“If I can help, I will”: The mum that turned tragedy into helping the vulnerable
10 June 2019 at 8:30 am
Fatma Elzein, the founder of Mummies Paying it Forward, has built up a powerhouse charity and volunteer network that delivers every day essential items to the people who need them most. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
It was coming up to the first birthday of Elzein’s daughter, who had passed away from SIDS.
Struggling to cope, Elzein wanted to direct her attention towards finding a way to help others. As a mother of four children, she found it unfathomable that there were families struggling to feed or clothe their children.
To make sure quality essential items were going to the people who needed them, she asked local charities what they actually needed, rounded them up from friends and family, and dropped them off.
The organisation has now grown to have over 30 drop off points and a small army of volunteers that sort through and send off the donations to 18 charity partners that help refugees, kids in poverty, and people experiencing homelessness.
Mummies Paying it Forward is also supported by a wider Facebook community of over 19,000 members, which acts not only as an info centre for the organisation, but as a hub and lifeline for everyday people wanting to make a practical difference.
For her efforts, Elzein was named in the 2019 Pro Bono Australia Impact 25 Awards.
In this week’s Changemaker, she talks about finding her purpose, why you should help if you can, and taking time for yourself.
What inspired you to start Mummies Paying it Forward?
I had a baby that passed away from SIDS, and it was coming up to her first birthday. No one really tells you what to do or how you get through the day after something like that happens. I needed a focus and to do something positive so that what happened was not just a sad tale, but her loss meant something.
I went on Facebook to try and distract myself and there was a local organisation that was having its last donation day for everyday essentials for babies and kids, by complete coincidence on her birthday. I thought if I could get a couple of cots and a couple of brand new bassinets then that’s me contributing.
I sent out a text message to my siblings, and within five minutes they said they would help, and so the quota of two cots and two bassinets was done. I thought if that’s the response that I’m getting from them let me see if I can get others on board. And so I just asked some friends and family if they had anything for babies or kids they wanted to contribute and within 24 hours we were able to purchase two cots, 12 bassinets and enough material donations to fill three cars. That moment was really life-changing because I was able to channel what I was feeling and the grief into something productive.
How did this lead to you starting the charity?
I was at a family friend’s house and they asked if I still needed donations. The organisation we had been giving the donations to weren’t accepting any more donations, but my husband and I decided to take it home to donate at a later point.
I remember just getting in the car and thinking, what am I doing? But then my husband said to me that if I knew a way to help people and somebody wants to help why wouldn’t you just help.
I didn’t have any idea how to run a charity, and I definitely didn’t have a formal business plan, but we knew the kinds of organisations we needed to support, we knew exactly what kinds of donations we wanted to support, and we knew that we could put them in the back of my car to drop them off.
You’re also a part-time paediatric nurse and have four kids, did you find it hard to juggle everything in the beginning?
Because it started from such a personal experience, I probably pushed it more than most people might, because there was no other option. I had also identified a problem, and it was really hard to unsee it. I find it really hard to sit back and live a comfortable life when I know there are one in six kids in Australia that live in poverty.
Having the kids and being a nurse meant we had to make things as simple as possible. I was based in South Sydney, but I got my mum and my friends to be drop off points, and then I used the Mummies Paying it Forward Facebook group to attract attention, which was really effective. It went from 600 members to 1,200 overnight. Mums were putting their hands up and offering their homes as drop off points, or their individual skills for the organisation because what we were doing really resonated with them.
Has having such a wide support network helped support you as a leader?
The thing I love about Mummies is that we really focus on helping others as well as helping each other. I post a lot of personal stories about myself and what the organisation is doing, but I think it’s important to put yourself out there and share those stories to help others find their purpose.
Your organisation is a really good success story of an everyday person starting a grassroots organisation, what advice would you have for someone wanting to make the jump into the career?
I remember giving advice to a friend who wanted to start an advocacy-based organisation and telling her that if she saw the need, and she had the passion and the heart for it, you will succeed. And I think that’s how it should go with anything, if you’re doing something you’re passionate about it and you believe in what you’re doing, it’s really contagious.
Running an organisation like this can be stressful at times, what advice do you follow and tell your volunteers to follow, to make sure you don’t burn out?
One of the things I reiterate to my volunteers and they reiterate to me, is that you have to focus on yourself and what you need, and to take the time to have a break when you need it.
For me, I read daily for a minimum of 30 minutes. It’s so important I do that because for 30 minutes each night, I completely escape from everything that I’m thinking about and everything that is stressing me out. I also think surrounding yourself with people that can support you and can see when you’re getting overwhelmed, and just tell you to stop [is essential].
It’s also self-care because, at the end of the day, you’re not gonna be able to do anything for anybody if you’re not looking out for yourself.