The activities and projects of Budapest Bike Maffia are realised by the enthusiastic and steadfast efforts of our volunteers. To help you to get to know them better, each month some of them will introduce themselves to you in short interviews and tell a few stories about their volunteering experiences.

Budapest Bike Maffia has launched its photo competition for homeless people for the fourth time this year. A professional jury has selected the 50 photos that were exhibited at Madách Square in September. The top 13 pieces selected by the audience will be made into calendars, postcards and notebooks. The full proceeds from their sale will be given to the creators, the homeless artists.

We have asked the two women who are the very foundation of the MyBudapest Photo Project – Bernadette Fekete and Hajni Merc – about their work and about volunteering.

What are your roles in the project, how and when did you join this program and Budapest Bike Maffia?

Bernadett Fekete: I have met Budapest Bike Maffia in 2015. First I’ve attended one of their Saturday cooking sessions, then I have joined the Vitamin Commando Team a few times, then i just…”got stuck” with them. 🙂 In the spring of 2016, I’ve read an article about the Café Art team in London who were handing out cameras to homeless people and who then used those photos to bring attention to the issue of homelessness. Although the initiative was a bit different from Bike Maffia’s projects so far, it was getting all the team’s support from the beginning. From the very start we have been getting nothing but positive feedback from everyone; volunteers, creators and our partners have all been enthusiastic supporters of the photo competition. This is how I met Hajni as well, she has helped me before with her great ideas about the sale of the calendar. As a Project Coordinator for four years now, I have been working on the MyBudapest Photo Project from its start to its finish, which runs from April to February of next year. The tasks are very diverse and so far each year has presented both new challenges and new opportunities as well.

Hajnalka Merc: I have first met Detty in 2016, who at that time I think was carrying the MyBudapest Photo Project news and calendars all over the city in her backpack, all by herself. I was working at the bookstore of Fuga – Budapest Center of Architecture at that time. I love photography and I liked the idea, so I was happy to take part in the distribution. That year, Fuga was the central location for the MyBudapest calendar. In 2017 we were hosting the exhibition, the public vote and then the announcement of the results. Last year I have offered Detti my help in distribution, in contacting our existing partners and in exploring new opportunities. So that is how we went about it this year.

You are both also working, how do you manage to take care ot the project tasks as well as your work and your other daily activities?

B.F.: I’d be lying if I said it was smooth sailing from the get-go, but by now we have a more or less ready system. The fundamentals of the competition are the same every year (handing out cameras, jury, exhibition, launching the new calendar), so planning becomes easier. It is also a great help that I can always count on Bike Maffia volunteers who are happy to join the project, be it more creative work (ie: graphic design) or some more repetitive, administrative tasks. This fourth season of the project is also special because we have expanded our team. In co-ordination with Zsuzska Molnár, we will be preparing many new projects this year.

H.M.: I work partly on a fixed, partly on a flexible schedule and I can adjust my workdays to find free time to complete the volunteer task. I still have issues with time management from time to time, but I keep trying to improve my organizational methods.

Why is it worth participating in the MyBudapest Project and also: what difficulties do you face during your work?

B.F.: I regard the MyBudapest Photo Project a bit as my “kid”, so for me it is worth it because I can remember where we started and see where we are now. Still, what I might highlight are the personal stories. Each year we get to know new people and their stories. Among the participating artists I have met many special people, several of whom join the competition as returning artists. And perhaps the project’s difficulty lies in a certain degree of “predictability”. As the competition is repeated year after year, it is a challenge to come up with something new to keep both the creators and the public interested.

H.M.: Last year, at the opening on Madách Square, it was great to see the creators happy about the project. They like that they get to show themselves, get to create, get to express themselves through photography. To become visible in the wider community. And i’m happy that i get to be part of their success. As a difficulty, I would also mention sustainability, which has to be developed through partners and customers. We have to explain time and again what this project is about, why you should be involved in the distribution, and why you should buy the calendar. We have to tell people about the creators, the pictures, the stories behind them and the successes of the project. When the program launched in 2016, everyone was thrilled by its novelty. By now however you have to think differently about the whole thing. We need to prove that it was not a one-off, but a viable long-term project which needs to continue.

Why is volunteering important to you, why is it good? What does your family, friends, and acquaintances think about your volunteer work?

B.F.: This might sound weird at first, but although it is about helping others, volunteering is always a bit of a selfish endeavour too. Whether it’s a project with homeless people, garbage collection on the Tisza, a Christmas party at a children’s home, or even a dog walk in an animal shelter, I’m certain to return home with memorable experiences. These experiences are at least as big a gift to me as the help I can can give is to people. Most of my family and friends has a positive view of volunteering, they know that it is as much a part of my daily life as cycling is. I must admit that I tend to overdo it a bit and take on tasks beyond my capacity, but the people around me not only support my endeavours but also help me find the balance.

H.M.: By volunteering, I feel like I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone. It is somewhere between a profession and a hobby for me. Trying to selflessly help, to do something for other people – it means a lot to me. Some friends of mine have been volunteering for a long time and I have always felt a lot of respect for them when they told me what they were doing. Maybe this was also something that motivated me: they were my role models. It would be great if I could also share my volunteering experiences in a way that would inspire others to start volunteer work as well. 🙂

For the MyBudapest Photo Project, we invite homeless people to take pictures of Budapest the way they see it. We organize exhibitions of the pictures, print calendars, notebooks and postcards. All profits from the sales of these items go to the homeless artists. Our initiative aims to empower homeless people to showcase their talents and their everyday lives, to raise awareness for the issue of homelessness, to reduce stereotypes and to narrow the social divide.

Photo by: István Juhász