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Introducing the Bardos Foundation

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In a time of horrific treatment for immigrants in the US, I've been thinking for a while what I can do in a more meaningful way than frustratingly pointless calls to representatives in Washington. I want to do something now to help others who are facing similar challenges.

That's why I have started the Bardos Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing aid and support to immigrants and refugees. Named after my grandparents, Denes and Agota Bardos, the foundation will offer direct aid to teachers and students to help with the cost of pursuing an education in the United States. Education and hard work were always at the center of my grandparents' philosophy to succeeding in America, and boy were their results impressive. They escaped from a Russian prison, traveled across the world to a foreign land, learned English at a college level in just a few months, earned a PhD with multiple babies at home, and put all ten of their children through college too. Their incredible journey has always been a source of inspiration for me, and I hope their legacy might serve the same inspiration for other immigrants like them through the foundation.

The inspiration for the Bardos Foundation goes beyond regular ancestral affiliation though. My motivation here is deeply personal and rooted in my close relationship with my grandfather. I was raised in his house from the age of nine all the way to eighteen, and he was my de facto father during some very turbulent years of my life.

Growing up in war-torn Hungary, my grandfather has dozens of powerful stories that have helped shape who I am. There's the prison escape story, the one about the machine gun on his kitchen table, and the one about a literal bombshell, all of which are incredible in their own right. Yet as I've spent the past year putting together the resources necessary to unveil the Bardos Foundation, one story in particular stands out to me now as a primary source of my awe and the drive to help. It started when Denes was just 6 years old...

The year is 1944. The place is Budapest, Hungary, where my grandparents grew up. The Nazi occupation of the city is nearing its end with the Siege of Budapest by the Soviet Red Army. The sounds of artillery shelling echoed through the city, causing widespread destruction. My grandfather's family, like many others, sought refuge in a cramped and dingy basement. With little to no food, they were forced to survive on charcoal from the fire. The endless days spent in close quarters, with only the sounds of war to keep them company, took a toll on the family's spirits. But the children, including my grandfather, found solace in their imaginations. They closed their eyes and let their minds wander to happier times, imagining their favorite meals and pretending the hardened bits of coal were tender fruits. These moments of escapism provided a much-needed reprieve from the harsh reality of their situation.

Budapest, once a bustling city known for its rich history and stunning architecture, lay in ruins after the devastating effects of World War II. An estimated 80% of the once grand buildings across the city now lay in rubble, shattered glass and debris littering the streets. The air was still thick with the smell of smoke (or worse), a constant reminder of the destruction that had taken place. Amidst the tragedy, families huddled in what remained of their homes, trying to piece their lives back together in a city that barely felt recognizable. Despite the hardships, a glimmer of hope could be seen in the determination of everyday citizens as they came together to rebuild their city. The sounds of rebuilding echoed throughout the remains, as people worked tirelessly to clear the wreckage and restore a sense of normalcy to their lives. Compared to that basement during the siege, these were the joyous times. They had survived!

Returning to school in a war-torn country was a daunting experience for my grandfather and his siblings. The once lively classrooms were now barren, with destroyed furniture and missing supplies. The children had to make do with what little they had, trying to continue their education amidst the chaos of a city still recovering from war. Denes was faced with the challenge of writing on broken, uneven surfaces with a pencil that was never sharp enough, constantly tearing through the page.

As my grandfather walked home from school with his brother through the ruined streets of Budapest, right past rubble that had once been a family friend's apartment, they imagined a better future. After all the pain and suffering seen around him, the hunger, the destruction, the poverty, my grandfather dreamed not of extravagant wealth, endless feasts, or gilded mansions. He dreamed of paper, simple notebook paper. He dreamed of a day when he would be so rich, he could own a whole stack of paper--a stack so thick that he would finally be able to write smoothly. This humble dream became a symbol of hope, a reminder that one day, things could be different, and that he and his family could rise again from the ashes of war.

Thinking of my grandfather experiencing these struggles at such a young age always makes me tear up, even now, as I write this. By providing aid and support to immigrants, the Bardos Foundation will help others overcome the same obstacles my grandparents faced, help asylum seekers achieve their own dreams, and build a better future for refugees and their families.

No kindergartener should need to dream about having edible food and access to 25 cents worth of paper.