“Happiness Helps Healing” – this is the motto that Albert Royaards follows in his life and work. The lawyer founded the Smiling Hospital Foundation with Countess Éva Csáky Bornemisza ten years ago, and ever since they have both been a part of many sick children’s lives. How did the man from the Netherlands, the “proud Dutchman” as he calls himself, come to Budapest?
Dr. Royaards had been making trips to Budapest since 1996 “but before I lived with my wife and six children in Singapore for nearly 20 years”. It was necessary to move back to Europe to be closer to their children during their studies. He was a financial advisor in Singapore but back in his home country he wanted to engage in charity activities. “I wanted to do more than just go to board meetings and play golf,” he jests.
Help where help is needed
However, he quickly realised that the need for charity was not great enough in Holland to offer him a challenge, “so I went looking for a region – similar to Asia – where there would be a clear need for charities and not too far away from my children”.
Thus he travelled around and visited 17 Central and Eastern European countries to find his future place to work. When he came to Budapest he fell in love with the city immediately, and the Danube in particular. This love lasts still today: “Every time when I cross a bridge I feel this inspiring feeling in my heart and soul.”
This, however, was not Royaards’ first encounter with the Hungarians. “I was 13 years old in 1956 when I heard about the revolution in this country. Children and young people stood to face the tanks, and that really shocked and touched me at that time. Still today I respect the Hungarian people a lot for various reasons.”
As a young student, Royaards came into contact with Hungarian culture by chance. “In the old Dutch universities we have student orchestras, which have been playing Gypsy music for centuries.” This was also one reason he came to Budapest: a matter of nostalgia. When he arrived, the romance of the past soon disappeared and reality took over. Still – or perhaps that is why – he came to stay.
Much to offer
“Hungary has much to offer. The inhabitants are friendly and warm-hearted, and the gastronomy, wines and nature are fantastic and a wonderful experience for anybody,” Royaards enthuses. However, there is unfortunately a very negative perception of Hungary outside the country mainly due to the widespread corruption.
Royaards still thinks about the benefits of the country and he does not give up hope. “I am confident that an honest and good government deciding on a strict fight against corruption could make Hungary into a new Switzerland within 50 years.”
As a foreigner who has been living here for so long, the lawyer has his own view about the country: “In my opinion the governments have not changed for the better. In 1996, when I came here, I only saw homeless people on the street occasionally. Today the poverty can be seen everywhere, and that tells me clearly that this country has not been going in the right direction.”
Desire to do good
Royaards is not interested in politics, however. He is much more concerned in the progress and growth of his foundation. He still remembers how it all began. “After my original idea to build a company dealing with financial advisory services in Hungary did not work out the way I imagined, I decided to give up trying to make money and instead wanted to deal only with charity work. I always wanted to help children. I have six of my own.”
A personal experience, the illness of his son, was the reason for his decision to deal with sick children. “In 1974, when we still lived in Asia, diabetes was diagnosed in one of my children – he was not even one year old. Initially the Asian doctors did not know what illness he had and his life was at risk.” As a last hope, he called his father, a general practitioner of 25 years experience. His father got on the plane immediately. In Asia, he leaned over the bed, took a deep breath and explained: “The child has diabetes.”
Around the new millennium Royaards met Countess Éva Csáky Bornemisza. “I found a real soulmate in her,” he says today. The countess also had a goal to help children in hospitals. Since then they have been working together, with the countess the official founder of the foundation and Royaards the chairman of the board.
“We concentrate on children staying in hospitals and work with all kinds of artists, like musicians, magicians, story tellers and puppeteers.” The numbers prove how successful it has been. The “Smiling Doctors” are active in more than 20 hospitals across Hungary and around 400 volunteers help.
Additionally, there are companies that offer their help by painting pleasant scenes and characters in the hospital corridors and children’s wards. The firms send teams of 10-20 volunteers to the hospital, where they are assisted in painting by artists of the foundation. It is generally a lot of fun for everyone involved and the end result provides children an excellent distraction from everyday life in the hospital.
Transparency above all
Two important fundamentals of the Smiling Hospital Foundation are slim structures and absolute transparency. “We have to be careful how we spend the money entrusted to us.” That is why the president of the board is regularly reviewing the financials, beside the work of the bookkeeper. “Once a year PwC Hungary is conducting a complete audit of the books and does so on a pro bono basis. The law does not require yearly audits, but audits help make the foundation financially transparent and give an extra dimension of credibility.”
In addition to the efforts made for transparency, the main reason for the success and growth of the Smiling Hospital Foundation seems to be Royaards’ captivating and friendly personality. Something the smiling Dutchman can hopefully carry on providing for a long time.