Author: by Somorjai Blanka
A Mirrors Foundation we talked to Aniko Cserjés about the work of the foundation, their plans and their involvement in helping Ukrainian refugees.
Anikó Cserjés, Director of the Mirrors Foundation
Can you tell us about how the Mirrors Foundation was born? What was the intention that brought it to life?
I lived in Mexico for a couple of years and it really shaped my experience of the world and gave me a lot. I and several others have set up a foundation there to work on environmental education. We organised programmes such as how to connect with nature in a city, and we ran community and cultural projects.
Do people in Mexico have a different attitude towards nature? What have you experienced?
Absolutely! Mexico is huge and very diverse. In six years I have not been to more parts than I have visited. There’s a cute saying that God, when he created the world, put things on Earth out of a bag, but he accidentally tripped over Mexico and a lot of things fell out of his bag. It’s true, there are a lot of different kinds. I have found that Mexicans are much closer to nature, if not always with the coexistence shown in the media. If nothing else, when they see a spider, a frog, it’s either angry or not, hence they are much more mindful of their footsteps. You could say that this attentiveness comes from compulsion, but it creates a completely different presence. They also look upon other creatures of nature as teachers, and every day they are given is a day of gratitude.
How did this experience lead to the Mirrors Foundation?
When I moved back home, I already knew what my direction was: environmental education, therapeutic recreation and experiential education. It started to come together nicely. Finally, in 2020, the Mirrors Foundation was created.
What is environmental education? How did the name come about?
At first glance, it may seem that environmental education is only for children, but it is not, in fact it is not. It’s about how when I see a straight tree, I stand straighter. This is what mirrors of nature means. We learn a lot from nature, unintentionally and unintentionally. Our foundation aims to create sessions where we can do this and learn about ourselves, each other and nature through nature. We want to create a space where several generations can connect in new situations, in new qualities, through playful activities.
Mirrors of nature
So the Mirrors represent the automatic back-and-forth between nature and man? Does the Foundation intend to give this process a prominent place through its programmes, and beyond that, do you want to take the human-human connection to another level?
How did you then turn to mothers?
Originally from Budapest, we moved here two years ago, near Szeged. As soon as I became a mother, I myself started looking for a mother’s place in the area. I found opportunities around a specific theme, but I couldn’t find one where we were in a community, where we got together, created experiences, babysat, looked at what each other needed in everyday life. I always look at the mothers who become mothers close to me in time as if we were a cohort. Our children are a generation: they will interact in the same space, at the same time, with each other, with their environment, they will make connections with each other, etc. So I couldn’t find that kind of community, and then I thought, let’s see if there is a need for that for others. I raised this with a fellow mother and that’s how the sessions started.
You run the parent group and prepare a programme for each session. Why does a mothers’ group have to have a programme, why can’t you just be in the “soup”?
I feel (and not just about mothers, but staying with mothers for now) that on the one hand, even two very open and friendly mothers find it difficult to move away from the conversation of “how old is your child”, or “what does your child do”, etc. It’s very difficult to go beyond that.
The aim of the programme is really just to facilitate a different, deeper conversation. To be able to talk about motherhood and beyond, even taboo topics, not just about the child.
On the other hand, people used to be more involved in the “soup”, they grew into it, and now we have to learn it again. It’s very difficult to allow ourselves to just be, I think it’s being relearned.
How do you bring in a taboo subject or a more difficult topic at a time like this?
I tend to give a broader range of themes, such as something that is linked to the cycle of the year, because there can be so many different ways of living and the aim is to make room for all of them. I’ll give you an example: there was a theme called “The Pre-Motherhood Self”. That in itself can be quite taboo, it takes us to experiences and memories that open up a whole different rubric in our brain. We’ve made a tabula rasa, it’s there, and I hope the time will come when it can be included.
Why is it that certain topics are taboo? Why does anything that has to do with our lives become taboo?
The first thing that comes to mind are societal expectations, but so are our own expectations. For example, we don’t want to be seen in a picture where we feel we haven’t solved something.
And these are exactly the points where the community could help us the most! Where you feel insecure, where you feel crippled, where you feel like an absolute failure, that’s where community support is most useful.
Yes, very much so! The feeling of hearing yourself echoing back. Then you realise that it happens to other people, it’s a challenge for other people. I’m not alone. Usually we live life without seeing that it’s an ongoing thing and it’s always changing. What we have now is not a determinate something, but part of a process. As a mother, we have plenty of moments when we can’t see out of our heads, but it’s true of other areas of life as well
every moment is part of a process.
At the very first project, we were very excited to have grandmothers there, and a mother with a 32-year-old son. It was very rewarding to see this process in motherhood, that however different they are, they are mothers. When I see women who I know in some way are mothers, it suddenly hits me that she too had a sleepover once and she too was up at 3am to be with her child. Because she’s not in it now, she did it once. I hear a lot from moms with grown kids, “oh they don’t belong in a mommy group anymore”. But they are still mothers!
It is a great benefit for everyone if the mother group really embodies the concept of the mother village mother group, because that is exactly what it is: sharing experiences and experiences.
How did Ukrainian mothers come into the reach of your foundation?
We have connected with several mothers’ organisations in Szeged, for example the Szeged Doula Club, to see what they can contribute to support Ukrainian mothers. Originally we had no contact with them, but we looked up where they were, and found out that there was a boarding house with 20 Ukrainian mothers. Before we started the sessions, we went there to introduce ourselves and assess the needs.
What programme has been developed?
We have created a new mothers’ group for Ukrainian mums. Originally we were planning to have a mothers’ group and children’s activities, but it turned out that all the children were either in school or kindergarten and they wanted to do some kind of exercise, yoga. The concept of a mother’s circle is quite unfamiliar, even to mothers in Hungary, so first we had to pass on the concept of a mother’s circle. Finally, in cooperation with local yoga teachers and mother supporters, we welcome Ukrainian mothers and Hungarian mothers who want to join us, to join a mother circle and yoga. We would like to get to know and support each other: Hungarian and Ukrainian mothers.
Because a mother is a mother everywhere.
How do you overcome language barriers?
What we can do is non-verbal, I’m introducing more playful elements into the material circle that are non-verbal, but also an interpreter to help with understanding.
What happens in such a parent group?
We start with a playful part. It is interesting to note how difficult it is for us as adults, as mothers, to allow ourselves to play. At first we don’t feel what is happening, but then there is that smile where something clicks and we start to connect.
We find it hard to afford to stop from doing things for a 5-minute shower or even fooling around. And sometimes that’s the most we can do. It frees us up and it’s like we’re on a different programme. Also in the Mother’s Circle programme, we move on from the playful part to a deeper conversation part.
Because of cultural differences, have you ever stepped into a taboo area that you didn’t think was taboo, but for them it was?
I try very hard to make sure that I bring in a topic in a way that a very broad version of it comes in, so that everyone can bring in their own experience. By the way, I am already careful about this in the Hungarian mother group, because it can happen there too.
Another nice example came to mind recently. I introduced a contradictory game in such a way that I’m sure everyone will agree that teenagers, often contradict themselves. I was expecting a lot of agreement, when I got surprised looks back. Whereupon they shared that Ukrainian teens don’t contradict much. We had a good laugh about that together.
Mirrors Foundation mother circle
Often we think of mother circles as a kind of baby-mother circle, but here we see adult women without babies. How is that?
A mother’s circle is about mothers. Babies can come, but here they are chaperones.
At the first meeting in Ukraine, there was a lady with a 32-year-old son, and she said that she was tired of being a mother and she was here to recharge. Another mother, now in her grandmotherly capacity. For us, they represent a huge experience. Everybody gives and receives.
Finally, I wonder what you are bringing from your Mexican nature awakening to the Ukrainian motherland?
I always remember that we are all part of nature, and if we slow down a little bit and listen to each other, by looking into each other’s eyes, we create a rhythm that immediately connects us back to ourselves. I think the connection itself is something that can be easily learned from nature.
One of these playful sequences where we look into each other’s eyes, or an element of nature smuggled in, creates a spark that when you step out of it, you might find a different presence in your steps.
Photo by Mirrors Foundation and Ahn Nguyễn by Pexels