Mother Centers and the Integration of Migrants

Monika Jaeckel
Some Quotes from Participants of the GWIA 2008 in Barcelona about how Mother Centers contribute to the integration of migrants

Mother Centers are the place where I do not feel myself as a migrant. I am a person, I am Maria.

In the streets we are strangers, here in the Mother Center you meet, when you sit down, you talk.

You do not always feel safe in the country, in the street. Here you feel safe. People have time for you, people are patient with you.

You meet other mothers who have similar issues and interests.

The rooms influence the mood, when you have sofas it is more informal, you feel more at ease, it is easier to talk.

In our center we also address issues. We have dialog groups where we speak about things like racism or exclusion. It is important to have a space where that is possible, where we can get to know each other, get to know what it is like to be from another country. We create a space where it is safe to ask, why do you wear a scarf, or why do you allow your daughter to walk around in a mini skirt. We can also talk about things that we don’t agree on.

In the MC everyone contributes, that makes things more equal and you meet each other on a more equal basis.

We talk about things like the violence in the streets of the young people, often they are Marrocan young boys involved , we have a program where we teach mothers about non violent ways of communication. The children learn this in school. We teach the mothers the same methods so they can also apply them with the youth on the streets or at home.

We talk about things like how it happens that the migrant children get sent to the lower level schools. What are the mechanisms involved and how can it be prevented that it becomes white schools and migrant schools and society is divided.

In an open atmosphere you can find out that you share similar values, that brings comfort, then you can also disagree. We help each other solve whatever problems we are facing, then religion or different ethnic background do not become such an issue. We meet as people, as mothers, we are all concerned about our children.

The MC has also supported me to find a job, that has also helped me with integration. First I had a task with some pay in the center, now I have found a part time job outside the center. We want to be accepted in society, when you are unemployed you feel you cannot contribute. You want to be a working member of society.

We have a lot of migration from rural areas to the city in Gaziantep. MC can help women to adopt themselves to city life.

I am not a migrant mother, but I also did not know where to go with my children, I needed a place like this just as much. You meet each other on the same level, you have the same needs, that makes MC a place of integration.

When a woman enters the MC she is welcome, and welcomed, no one asks what is her background, her religion, integration starts from the very first moment a woman enters the MC.

“It does not feel like Germany”

In the MC women learn the language of the host country. We also have courses for illiterate women to learn to read and write.

Because we are there together everyday, I can ask questions about the country or the religion I would not ask otherwise.

I don’t have anybody to share the happiness, the good things that happen with my child, when it takes its first step, for me that was the issue. Problems you can share easily. Everyone listens to problems, in the MC people also listen to the happy stories. Sharing theses increases joy. It is a place where we share our joys and our visions, not just our problems, that is also integration.

On the street you don’t talk to strangers. In the MC you meet, you are not strangers, the atmosphere is open and you are willing to share.

In Austria the centers are an important place for high qualified families coming from other towns because of jobs. Today there is a lot of inland mobility in this way. Often they phone us months before they move to inquire into our programs. They need our services, when they move they lose their own family and neighborhood networks.

If Mother Centers are everywhere you can take your home with you, you can be at home everywhere. You know you are welcome, you take your family with you.

Integration needs time, it is a process. Many women have difficult experiences, sometimes all that is needed is to cry together. Nothing more.

MC create an intermediate space. Many migrant women are at home with their children, they have not ever had a job, or had a job before they had children, returning into the labor market is not easy, is a big step, something they often feel is out of reach. Participating in the Mother center is a smaller step, an intermediate step, they get out of the house, learn more about the host society, become active, take on responsibilities in the center, gain confidence, learn new skills. This brings them closer to the labour market, then the step is not so big. With catering, childcare,project management they get experience that counts for further education and getting a job.(a way they pay for work is paying money into a fonds that then goes towards educational courses.
The center also have a referral role to apprentenceships in local companies.

You need the MC team to be multicultural to have a multicultural center and integration.

Spain: Spain turned from a country sending migrants to a country receiving migrants in a very short time. The area resource centers they have are not frequented by migrant women to the same degree that they are part of the population. They integrate well educated and Latin American women where there is no language barrier. But Pakistani women for instance do not come.
Domestic violence has become a big issue, maybe the change has been too quick from a very traditional to a progressive society. People have not digested it. The administration has progressed faster than the population. This plus the huge boom in migration is very explosive, a bomb ticking. There is a lot of culture clash. We need to find new ways of integration.

Integration has two sides, the migrants are vulnerable, but the locals need a space and a process to digest the changes too, to get to know the newcomers.

Integration is a two way process, for the migrants, as well as for the host population. It is a learning process that needs to apply to both sides.

Why are MC interesting for migrants? It is a safe place with a welcoming attitude, you are not a target group, a project, but simply part of it. And the future of our children is of interest to all.

MC offers courses where they can or cannot take an exam. Often they are afraid of the exam and therefore don’t take the exam at all. The MC is a place where they don’t feel any obligation or pressure to achieve anything or live up to demands, that they speak the language, follow a course etc.

We talk while we are doing things together, cooking, cleaning, using the computer, making coffee, we express, we speak out loud what we are doing, that is the way you learn a language, that is the way we teach language to our children.

I have found 400 friends. My telephone is ringing now all the time. People want something from me. People need me. I feel that I am a part, that I belong.

In a mixed ethnic neighbourhood the children had no one to play with, because the neighbors did not mix. In the MC the children found other children to play with.

In the MC the migrants get active in society, that is a way of integration. They become role models for others.

In Gent the first Mother Center initiated by a group of migrant women themselves will start.
The Roma centers are in a way also centers started by minority women and create a special process of integration this way. They have something to offer the majority women and families.

Roma: Integration happens through civic activation and practical citizenship. The roma families often do not relate to the big society, because they do not exist there, they are not mirrored there. We are Roma, our place is here in the community. In big society they feel integration can happen only as assimilation, but they want to be roma, and that they can be only in the community. They want to show themselves as Roma. Here we are, we are Roma, we do not change our ways, and still we contribute to society, to the community, that is what they appreciated in the MC. It gave them an opportunity to show that they can contribute

Because of the encounters and getting to know each other in the centers, the locals start to open up towards the migrant community. In many cases the MC are the ones to get in contactand work together with the moslim community and the mosques.

It is an attitude, not a program. It is a place where everyone can contribute, people are seen with their talents and are encouraged to contribute. The center for me has had a healing effect. I did not have a positive experience with my family of origin. For me the MC gave a new chance for family. In that sense the MC are a normalisation of life. Women get to know each other there and become friends, who otherwise would never have met or spent time with each other. It is a climate where you develop interest in each other and broaden your views and your tolerance. A place where you make friendships and experience bonding beyond your usual boarders.

In the MC integration happens in a much broader way. It is a larger issue. It is reintegrating different kind of people who have lost their networks, be it migrants from other countries or from rural areas, be it highly mobile young families, who move inside the country or be it people who have not had a good experience with family. It is about reweaving the torn social tissue in all these cases. Family and social cohesion is breaking down, MC create new forms of social networks, they are a place of reparenting, gay and lesbian parents get space in the centers, they are public living rooms, la plaza, the village, where new forms of family and social cohesion can develop.

The kinds of relationships that develop in the MC are so manifold that the term and concept of family does not really fit. Every day is different, everyday there are new women ,there is a different group in the center, relating and relations are different every day. Families are also changing, are regrouping, people coming in and going out, family life and social bonding has become quite dynamic, is not something static. In order for there to be stability in this there needs to be some stable structure. The MC can be such a structure of stability in a dynamic process of relationships. Families sometimes fall apart through the changes. The MC stay stable. The everyday life changes can happen inside stable structures, patch work families experience a holding space. (Begleiteter Umgang)

The families are becoming too small. The principle “my child”, “my princess”, does not work anymore. We need to look out for each other, to develop ways of community parenting and community solidarity.

Sometimes people have no children and still need this feeling of belonging to something. MC give space also for this.

I write postcards when I am travelling to the women in my center. They are family for me.

It is a new kind of social lubrication. Il corpo est social.

The archetype, a modern context for a universal need can be illustrated in the following anecdote:
In Turkey it is not uncommon that 15 women gather and take turns taking care of their children in each others homes. A Turkish newspaper in Gaziantep got it “wrong” (right?): with the headlines: “A Turkish tradition has become an EU project”.

MC also create sustainability in terms of political instability and inconsistence. Often things stop after there has been a campaign, a wave of public awareness. MC can take on the monitoring and watch dog role, see if things continue, the MC stays, whether mothers come and go or politicians or campaigns come and go.