Foreign worlds

July 4, 2024

Pétur Björgvin Þorsteinsson with the two interpreters mentioned in the article.

At the guest window sits 

Pétur Björgvin Þorsteinsson, manager of a project called Hope for Eastern Europe (ie Hoffnung für Osteuropa). The project is a collaboration between the Evangelical Church and the Diaconia in Württemberg, Germany. Pétur took over the job five years ago, but the project is 30 years old. It is intended to support diaconia and aid work in the former Eastern Cape countries.

Pétur Björgvin is a deacon and has an M.A. degree in European Studies. He was born in Dalvík and grew up in Thorpina in Akureyri. Since he completed his studies in religious pedagogy from Karlshöhe, Ludwigsburg, where he was ordained a deacon in 1997, he has worked alternately in Germany and Iceland. This is the third article published in the Guest window by him. Photo: Manfred Neumann.

“Braille, inventor, Romania, Hungarian minority, South Korea, Germany, diaconate, three denominations, and people with and without disabilities.” All this appears in this article. Now we can only hope that the author of the article has managed to piece it all together correctly,” writes Pétur Björgvin and continues:

Pétur Björgvin together with the Romanian priest.

At the end of February this year I was in Romania. I had taken on the task of being a tour guide for a group of 20 people from South Korea, but they were very interested in learning about working with people with disabilities. The group was made up of university teachers, students, staff at the housing estates and the residents of these housing estates. Hosts in Romania were residents of an apartment complex for the disabled as well as staff, residents of a nursing home and volunteers from church work. We stayed for a few days in a town called “Cluj-Napoca”, where the organization “Febé” is based. Behind “Febé” stands the Protestant Church (i.e. Reformierte Kirche) of the Hungarian minority in Romania, while the guests come from the Episcopal Church in South Korea.

The group from South Korea 

From the beginning it was clear to all of us that many cultures met here. On the very first evening, the managing director of the nursing home noticed at the dinner table that all was not well here. The people from South Korea stopped eating the food that was served, although it was clear that everyone was full. So she stood up and explained that their habit was not to stop serving food until the guests had stopped eating and there was obviously still enough food on the table. Here, one assumes that the food should not run out. Now the group from South Korea breathed a little easier. In their eyes, it is polite to finish all the food that is served on the table. The staff in the kitchen were no less happy, because they were about to start cooking more food. This first reminder came in handy for all of us and helped us to talk openly about our cultural differences to avoid misunderstandings as much as possible.

The intention is not to trace the travel story here, but to tell about one more incident that taught us a lot about ourselves, our own impatience and how important it is to take the time to explain the context, listen carefully and ask questions. It starred an invention that is about to change the world for those addicted to Braille.

The group from South Korea was accompanied by a German-speaking professor and a university chaplain. The two took it upon themselves to interpret for the group from South Korea. By this point, we were all pretty used to taking the time to listen to translations. Sometimes the first narration was in Romanian. Then it had to be interpreted into German and then into Korean or vice versa.  There had always been an opportunity to compare books and prepare those who were in charge of interpreting each time.

It was the evening of the third day when the “unexpected guest” program began. The resident next door to Febé’s nursing home is an inventor. The hosts were very proud of this and found it especially exciting to surprise everyone with this program. Understandably, this caused some tension among the interpreters because this inventor would speak Romanian. Here it is important to note that the hosts are from the Hungarian minority and therefore Romanian is not their mother tongue. But it was not necessarily to blame.

“Hello, my name is Tudor Paul Scripor and I have come here to tell you about my invention.” Thus the visitor began his speech in Romanian. The sentence was translated into German and from there into Korean. But as the number of sentences increased, this time the professor’s impatience grew. It was obvious that he did not get the gist of what was being presented.

The inventor used to promote the project and he said that he had been to many places in Europe but also to the United States and Australia. His experience was that he was always well received and people were very happy with his invention. But now the century was different. Every single character from the group from South Korea was one big question mark. It was obvious that no one understood what the man was going for. He had taken two things for granted: That the method of reading Braille with the fingers was known and that everyone was informed about the change that has taken place that people want to be able to think for themselves, despite their own disabilities, or decide how services they are arranged.

In a graphic way, he described how blind people find that the sweater is out of place, the socks are not the same color or the pants and shirt do not match at all, the color combination is out of order. When we Europeans heard this, we thought, “Yes, this is an obvious problem.” But at the same time, the university people from South Korea thought, “The blind people must have the wrong assistants.”

Author and inventor of the Braille-based color code, Tudor Paul Scripor, together with two university students from South Korea.

The group’s understanding did not improve when he explained that he had developed a new Braille script based on Braille. But instead of 6 points, i.e. e. instead of the two vertical rows of three dots each, on which Braille is based, he created a ten-dot font, three vertical rows with one dot above the other nine so that it is clear what is facing up. One sign represents “white”, one “black”, the third “red” and so on.  Here, neither he nor any of us had realized that there is one country in the world that does not use Braille: South Korea.

I was fascinated by this invention. One symbol for each of the main colors, sewn into the inside of the socks so it’s easy to tell if the socks are suburban or not and which is right and which is left. Or sewn to the neckline and to the lower left stripe on the inside of the sweater. With your finger it is easy to read: This is a red sweater and I know how to turn it.

But when it came to this, the professor was upset. He refused to explain more, because no one got to the bottom of what was being talked about. There was therefore nothing else to do in the situation but to start over. This time we started by explaining that for decades children in Europe had grown up reading Braille with their fingers and that there were books they could read. The guests had never heard of this. Then we explained that it is part of general human rights that people with disabilities can take care of themselves and have all the aids to do so. This seemed foreign to the group, they thought it would be much better to always have helpers. But they understood the context and realized that here the new invention could help blind people put their laundry in the washing machine and choose from the wardrobe what suited them – now or play cards, because the symbols can be used to identify the colors of cards, t. d. ludo And now the invention was applauded.

You can read more about this invention here. 

The cooperation between Diakonie Württemberg and Hanil University in Jeonju, South Korea has a thirty-year history, and mutual visits have been annual events. Here, however, for the first time there were also participants who are themselves users of the service as well as students, and not “just” managers and academics. In addition, this was the first time that a group like this visited a country in Eastern Europe. In front of the group, professor dr. Woong-Soo Kim.

The organization “Febé” is one of the organizations that regularly receives grants from the grant project “Hope for Eastern Europe” (ie Hoffnung für Osteuropa). The nursing home is in a new building that was financed by the government of Hungary, in support of the minority in Romania. The condominium is run in a building that used to be a nursing home. There is room for 15 people. The new  nursing home has room for almost 80 people.