Author: by Somorjai Blanka
With Nikoletta Végh-Nagy in the GoAnyu Association about the power of maternal unity and the importance of community building.
What was not, will be
The HajráAnyu Association has been operating in Hajdúszoboszló for several years. Can you tell us a bit about the beginnings?
It all started 8.5 years ago when I was pregnant with my first child, we were still living in France. It had already been decided that we would move to Hungary and to Hajdúszoboszló.
I started looking for local Facebook groups to find out where to go to nursery school, who the paediatrician is, in short, where to talk about motherly things. I could only find national mothers’ groups, but no such local discussion groups, especially not mothers’ focus groups.
I was like, if not, let’s do it! I did it! Just the other day I was amazed to see that we are slowly reaching 2000 members. They are mostly local mums aged between 20 and 40.
The group works perfectly well on its own, but a couple of years ago, posts started popping up about mums needing help. Charity requests came in from people who had come into contact with families in need. These were started by us, the three admins. It worked so well that more and more of these requests for help came in, and after a while we had to give it some kind of formal framework.
Niki and Heni Molnár, the deputy of the association
I would think that Hajdúszoboszló is a well-situated resort town.
Yes, this comes as a surprise to many people, but there are a lot of people living in abject poverty on the vineyards. In many places there is not even running water. I have a figure from 10 years ago, when more than 400 families were living in registered extreme poverty. Since then there have been no fewer. So there is a need, but fortunately there is also a willingness to give.
Was it clear accountability that led to the creation of the association?
By that time, I was well known and trusted here, and they gave me the money to buy, for example, a washing machine for xy family. Of course, I bought it and delivered it to the family in my own car, but after a while it was necessary to have a formal form.
Another issue I came across was that there were few activities in the city for local people and families. In the summer, of course, there is a lot for tourists, but minimal for locals, and the number of programs for young children in particular is small.
In the end, it was these two things that led us to set up the association, which has been going strong ever since. In fact, it is working so well that we may soon become a public benefit.
This is a good result! You have also done your bit to help Ukrainian refugees. Can you tell us about that?
For us, the war brought a lot of publicity. Many would not think it, but Hajduszoboszlo was already known among Ukrainians. They loved to come here on holiday. To this day there are refugees who live in the town as paying guests. Of course, there are many more who need care: accommodation, clothing, food.
At first it was for those who could afford the hotel, then it became an increasingly popular getaway destination. Just to give you a sense of the proportions, Hajdúszoboszló is a town of about 24 000 inhabitants, and at peak times it received 2 000 refugees. This is very significant in relation to the population.
There was a huge unity. We mothers, focusing on the children, helped and still help. As long as there was a very high turnover, we ran a collection point where everyone could bring in clothes, food, anything, and refugees could come in and take what they needed. We did a play house and also opened an open office so that they could work online for school or work.
Donation collection and distribution point
Where did you get the premises so quickly?
From the city. We had to act very quickly, because when the war broke out, the aid flowed in immediately, but we realised that it was not worth giving the donations to a big organisation because they were slower to process them, and these people need them now. We also saw that we shouldn’t go to big border crossings, because that’s where the help comes from first. But in Tiszabec, there was nothing, apart from the local teachers who were trying to do something, so we took the donations there. We had so much donations coming in that we couldn’t store it privately, then we managed to get a vacant shop space that was being converted, and a week later the town offered a vacant space. It was a disused exhibition space, where the large room was just right for the donations, we could sort, store and distribute them, The smaller rooms became the open-office office, and in the culture house opposite we could set up the play house.
This has brought a lot of visibility to the association, but also, people really like the programmes, and we like to work with the other NGOs here.
What programmes do you run?
For example, our last event was a Halloween event. For the little ones, we organised a bravery glowstick collection at dusk (you know those little sticks that light up when you break them). We hid lots of these glowsticks in a local woodland where a horse farm is being set up, and wrote a story about it. And for the older ones, we had a scary treasure hunt after dark, with monsters jumping out of bushes, ghosts and lots of scary tasks. It was so well attended this year that nearly a thousand people came out, including many visitors staying in town.
We play Advent window calendar. I’m sure you’ve heard of people decorating their windows on the day, we’ve put a little twist on that too, because here, whoever lights up the window is organising a street party that night. This will be the third time this year. The people are very enthusiastic, everyone comes up with something fun to do for the people who come to it.
And for the fifth year, we’ve been making gift packs for children in need. It’s a reverse advent calendar, where each person chooses a child and every day until Christmas they put a small gift in a shoebox appropriate to their gender and age, such as a crayon, storybook, etc. We organise a festive handover ceremony for this gift, if circumstances allow.
We also organise a monthly flea market. Fortunately, we have a good relationship with the city government, they support us with rooms and tables, whatever we need for the event or action.
How did you get such a good sense of programme organisation? Is it a talent you were born with?
It comes somehow. It comes from me. I start from what I would be happy about.
I have a 6 year old and an 8 year old, I’m making progress with what we need. The Facebook group is also a good control group, it’s a good way to filter what people are open to and what they’re not.
For Ukrainian mums, what are your plans now?
Now, of the 300 or so people who need care, several have indicated that they would like to learn basic Hungarian. We have organised a language course for them, for which we received a grant from MoNa.
Hungarian language course
In addition, of course, we invite them to all our activities, and luckily we have a Ukrainian-speaking mother in the group who translates our posters and we pass them on to them. We also provide an interpreter at the programmes.
We are big believers in mother circles, do you have one?
It’s a big goal, but unfortunately the covid really crushed this project and then the war took our resources, but we’re keen to restart it again next year. We have a lot of plans.
I believe very much in the power of community, the power of mothers.
I don’t like English terms, but “mum power” is very apt. The war really showed the power of mothers, of women. They can stand up not only for their own children, but also for the children of others! There is something of a cohesive force in women, that child, whether it is mine or not, but I understand that it is another mother’s child, and maternal solidarity is a fantastic and infinite energy.
I think very little is built on that in the world, but it could be built on, because there are so many things that mothers can do for each other, for themselves.
Do you think that Hungarian mothers also work this power among themselves?
I think it’s very important in this to move people towards positive life and feelings, rather than envy and hurting each other. Not divisiveness, because there is already a lack of hatred, acceptance, empathy and tolerance in this country. I think that if we have this very positive and sustaining thing within us, that we are mothers, then it is a task to turn it around so that the process itself and the outcome is positive.
How do you think this can be strengthened?
Absolutely in the offline space. It’s great that you have the online space, but what I was talking about can only work in person. For example, with this Christmas giving campaign, we also want the donors to see that those who receive the gifts are mothers who are doing everything for their children, but they have fewer opportunities.
I think that only community building, and offline local community building at that, is what supports this. That’s what’s really missing in the world.
Pop-up learning circle
Consider that for thousands of years humanity has lived in hunter-gatherer societies in small groups, and only in the last few thousand years has everything else happened. Belonging to a group is a very big human need! You’d rather talk to your neighbour, ask her how she is with genuine curiosity, than argue about anything with knife-edge strangers in an online group. Connecting in the online space does not give you a real sense of belonging to a community.
Niki, I have a feeling that you are just missing your magic wand, but you can do wonders without it! If only there were a fairy godmother like you in every Hungarian village!
Read more of our interviews with good fairies here you can find them here.
Featured photo by Norbert Hevesi, H1 photo studio, all other photos by HajráAnyu Association