Ildi Tóth is the coordinator of EU Projects in the Budapest Bike Maffia (BBM) team. In 2019, she went to Brussels in connection with the ‘Intercultural Biking for Helping’ project which she conceived, because it was selected by the European Union as a model project. She is one of our most energetic members who besides coordinating with volunteers from abroad, is an enthusiastic member of ‘Vitamin Kommandó’, and also gives presentations in English to corporate employees and students.

You’re in charge of an international volunteer programme at Budapest Bike Maffia, you work at British International School Budapest (BISB), you participate in a number of other volunteer programmes abroad, and of course you travel a lot. Am I right to think that the English language, travelling, and generally being ‘international’ is also your hobby and passion?

I have been travelling since I was a child and the international environment has been an influential part of my life. Until my last year at university, German and Russian were my most used foreign languages but this has now shifted to the daily use of German and English. I used to travel a lot with orchestras, dance groups and acting troupes which I was a member of until the end of my studies. Since then, I can’t actually think of a time when I haven’t been working in an international environment of some kind. At BISB where I work now, there are students from more than 50 countries! I believe that the creation of a better future begins with getting to know, understanding and appreciating differences in every domain. A personal objective to my volunteering and travelling to manage international projects is to get to know the everyday lives of people and then sharing these experiences when I present and speak about projects and experiences with others.

How did you join BBM and how did the project presented in Brussels and your participation in European Youth Week 2019 come to be?

I returned to live in Budapest in the summer of 2016 and I read about BBM’s initiative called ‘Krízis’ in December. They were collecting donations of warm clothes for people in need. I packed a few sweaters and coats and I took them along to the BBM’s headquarters. A couple of days later, I saw one of the sweaters (which was unmistakeably recognizable, since I inherited it from my grandpa) on Andrássy Street, worn by a man who lived there. That’s when I decided that I would join BBM. In the beginning, I only helped with ‘Vitamin Kommandó’ and with presentations given in English, but in the spring of 2017, I found out that the BBM was going to participate in the ‘Erasmus+’ programme of the European Commission as a receiving organization. I offered to write a project using my experience during the previous ten years of working in the youth field. BBM received three foreign volunteers in 2018 for nine months in the context of this project. It was the aforementioned ‘Intercultural Biking for Helping’, which was chosen as a model project by the European Commission in March 2019. The opportunity to introduce ourselves to the European Parliament and talk to thousands of people about our activity. It was a thrilling experience!

You do a variety of voluntary work at BBM. For instance, during the coronavirus period, masks were delivered to shelters for the homeless thanks to your work and coordination. Do you have a favourite project, task or activity?

My favourite was of course my own project. 🙂 Nevertheless, I have been far from idle since it ended. Last year, I assisted with interviewing the authors in the MyBudapest Photo Project. What I really liked about this project was that we got to acquaint ourselves personally with the subjects: I learnt a lot about their everyday lives that I could share with others, for example, with students at BISB during an assembly about ‘Sensitivity’.

In my opinion, one of our best projects in Vitamin Kommandó. For many volunteers, this is their first connection with BBM. During these occasions, we are able to share with them the story of BBM and what it means to us helping those in need on a regular basis. Sharing over experiences also helps us to deal with what we see and experience during our volunteer activities. Often it can be quite upsetting and thought provoking.

More recently, “mask coordination” as I call it, seemed a bit hopeless. With a tremendous demand of masks for everyone, establishing connections with voluntary seamstresses was challenging. Thankfully, more and more people checked in with us to offer this help. After a couple of weeks, we were out delivering masks to those who needed them, and everything went very smoothly. This enormous collaborative joint effort was wonderful to be part of and its impact was hugely important given the challenging circumstances we are all facing with Covid-19.

What do you like the most about BBM? Do you have a favourite memory from the past few years?

The team at BBM consists of both regular members and people who join us for just one occasion whilst they are visiting Budapest. Our common goal is to help people in need. This is not necessarily easy all the time, both physically and emotionally, but BBM is a real community. We all support each other and the outcomes of our collective energy and effort, no matter how small or large, can be see immediately on the streets and in the housing shelters of Budapest.

The list of my memories is very long, but the most predominant one involved someone living on the streets. About two years ago, I started visiting Flórián Square regularly, to distribute food, clothes and blankets to a group of homeless people who lived there. I visited them every week, I knew their names, and they often told me what it was they needed. Over time, they shared with me their personal stories, how they found themselves living on the streets, and how they were struggling to find their way back into society. Several months later, all of a sudden, they were no longer in the subway anymore. It took me a while to find out why they were not living there. One of them managed to find a job; he became a security guard at a building site where he also had accommodation, another was given a permanent place at a homeless shelter, a third had moved in with a sibling in a rural area of Hungary. I have met two of them since and they thanked me several times for my help. They emphasized to me that whilst the donations of food and clothing were crucial, they were most grateful for me treating them as human beings. Taking the time to engage in conversation with them was in part the beginning of their journey towards a better life. I believe this is an example of what it means to help others no matter how little that may seem, either as a BBM volunteer or just a caring person.