Now this is what you call a dream-come-true. No, scratch that. It’s more like the ‘wildest’ dream-come-true. When László Andraschek used his last few coins to purchase a lottery ticket, I’m sure he had no real hope of winning the jackpot – a whopping 600 million forint (US $2.70 million) – but it actually happened. The 55-year-old Hungarian went from being a homeless tramp to a millionaire, overnight.
For seven long years, Andraschek lived in a homeless shelter in the city of Győr. “It all happened to me, I remember it, but I don’t miss it,” he said about his experience of being homeless. He was also a recovering alcoholic at the time. “I had drunk myself out of the family by the age of 31. I was the last child at home and spent all my wages on drink. I worked on-and-off as an agricultural repairman. I lived the typical life of an alcoholic and I thought it was all right.”
It came to a point where Andraschek’s siblings were fed up of him and asked their mother to kick him out. This was in 1989; at age 31, Andraschek had become completely destitute. He tried to hang himself, but the rope snapped and he ended up losing a foot. “Even losing a foot didn’t make me mend my ways because I would blame everyone around me, anyone but myself.” In 1991, he registered himself as homeless.
Andraschek’s life was in a miserable shape when he received his wake-up call in 1995. He was so drunk that he couldn’t go home on Mother’s Day – a tradition he had never missed. By the end of that month, he signed up to get treated for alcoholism. He slowly began to put his life back together. In 1999, he met Aniko – his future bride – through a social worker. It took Andraschek another 10 years to get sober and the couple could barely make ends meet.
The night Andraschek bought the ticket, he was on his way to an alcoholics’ help center in Budapest. “I had only picked six numbers and the female shop assistant reminded me that I needed to pick a seventh,” he told the media. “I told her to make it 24 – it doesn’t matter anyway.” But it did matter, and how! That one number he picked out at random turned out to be a life-altering choice.
When he found out about the jackpot, Andraschek could barely contain himself. “As I cycled home, I thought: ‘It’s over. I don’t have to think about where to borrow more money to pay the debts. My life was a constant struggle of plugging holes, and I could only ever do that by creating new ones,” he said. At first he wanted to keep the news secret from his family, so he hid the winning ticket in his book of daily meditations – the last place anyone would look.
But it couldn’t remain hidden for long, because Andraschek’s excitement was too obvious. “When László came home and was dancing around the room, my first thought was maybe he had started drinking again,” said Aniko. When I watched him call the lottery company and heard them saying congratulations, I realized that he hadn’t lost his marbles after all. I was thinking, ‘I know what 600 means and I know what one million means. But I don’t know what 600 million means.’”
It’s actually been a year since the father-of-three won the lottery. Up until now, he chose to keep his story secret from the media. But it all came out in the open when he made a sizeable donation to a homeless shelter, late last year. He now owns six different properties and is planning a trip to Italy with his wife. Andraschek insists that he won’t let the money change him, at least not too much. “I have become rich but I have not become a different person,” he said.
And he really means it – ever since he won the jackpot, Andraschek has controlled his urge to spend it all and is instead creating awareness about the plight of Hungary’s 30,000 homeless people. His main fight is against last year’s ruling to grant local councils the right to ban the homeless from public spaces. “As long as there is no safety net for these people, it is pointless to fine them for being on the streets; it is not something you choose.”
“We were always being told to get out. It felt that we were always in the way and always on the move,” he added. “Around 200 of my peers have died since I was first homeless in Győr. Some of them froze to death; others were hit by cars while drunk.”
It’s heartening to see that despite all the struggles they’ve been through, the Andrascheks aren’t splurging all their money on luxury goods. They’re actually giving back to the community, and that’s amazing. They’re even planning to set up a foundation to help people who have lost their human dignity. “We don’t think of the win as something we’ve earned, we think of it as a divine miracle. We received this help at the very last minute. The world is opening up to us and it is beautiful. Of course, we also see the bad things, but life is beautiful.”
Source: The Guardian