As a child of immigrants, Fatma Elzein was fascinated by how her parents managed to move to a new country and start their life again. Her father told her it was the community that helped them, and he instilled in her a desire and duty to give back and help those in need. Fatma is living her father’s philosophy through Mummies Paying it Forward, a charity she founded to help disadvantaged people. She says running Mummies has shown her the incredible collective power we have to make a difference in our community.
Q. Tell us about your family’s journey to Australia.
My parents were both born in Lebanon. My dad came to Australia when he was 17, and my mum came back with him after they married. I was born in Australia. As a child, I never really had that connection with where my parents came from. The civil war was happening, and my parents didn’t want to expose us to a lot of the negativity and talk.
They focused on us being Australian. My father was ahead of his time and wanted us to get an education. To do something with our lives that would allow us to stand on our own two feet. He realised school could take his kids from the life he had to the life he wanted us to have. He knew people couldn’t take an education from us.
I did go to Lebanon as a child and again a few years ago with my husband and children. It was an eye-opener. My children were shocked to realise that some kids can’t go to school because they have to help their family.
Q. Tell us how Mummies Paying it Forward came to be.
Being the child of an immigrant makes you think about the circumstances each child is born into and what they can make of their life. Every child deserves a fresh start, and I don’t think kids should be disadvantaged because of the circumstances of their birth.
I was lucky to be born in Australia and have the opportunities that I’ve had. I’ve been able to reap the rewards of my parents’ hard work. I’ve never had to worry about where the next meal is coming from. Mummies Paying it Forward is a way to play our part in helping those not as fortunate.
But I didn’t just wake up one day to start a charity. I was struggling as I had a child that passed away. I wanted to donate to a local charity in her name, and the idea of Mummies Paying it Forward came to me. It’s about our humanity. It’s about having a higher purpose. Not just about me, me, me. Even though we live in a society that can be all about us, we want to help. Let’s take all the stuff we have and use it for good.
Every child deserves a fresh start, and I don’t think kids should be disadvantaged because of the circumstances of their birth.
Q. How does Mummies Paying it Forward help those in need?
We recycle and rehome goods. About 99% of our donations go where they can be reused or recycled. With our work, we strive to help address the impact of poverty, homelessness, domestic violence and other issues that disadvantage people across NSW.
We get referrals from caseworkers and social workers, so we know exactly what struggling families and individuals need. We try to provide the everyday things they need like clothes, food, keeping them warm at night. No person should have to live without the essentials. If we can alleviate some of that pressure, people can concentrate on other things like education and employment.
Q. How can people help?
People can donate goods at over 35 drop-off points in Sydney. We ask that donations be in new or excellent condition. They should be like a gift you would give. But if you do have things that are a bit stained, put them into the donation bin. We will use it. Waste less.
People can also donate money or their time. Mummies is over four years old now, but it’s only grown because of the generosity of people who’ve volunteered their time and money or offered their homes as drop off points. I’ve had a lot of help in terms of running a charity as well. I’m a nurse by trade, not a business person. One of our volunteers helped me with registering as a charity and everything that goes with that.
Never discount how you and your skills can help small organisations. We’ve only grown because people have gotten involved. We’re 100% volunteer-run.
Q. What’s driven your desire to give back?
It relates back to my parents. When we were growing up, I was fascinated with how someone can move to another country. It’s such a big thing to do. My father says it was the community that helped him. So the sense of community that he ingrained in all of us came out years later when I started Mummies.
Within our humanity, there’s a desire to help. If someone gets hurt, we have a lot of empathy. And as a parent, it’s important to encourage empathy and respect and to show your kids that you can positively impact someone else’s life.
Never underestimate the power you have to form your child’s thinking today and into the future.
At home, I do simple things to encourage my children to think about how they can help others. I have a little donation box in each of the kids’ rooms, and they put in clothes that don’t fit. It gives them the autonomy to decide. These are your clothes. What do you want to do with them? If you still use them, that’s fine. But if they’re of no use to you anymore, you can give it to someone else. At the beginning of the school holidays, I give them $20 and a list from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to the supermarket. Each child gets a trolley, and they fill up non-perishable items to donate. Then they come with me to donate so they can see the impact they’re making. With the little ones, we count out 20 packets of pasta so they can join in.
What I always say to parents is to never underestimate the power you have to form your child’s thinking today and into the future. It was so ingrained in me. If my father hadn’t instilled those values, I don’t know that I would think this way.
Q. Describe what your ideal world looks like.
One that is free of poverty.
For more information, visit Mummies Paying it Forward.