Majo Gimeno On The Power Of Love & Care In Children’s Health
Majo Gimeno had always worked in business & with young entrepreneurs, but what drove her to create her own organisation was not quite a commercial opportunity, but a chance to create social impact. When Majo became a mother, she decided to leave her job at the Bancaja Foundation and went on to found ‘Mamas en Accion’ - a community of individuals that accompany, nurture and motivate children to become adults with a strong social & emotional conscience.
Five years later, after having made incredible leaps - including being awarded the Best Social Startup in Valencia, Spain; selected for the Botin Foundation; and included in Spain’s Cadena Prize Top 100 ‘For a Better World’ list - Majo has balanced her work by becoming Director of the Global & Microeconomy Foundation at the University of Technology in Valencia.
Today, she is at the forefront of managing Mamas en Accion’s 800 volunteers in Valencia and is on the brink of expanding its impact.
Majo shares insights into how love, care and nurture improves health outcomes for children recovering in hospitals and the challenges she has faced in setting up a not-for-profit.
Highlights from the interview (listen to the podcast for full details)
[Amedeo Watson] - To start things off, could you please share a bit about your background and what led you to start Mamas en Acción? [3:08]
[Majo Gimeno] - When I became a Mum, I noticed that there was a kid alone in the hospital. I didn't understand why he was alone, and I just went to him to offer my help to take care of him during his hospitalisation days. I came alone just because I wanted to take care of the kid.
The hospital said, ‘Oh, that would be wonderful, but you cannot be here unless you have a company behind you that takes care of your social insurance and all those kinds of bureaucratic things.’ I said, ‘I can’t be here because I'm coming alone?’ So, I just went home and I now have realised that it changed my life. I got home and I couldn’t stop thinking about the kid. My mind was in the hospital… I was thinking, ‘My kid is here. He is safe. Who is taking care of this kid in the hospital right now? He is afraid. He is insecure…’ There is nobody there to take care of these children. I never thought, ‘I'm going to start an organisation’, but I started to tell everybody around me - ‘Do you know this is happening at the hospital?’ I realised nobody knew about it. But they said, ‘If you do anything, just let me know. I want to go with you.’ And then I thought, maybe we can do something for the children… This is Mamas en Acción.
That would have been a very eye-opening and powerful moment for you, and clearly something that has inspired you to start Mamas en Acción.
Could you please tell us more about Mamas en Acción? What is the organisation's purpose and what is the impact that it creates? [4:32]
Mamas en Acción is an organisation - a community of individuals - that just wants to take care of children during moments when they do not have anyone around to the care of them. Administrations think that when children are in the hospital they are protected, and of course they are, but they are alone. I mean, they take care of them - they have a bed and they have food… but there is nobody there to take their hand; to give them a hug when they are going to have a shot or whatever; and this is the only thing that the people in Mamas en Acción want to provide them - to take care of them. To give them affection. To give them love. Because they are really in need of this.
That's such an altruistic thing. Mamas en Acción is a model for giving. For people giving their time, and giving their support to these kids. [5:33]
I think the most important thing that you can give - because you will never get it back - is your time. It's so much more expensive to give time rather than money.
For that reason, our volunteers don’t necessarily [make a donation] or get paid - they pay with their time. Our volunteers don’t pay anything, but they pay with their time because they have made the commitment of coming to be with a child at least twice per year.
Majo, could you provide an example or a story that clearly highlights Mammas en Acción’s impact? [6:17]
Sure. Well, the first time we gave support to a child it was one of the hardest cases. We were with a kid - a six year-old boy - that had been physically abused by his parents and he was suffering so much. It’s always very hard for us to take care of the children, because they are always sick, but when you see the kid suffering it is even harder. And in that case, he was in the hospital for four months and we spent every day and every night with him. Suddenly, the psychiatrist came one day and asked, ‘How is he? Is he becoming aggressive?’ And we said, ‘No, he is not aggressive’. The psychiatrist replied, ‘No. He must be aggressive. It’s a normal part of the recovery - children who have been physically abused become aggressive. You have to understand that it’s a normal thing, but you have to let me know because we can give him medicine to calm him’.
So, we were expecting him to become aggressive. Every single day the psychiatrist came and asked, ‘Has he become aggressive?’ And we said, ‘No. Not yet’. A few days later, the psychiatrist said, ‘This is not a normal thing. It is the first time in a case like this that we have not seen aggressive behaviour from a child after suffering this kind of abuse’. So the doctor told us it was the first time they had seen a physically abused child not become aggressive. As such, they came to the conclusion that providing love and care for physically abused children has an incredible impact on their lives and their health. Because very often, a physically abused child becomes a physical abuser.
The greatest thing for us is that last November the doctors from the first hospital went to the National Congress of Paediatricians in Spain to present scientific evidence from the work of Mamas en Acción. They showed all the paediatricians that Mamas en Acción’s work has an incredible impact and affirms three points. First, that the children we take care of become better, earlier. The second point is that they don't develop aggressive behaviour in life. And thirdly, doctors can perform better because they don't have to dedicate so much time to supporting the children themselves. This is amazing because they shared all this impact with the National Congress of Paediatricians. I think this is the greatest gift for Mamas en Acción.
Incredible results, showing what love and care can do for children during a hard time in their life. An issue that many not-for-profits face is demonstrating the incredible impact that they create. How does Mamas en Acción measure and communicate its impact? [9:13]
We communicate our impact in our social media profiles and on our web. A lot of companies or enterprises that want to collaborate with us ask for media releases to share our impact, because they want to share this with people and show they are supporting an organisation with impact. We measure different items. We measure the impact the paediatricians give us in the hospital. We measure the number of kids we are with, and how they live their experience with us. They share with us how they live their experience in the hospital.
We also measure the impact lived by our volunteers. Our volunteers give us feedback on our work, and we take all this information, and not just to become better. I can give you beautiful stories from our volunteers - there are a lot of people who come to Mamas en Acción because it helps them improve their own lives.
For example, one of our volunteers is a Mum who had a daughter that had cancer and died when she was just 20 years-old. She discovered that coming to the hospital and taking care of other children that don’t have parents was the thing that helped fill that gap that she had. It was an amazing story because she could recover from this horrible moment by just coming to the hospital and giving love to another kid because she didn't have her daughter anymore.
You have such an incredible community of volunteers. How do you manage & support them to do the amazing work they do? [11:13]
By taking care of them. In Mamas en Acción we have a very clear goal - volunteers take care of children, but coordinators at Mamas en Acción take care of the volunteers. It’s the hardest and the most important thing. For example, when we had a difficult case in the hospital two weeks ago - a baby who was just two years old died with us. You have to be very, very fast and go with your community. We have rituals. They are made by psychologists for Mamas en Acción. We get together and we learn together to let go, to let the children go. This is so difficult, but we can do it together. So we applied these rituals, and we cry together, and we use the tools that we have to empower our volunteers again & give visibility to their impact to remind them all why they are here and let them know that they have an amazing contribution.
So, we help our volunteers move on from the children they look after. The children they have such a close attachment to. If we don't learn to do this, we wouldn't end up going back to the hospital because of the impact that experience had on us.
That’s something that might be overlooked, right? The impact that the work is having on the volunteers. It’s so important to give that psychological support. What organisations or projects have you come across recently in Spain that are creating positive impact? [12:40]
I have one, also in Valencia, Spain. There is a very depressed area in the city where children don’t go to school, and parents might be in jail… it’s a very complicated and difficult life for these children. There is an organisation doing an incredible job with these children - by engaging children through sports, they are going back to school. The children didn't go to school, the children were on the street. But thanks to this program they are so happy to go to school. They are on a positive path. The name of the organisation is Amigos de Nazaret. Nazaret is the name of the area, and so it means ‘Nazaret Friends’. It’s full of young people working for free with these children. They use their own cars to drive the children to sports, and they are like mentors. They spend time with them and these children go to the mentors and tell them about their worries. They have the chance to get back on a positive path.
In Spain, how does the government support organisations like Mamas en Acción? How does the government support not-for-profits? Do you think this could be improved? [14:01]
Yeah, I think so. Actually, I have no idea how many organisations the government supports, but I can tell you that it doesn’t support Mamas en Acción. But do you know what the most important thing is for me?
You can pay a person to be at the hospital, but you cannot pay a person to give love and care.
I mean, even if they could pay a worker or an employee to be at the hospital taking care of the children, they couldn’t guarantee the children would receive affection & love. Affection & love is something that you can only give because you want to. You cannot pay for that. And for that reason, for me, it is most important that the government supports this kind of work - NGOs. Because our volunteers don’t come for money. They come for free. They come because they want to share the love. So, I think government should support these kinds of initiatives because the impact comes from here - from the affection, and from the love.
To finish off, what are some great books you’d recommend to our listeners? [14:26]
I strongly recommend a Spanish book called ‘El Deseo De Carlitos’. It’s Mamas en Acción’s first book. It tells you the story of the first case in the hospital. The one I was talking about at the beginning of the interview. Of course, this is my recommendation!