The spring of 2022, Mother Nature Association (MoNa) launched a grant to improve the situation of women, mothers and families fleeing Ukraine. We spoke to the leaders of the organisation about the competition, the spirit they represent, their long-term vision, the power and potential of the mother community. My interlocutors were Emese Dömösi, Judith Kiss and Liza Baranyai.
[In a series of articles, we present the activities of MoNa and the winning applicants, and through them, the stories of those fleeing war. We want these stories to reach as many people as possible. Please help us by sharing them with us. Thank you! Editor]
A close-knit team is waiting on the other side of the camera. Not only are they finishing each other’s sentences, but they’re clearly listening to each other. The quality of their cooperation is also quite different from the traditional. It is both efficient and human, honest and professional. It is as if the values they represent are being put into practice.
The association has only been running for two years, but already more than 300 women and mothers participate in their online programmes every year, 72 mothers’ experts have joined their initiative and hundreds of people took part in the latest series of online programmes for mother entrepreneurs.
What does Mother Nature Association do? What is the focus of the organisation?
Liza: When we started, we focused only on motherhood, but now the picture is a bit broader, because motherhood is not the only time in life when we need each other. So we aim to support all women’s life stages in addition to motherhood – always in community, embracing self-awareness and using the opportunities of community learning.
Emese: Besides, we don’t understand motherhood in the classical sense, but much more broadly. Motherhood is a quality: to be a parent, a carer for someone or something, to take care of someone as a mother does. It’s not just mothers who join us: there are women who are planning children, childless women, and women who have already had children.
Liza: … and this caring, this motherly quality also connects our activities, it’s in all three areas.
What are the three main activities that Mother Nature Association is involved in?
Liza: Motherhood as a journey of self-discovery is presented in the Mother’s Clubs, where we learn about ourselves, each other and from each other in community with other women.
We often think of entrepreneurship as our child – our Planting Programme addresses women entrepreneurship, where I would also highlight the role of community learning.
And the third leg is networking. Our aim is to create a network of mother communities and women’s communities, to connect them, to care for each other.
MINE – Mother Centers International Network for Empowerment
This networking is also the factor that connects the organisation to the international bloodstream. Emese, this is mostly your desk, isn’t it?
Emese: Yes, I’ve been on the Presidency of the International Network of Mother Centres for 10 years. MINE (Mother Centers International Network for Empowerment) is a global organization that connects grassroots women’s maternal communities around the world. It is a movement that started in the eighties, and it was here, in a branch of feminism, that mothers who wanted to do something for themselves and for the betterment of women and mothers were channeled. They organised themselves into communities so that their voices could be better heard and because together we can do so much more.
Emese Dömösi – MoNa, MINE
Why do you think these communities are so important?
Emese: These communities have great power. Not only because they can bring together mothers from all walks of life, but they can also act as a very responsive community space. That is why it is not important, for example, in the life of a municipality whether such an organisation exists.
They are very resilient organisms, operating in a less rigid structure, almost like a family. Because of this, they can react very quickly when something happens, whether it’s a natural disaster, Covid or a war situation.
Where are such women’s and mothers’ groups present at international level?
Emese: We are in contact with such organisations all over the world, we know of more than 1000 of them, from Germany to Canada to Bhutan. There are also very active in the neighbouring countries, with more than 250 parent centres in the Czech Republic and a significant network in Slovakia.
I don’t know of many such organisations in Hungary. Are we very far behind in this respect?
Emese: Unfortunately, the organisation of mother communities is in its infancy in our country, we are in contact with 4 of these classic mother centres. In Miskolc, we have Holdam and we, MotherNature – Mother Nature Association. Our ambition is to bring the threads together, we want to connect these women’s spaces.
And how did you become the Ukrainian tenderer?
Emese: The main sponsor of our Ukrainian fund application is the MINE, which is seen by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of State as a reliable and responsive network worth getting behind.
So, when the war broke out on 25 February, after a week of paralysis, we started looking for opportunities at the MINE level, we were watching what was coming, we started preparing, especially in the countries bordering Ukraine.
In a crisis situation like this, the power of women-to-women, mother-to-mother communities and centres can be very powerful. Through organisations like MoNa, we can respond very quickly because we have more informal ways of going down from the decision-making level to the field in a matter of moments. We immediately take the news, the needs, the wants, the problems, how people are being treated, whether it’s discrimination against Roma, sexual exploitation or other difficulties.
We are also good at community support. In the first stage of the flight, it is more about material support, and once you have food and shelter, then you can move on to the second stage.
When it seemed to be a lasting crisis, that’s when we were able to use our strengths best, because our purpose and strength is to provide community spaces for mothers to have the opportunity to connect with themselves and each other.
And that’s when you launched the call for applications for NGOs supporting refugee mothers in this country. How was the start-up?
Liza: Ours is a very young association, we’ve only been established for two years, so it’s a big step at an organisational level to apply. When we put out the call for applications, we suddenly felt like we had thrown a small stone into a big lake and it started to make huge waves. We were found by smaller and larger organisations that we had never heard of before. It feels good to have so many people wanting to help. Even though we have a relatively small budget for grants, we can still create big things. It’s really interesting to see – for the first time from this side of the grantmaking – the impact that can be made.
Liza Baranyai – MoNa
Wow, how beautifully you display the motherly quality I mentioned earlier – as a mother you stand behind the applicants. Wasn’t it scary going into a crisis not knowing in advance which way it would go, what would come out of it?
Emese: It’s exactly like when a crisis occurs in a family. We say, well, we’ve never been in a crisis like this before, but there’s no way around it. We felt that if we had the opportunities, if we had access to resources, we had a duty to step in and find the solutions that would have the greatest impact.
Judith: To be honest, I thought at the beginning, oops, that’s a big mouthful. But again, the power of community came in. I had a lot of faith in our team. We all bring some skills and once we put them together, there’s no question, we go and do it.
What are the main values and objectives that you have set for the competition?
Emese: The main aim is to help women and families who are refugees, mainly from Ukraine, and who are in our country. The main aim is to help the people who are refugees from Ukraine and their families. It’s not just material or material support, it’s to help them. So that they do not see themselves as victims. To turn fear, anger and vulnerability into active action. The key phrase: help to self-help – this is also the key phrase of the mother centres. Help to self-help. Help them to help themselves. They can experience that they have resources, they can have goals. They should not be helpless in a top-down system, but should rely on their own strength to create opportunities that work for them.
We have managed to define this objective well, because almost all the applications received were based on it.
We also had a more distant goal. We want those who participate in these grant-funded programmes to experience the power of grassroots support initiatives. And when this horror ends and they return to their country, they should be the first to rebuild. Because typically, in a country that has been completely shattered, both infrastructurally and socially, it is communities of women and mothers like these who can respond most quickly.
We see many examples of this at international level. In Bosnia, the widows of the Srebrenica massacre are living on with this common past and together they run a social enterprise, a vegetable processing plant. They are growing together from a very deep crisis.
The aim is for women to realise their potential, to find themselves, to understand that they have an important role to play, to be true influencers, to be the gathering rocks of a community that is rebuilding. Because typically, in a country that has been bombed out, rigid rules become soft, and then they can be moulded.
I think this is the first time in my life I’ve heard the word influencer in a positive context. You’ve announced
a two-stroke grant, and we still have the autumn round to go. Are there any expected changes from the spring?
Judith: The main lines, the main objectives of the call for proposals remain the same. However, before we put it out, we will consult with those we are already working with to refine the needs. It is important to reflect on what is happening now, what is needed.
Emese: In a crisis situation, needs change very quickly, and when we announced the spring, it was not at all clear what would happen in the autumn. That’s why the two cycles are lucky.
Apart from the call for non-profit organisations, who are you expecting in September?
Emese: We welcome previous applicants as well as new organisations who want to help refugee mothers, women and families along these values and tools. We are finding that those who are already doing this can get a big boost from such a grant. And by taking off the burden of many costs (be it materials, travel expenses, interpreter or professional allowances), they can better develop their skills and experience the power they have.
We also monitor the progress of the winning applications and it really seems to be a great experience for everyone. Existing skills seem to be getting a new boost. It’s as if the seeds have always been there and you’ve brought water to them…
Emese: It’s really great to see what can change through solutions like this. And I also believe that these solutions are needed for the situation of our planet, for the climate crisis. It is these regenerative processes, the emergence and living of feminine and maternal qualities, the power of grassroots organizing that can bring about effective change. Whether an immediate response is needed in a war situation, or on a larger scale in the context of the climate crisis.
It is this quality of womanhood and motherhood that can make a difference. We believe that it resonates upwards because it is the only way. It has been proven time and time again that the straight up – always more, always better – is not a sustainable trend. What is sustainable is the circular process.
For those who have never applied before or are afraid of the application bureaucracy, is there a message?
Liza: We’re very proud to say that this is a very different kind of competition from the traditional ones. Because we have been on the other side a lot, we know how difficult it is to focus on the essentials with the strict application framework and a lot of administration. We have therefore deliberately structured this application system to be as flexible as possible, with as little administrative burden as possible. We are concentrating on making sure that the money really goes where it is needed, because that is what matters.
Kiss Judith – MoNa
Judith: We really like to complain (not only at home) and focus on who is not doing what or not doing it well. But now we have the opportunity to focus more on what we can do. It’s a great feeling! It’s a challenging process, both humanly and organisationally, but it’s also great to see the strength of the organisations involved and how they are connected to us and to each other, supporting each other.
That’s right! We are one of the winning applicants, this talk is also supported by MotherNature-Anyatermészet Association, MINE, Mother Centers International Network for Empowerment and State Ministry of Baden-Württemerg. It’s a pleasure to see the goodwill, the will to help and the will to do that is emerging from this application. We will report soon on the work of the winning organisations. In the meantime, please visit Mother Nature Association