Ákos Béldi, count Károly Kirmayer, Sándor Hegedűs, János Szabó, Gusztáv Majláth Transylvanian Roman-Catholic bishop, Lilla Bulyovszky actress, count Árvéd Teleki, the Lészai family and Domokos Barcsai. Usually they supported the institution with 6.000 crown. All of these is exceeded by the 100.000 pengő worth foundation of the Grodel Siblings and the allowance that they got year after year from the lottery of the time, the State Lottery. There are 274 names in the notes of the supporters. Géza Szvacsina was awarded honorary president just before his retirement in 1913. His successor, mayor Gusztáv Haller took his place and was made the president of the institution. János Vucskits was replaced by Péter Schannen on 12th November 1903 by the ministry as the head of the institution, who ran the institution until 1920 when it closed for good.

The State Supported National Institution of the Blind People is getting its own home bit by bit. The new building was built on Honvéd Street’s parcel of the State Supported Deaf and Dumb People’s National Institution, that is on Zápolya Street’s end and was designed by László Gyalus in between 1902 and 1903, with the cost of 100.000 crown. The building contractor application was won by the Transylvanian Construction Company. This is where the educational-pedagogical work took place starting from the autumn of 1903, on number 17 B Zápolya Street. In the basement of the one storey building they made a servant apartment, on the ground floor they laid out the director’s office. On the ground floor there were 12 (living) rooms, 2 kitchens, 2 bathrooms and 5 lavatories – of which presumably 3 rooms, 1 kitchen, 1 bathroom and 1 lavatory was part of the director’s flat. On the first floor there were 27 rooms, 4 kitchens, 5 bathrooms and 8 lavatories. After only ten years, the fast increase in the number of students applications made it necessary to extend the building with the construction of an other building. They managed to buy plot numbers 23 and 25 that were close by on Honvéd Street, where they started to build a double-storied house which was presumably designed by Alfréd Hajós. They were hoping the new building would be completed in time for the 1915/1916 school year. With the outbreak of the first world war, the work on the new building had to be stopped half way between the ground floor and the first floor. Meanwhile, the building on Zápolya Street was occupied for military purposes which then was turned into a hospital and after the world war the Romanian forces used it as an orthopedic hospital. 

The new building on Honvéd Street was finished by 1925 where they started up the blind people’s education in Romanian. The plot on Honvéd Street and the half finished building on it was the Kolozsvár’s institution own property. We are talking about 1 acre and 1.206 square meter of land, which also had a 4.651 square meter orchard linked to it. It is important to emphasize that the trust’s land registry entry, the sales contract can be found up until today in the archives.

Sándor Szabó-Náray ministry councilor, further on under-secretary, gave 340.000 pengő from the budget together with the 300.000 pengő that was from the funds of the blind people’s institution for the sales contract which was collected and economized by the institution’s supervisory committee in 13 years time from the donations and the offerings that were given to the institution.  An interesting (approximate) data is, that this sum of money nowadays (the Hungarian Forint’s currency in 2018) is worth around 1.25-2 billion forints. No modification was made up until 23rd February 1933. But then,  the social welfare institution known as “Principesa Elena” (Princess Helena), which was the predecessor of the mother- and infant protection institution as it became known after the Romanian takeover, was appealing to the county-court of Kolozsvár for return of the land registration of the 1 acre and 1.206 square meter land together with the building, which rightfully belonged to them. This land registration took place on 8th March 1938 under the number of 2437. This was preceded by a legal act: the institution of blind people together with other similar public institutions was removed from the control of the Ministry of Education and became under the control of the Ministry of Health. This way it was a lot easier to replace the blind people’s institution with the mother- and infant protection institution and together with other administrative actions, they ended all the historical law that was protecting the institution of Kolozsvár.

The State Supported National Institution of Blind People in Kolozsvár stopped functioning as a corporate body. Its trust, its buildings, its cash assets disappeared. After the second Vienna arbitration, according to the statistics of the military commands, there were 52 children between the age of 6 and 12 and 38 children between the age of 13 and 18, both boys and girls in the 11 counties that were freed and there were 31 boys in the institution at that time. This makes altogether 121 boys and girls between the age of 6 and 18, not having any documents of blind people above the age of 18. The Blind People’s Guardian National Association became active and the rights and responsibilities that were included in the contract between the Association and the Ministry of Education were put into force. The “Blinds’ World” magazine from April, 1941 summarizes the reason for existence and the commitment to its brave goal of the school in Kolozsvár as follows: “…because the designation of the blind people’s institution is to be the institution of blind children and young people in the Transylvanian area and as such taking into consideration that the blind people’s institution is not an asylum, where the helpless and the unfortunate are being looked after but rather a school, where the blind children get a normal school education and get a kind of industrial training which will help them earn their daily bread.”

To our knowledge, after the second world war, in the late 1940s and the beginning of 1950s the leadership of the school in the new regime threw out, burnt and destroyed the old documents that were written in Hungarian and an enormous amount of professional books that were in the library.

The State Supported National Institution of Blind People is taken over by the Romanian state authority in 1920 and from then on it has the names of “Institutul de Orbi din Cluj” (1920-1935, The Institution of Blind People in Cluj) and  “Aşezământul pentru Asistenţa Orbilor” (1935-1940, The Institution of Supporting Blind People). After the re-coupling with Hungary in 1940, it had the name of The National Institution of Blind People for four years and in 1945 got back the name that it had before 1940. 

In between the years of 1951 and 1958 it has the name of  Şcoala Specială de Orbi (The Special Educational Needs School for Blind People), from 1958 to 1978 has the name of Şcoala Medie Specială pentru Orbi (The Special Educational Needs High-School for Blind People) and then having the final official name of Şcoala Generală Specială pentru Orbi (The Special Educational Needs Primary School for Blind People). Ever since 1990 it has the name of Liceul pentru Deficienţi de Vedere (The High-School of the Visually Impaired People). 

(Source: Lajos Katona)

(translated by Bartalis Mónika)