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Delft Mama of the week: Masha

If you aren’t a native English speaker like myself, when you first start talking to Masha you’ll most likely think you’re talking with someone from North America. But after a while she might say something about Russia and you just have to ask, and that’s exactly what I did.

The first 18,5 years of her life our mom of the week grew up in Tomsk in the Russian Siberia. She chuckles about telling people she comes from Siberia, but she says the winters were cold, but the summers were hot, too. Masha moved to Vermont in the United States on the brink of adulthood following her big sister and to continue medical science studies there. Another 18,5 years later Masha, her American husband Ryan and their children Alice (5,5) and her 1,5-year-old little brother, Sasha, packed up their two dogs and belongings and moved to Delft.

The family wanted to move to anywhere in the EU, but their friends in Breda got them interested in the Netherlands. In the end the choice was narrowed down to Delft and Leiden. One of the reasons the family chose Delft in the end was no other than the existence of such a thriving and functional parenting community. “Delft MaMa made it feel like this is the place to go”, Masha says.

She has been attending some of the DMM activities ever since the first week after the touchdown. Masha got involved with the Facebook group even before moving here, but only met her first moms at events such as high tea and DelftMaMa Cinema Club. “One of the moms got me a ticket to the movies, although she didn’t even know me”, Masha explains with gratitude in her voice.

Because Masha works from home these days, her schedule allows her to meet up with other moms and toddlers whenever she feels she can squeeze it in. She tells me the best thing about being a mother in the Netherlands is to have more time for her family, as moving here meant being able to cut down a lot of extra responsibilities. Now Masha only has to manage herself at work, which makes her working life easier compared to the past.

Although Masha travels a lot for work, the family is constantly planning trips together to various different European countries. Their next vacation will be in (hopefully sunny) Lisbon. Masha has a bucket list for traveling and for places she wants to visit. “I love art and I want to visit more museums. Recently I’ve been reading a lot about my favorite artists of which many are less known Russians or Americans”, Masha says and explains that because of her chemistry background, she finds style and technique more fascinating than anything else. When I ask her what her favorite art style is, she says without hesitation:“Photography! I used to do photography and I’ve done a lot of imaging for work in microscopy level. There is a darkroom photo printing technique called liquid light where you apply the film on the paper and your printed photo looks much more like a painting.”

For now, family, work, dogs and traveling are pretty much filling up the days of this incredibly hard-working, intelligent and efficient lady. When I ask about their plans of staying in Delft, she says jokingly “maybe for the next 18,5 years! I’m very slowly making my way to the Caribbean.” Masha ends up the conversation with the same humorous note she’s had on throughout our talk together: “when I retire I should be south enough to end up there.”

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Delft Mama of the week: América

She has a delicate voice, but a lot of power behind her words. She talks about politics, her enthusiastic boys, her upcoming wedding and about her love for running. You might have hard time guessing this elegant lady used to be a lead singer of a punk band and loved skateboarding and judo, but the fire and passion that has seemingly always resided in her becomes clear quite fast. And she’s our mom of the week, América.

Brazilian América met her Dutch soon-to-be husband Robert at a wedding of a Brazilian and Dutch couple. Two years later she found herself living in Delft and starting a family. At eight weeks of pregnancy the couple went to see the midwife for a sonogram. “Oh, I see something”, said the midwife and paused for a second. América and Robert both saw it on the screen; their wishes had been answered – twice. At first América got worried, because she had no immediate family around her, but eventually got used to the idea. Identical twins Sven and 16 minutes younger Thomas were born some 28 weeks after the first sonogram in 2014.

I ask América the question she probably has answered a thousand times by now: have you always been sure which one is which? “I was worried about it when we got home from the hospital, because they had been wearing the bracelet tags all along. My kraamzorgster helped me a lot though. She said “now let’s take a good look at them, you’re their mother” and ever since I’ve known which one is which”, América says. Now it even seems funny to her she could have ever felt confused in the beginning, because as identical as the boys may be, there is a big difference in them in her trained eyes. To make it easier for everyone else around, the parents dress the boys differently and gives them different haircuts too.

Our mom of the week fills her days with her boys by mapping the over 200 playgrounds in Delft (yes, you read that amount correctly) and soon she’ll start blogging for DMM, too. Alone with two toddlers, going out to a playground became a challenge, so she started making notes about her favorite ones. “I started to look for playgrounds that were closed with a fence, small and that didn’t have huge climbing racks”, she says. América was open at the consultatiebureau about the challenges going outdoors with her fast twin boys and to her aid, the consultatiebureau offered a volunteer grandma through their Home Starter program. América, Sven and Thomas have been enjoying the company of their Dutch grandma for half a year now for three hours a week. She speaks Dutch, helps América with things she needs the support in, but respects her ways of raising the children. “You’ll tell what kind of help you need. In the beginning she would not interfere, but now I ask her advice and she helps me. The volunteers respect your parenting and are there for the support”, América explains. The boys are very strong-willed and as a mother, América needs to be very strict and consequent with them. “By becoming a mom, I found out I’m really strong”, she rejoices.

América has a background in communication design and a vast interest in photography, handicrafts and history. She got her degree in Germany and stayed there for over a decade before returning back to Brazil only to find out she had hard time adapting back to her native land. Brazil had changed and so had América. Life with Robert took her to Delft and the years in the Netherlands have been good for them. However, in the upcoming summer the family is packing up their belongings and moving to Oman in the Middle East for a duration of a job contract. América tells me moving there means the couple needs to get married, fast I might add. When they found out about the need for a marriage certificate in order to move there as a family, Robert scheduled a babysitter for the boys, took América to Paris and properly proposed to her in a place that holds a lot of meaning to the couple. She smiles the entire time she talks about her family or her upcoming wedding, even though it has been one busy schedule trying to make it all happen. Her dress will be mint green, which is also the color for celebration in Oman according to our bride. And the wedding date? No other than Valentine’s Day!

After the wedding, the planning and packing will start. The family will be living in a compound with around 200 other families, but América is already looking forward to Oman outside the neighborhood. “In the beginning I was a little worried about moving to Oman, but then I started to learn about it and now I’m really excited about moving there”, she tells and continues explaining how she’s looking forward to the hot weather and maxi dresses, the outdoors, sand, camels and beaches, but most of all learning Arabic. “It’s a chance to learn it and get new influence of other ways of living. It’s good to open up the horizons”, she smilingly adds. Seeing how América takes up on a challenge and turns even the simplest things into something educational, useful or beautiful, I can’t wait to talk to her once she returns to Delft, a little over three years from now…

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Delft Mama of the week: Feliciana

The first time I met her was just before Christmas. She made me and a bunch of other Delft mamas dance zumba and encouraged all of us in every turn. She was nominated to be the Mom of the week by another mom, and after witnessing her contagious joy, I had to make an appointment for the interview with this Tanzanian wonder.

A former model, a former bank employee and a current zumba teacher, Feliciana, is the mother of Lisa (7) and Max (5) and the wife of Belgian Jonathan. The couple met in Tanzania where some years later Lisa was born. “I always had my family around me when she was born. When [few years later] I had Max in Brussels, I had to do everything by myself from day one, and it was quite the challenge. In Tanzania there’s always someone and you can’t resist the help”, Feliciana tells me over her hot cup of fresh mint tea. She continues explaining how life is easy in her native country, despite poverty, because people live day to day, not taking things too seriously, just enjoying the present moment, because tomorrow is always a mystery.

After living in Brussels the family moved to a small town close to Washington D.C. for a few years before arriving to Delft just two years ago. As much as Feliciana enjoyed her time in the US, she tells me the moment she arrived in Delft, she felt there was something special about this city. “It’s easy to move around, communicating is easy, although I’m learning Dutch now. The Dutch people aren’t very open, but they are very friendly. I enjoy family life here, the environment, the culture, the friendships and the community around me. At the moment I’m very happy here, despite the weather. I used to shave my head, but after moving to Brussels I used to have a runny nose all the time. Having hair makes a big difference, just like dressing in layers”, Feliciana says. Turns out, years of living in colder climates don’t make you cold resistant, but you do learn to deal with it differently.

Feliciana started zumba after Max was born. She was trying to find a hobby that was not too demanding. She loves jogging, but after having some issues with her knees, her doctor told her it wasn’t a good idea to run. She tried yoga, but found it rather uncomfortable. Patiently Feliciana kept on looking and eventually heard about zumba and decided to give it a try. It must’ve been love at first dance, because only a few years later Feliciana was the one giving the lessons to other zumba enthusiasts. She tells me one of her favorite places in the world to do zumba is the powder-white beaches of Zanzibar – the island along the coast of Tanzania – while the sea breeze cools you down. The turquoise water and and white sand sounds like a dream. I ask her to describe zumba to me. Feliciana answers without hesitation: “Zumba is a lot of fun! Afterwards you’ll feel relaxed and it’s not hard. You don’t need to squat or something, just move and enjoy the music. Zumba makes you enjoy life and be happy.” In Delft Feliciana has her Zumba Maisha, which accordingly is Swahili for “Life”. She gives lessons at the Lijm & Cultuur, Womanhood studio and soon also evening lessons at the VAK in the center.

From the looks of it, her plate is full with balancing family life in a new country, teaching zumba and learning Dutch, but this is only half of Feliciana’s story. Apart from trying to do what’s best for her family, she also sees herself in a position of being able to help others. She’s currently setting up a project in Tanzania with the help of her sister, who is a primary school teacher, and some friends. Feliciana has a name in mind for the project and it’s “Love” in her mother tongue. “Love” is aiming to help especially the most vulnerable people; the mothers and single caretakers of children, such as grandmothers. “Now I have to write a business plan. Pigs are a good business at the moment in my country”, Feliciana says excitedly and continues explaining that they will first have a try-out with five women. These women will be educated to care for piglets and turn them into pigs that they can then use as their income by raising and selling. All the ham is currently imported to Tanzania, so Feliciana is already gazing into the future. She hopes her women will eventually be providing ham to local hotels, and sees no problem of expanding the pilot to other animals in the future, as long as the results are promising. If all goes well, Feliciana and her team will have their own industry, a market and can expand while helping the locals on grass-root level.

You’d think with this Feliciana’s plate would surely be full, but she’ll leave you gasping once again (and not because of zumba this time). She’s also looking to start another project in Tanzania that includes building greenhouses to small villages to provide work, food and water regulation to people themselves, instead of being depended on the rain. In the long run employment and independence will improve the conditions in the village and give the villagers more chance to concentrate on giving better education to their children. Feliciana tells me a lot of children are simply left behind, especially girls. She once had a chance to send a girl to a tailoring course. The girl improved, earned an internship and was later employed. “All her friends at the same age already have five children and are stuck in villages in terrible conditions”, Feliciana tells me. By adding education and tangible chances, dependence becomes less.

It’s not a surprise people back in Tanzania have encouraged her to go into politics and run for president, but Feliciana simply laughs at this. “I don’t want to work in politics”, she says and brushes it off with a smile and carries on by saying: “I just want to see these things come alive and work. That’s how I spend my life and hopefully make a difference in people’s lives. You don’t need to make big difference all the time. Sometimes small things are enough.”

Feliciana says fear of failure, or even failure itself don’t discourage her anymore. “Maybe I’m growing up or something”, she happily notes. She used to doubt her own ideas more, but lately just feels like “Bring it on!” I smile at this sentence, because that kind of attitude is exactly what fascinated me about Feliciana when we first met and kept me listening to her inspiring story and uplifting ideas for a good hour. Bring it on.

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Delft Mama of the week: Fenia

It’s a sunny Friday morning when I park my bike in front of the tall, red EWI building at the TU Delft. She greets me by the entrance with a big smile on her face and an energetic spring in her step. She has been working as a post-doctoral software engineering researcher for about three years at the TU Delft. She knows an incredible list of languages: Greek, English, some Dutch, Java, C, C#, Scala, VB.net, PHP, ASP, Javascript and SQL. After this alphabetic exercise it doesn’t come as a surprise that she’s also one of the webmasters of Delft MaMa. And today she is our mom of the week, Fenia.
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Delft Mama of the week: Milena

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We have just arrived at Jans on Brabantse Turfmarkt and our mom of the week, Milena, and I sit down in a corner table for the interview. She makes me forget my natural awkwardness immediately and I enjoy listening to her sing-song type of voice. Her eyes light up throughout the interview, but especially when she speaks about the things closest to her heart, her husband Misa and their daughters Lola (8) and Nina (2,5). “We are privileged to have them. It’s a cliché, but I never knew a love like this before. However, when Lola was born, I had this feeling that if you were to give me another child, I’d say “Great!” There wasn’t the instant connection everyone was talking about. I felt good, but not ecstatic”, Milena says. The feeling gradually grew and within a week she finally had established a level of connection that made her feel emotionally secure. For the next years she found herself overcompensating for this. After two years with the support of her psychologist friend, Milena consciously made the decision of letting go of the guilt in order to start the healing process. She found out it’s very natural to have these feelings and over the years she managed to get to the point where she now feels it’s important to talk about this even if it helps only one person.

Milena and Misa come from Macedonia and they arrived to the Netherlands together 18 years ago to study architecture. Now, half a lifetime later, they have made Delft their home and they see their future here. Ever since becoming a mother Milena had to give up her hectic work as an architect, but has found many ways of utilizing her talents and nurturing future interests as well. She is the mom who first reached out on the DMM Facebook group to arrange a circle of mothers to babysit each other’s children. She is the mother who then created a concept called Business, work and kids.

Because of Business, Work and Kids, Milena was constantly bouncing between the Delft municipality, and the daycare and after a year and a half of hard work, she managed to do something that will hopefully benefit future parents: “I want mothers to have the benefits of putting their children in the daycare with the same benefits as putting them in the peuterspeelzaal that has the VVE* indication. This would mean that the parents will only pay a small fee just like with peuterspeelzaal, but they will also get a place where they can work in the vicinity of the children at the daycare”, Milena explains. Mothers would be able to put their children to part-time daycare from six months on contrary to the two years of starting age at the peuterspeelzaal. This would give the mothers the flexibility many yearn for when their children are small. The system would help mothers to remain working or return to work much easier. The daycare already has the necessary training and qualifications for the VVE. The only thing holding it back is the legislation and changing that is where the challenge lies. Thanks to Milena and those supporting her petition, this question will be put on for debate within the Delft council, but only starting in 2018. “For now we aren’t eligible for this, but future moms hopefully will be. I will continue trying to do something for mompreneurs, because I strongly believe it’s needed. This is the way for the community to thrive”, she says.

Milena strikes me as one of those people that not only sees a lot of potential around them in people and places, but also manages to grab chances when they are presenting themselves to her. In 2010 she saw that around the area where she resides a new project called the Creative Street was being born. The idea was to put shops, ateliers and other creative spaces together. Like many people, Milena applied for it and was asked to make a presentation of her idea. She did just that and was rewarded with working space for her idea called Atelier Zoet. “I had never made a cake in my life”, Milena says laughing and continues: “It was a lot of researching, home schooling and countless amounts of trial and error. I burned my fingers from the sugar so many times and destroyed so much chocolate.” She has shown me pictures of her cakes and it’s clear she has background in architecture. Her cakes are simply unique masterpieces.

Now the time with Atelier Zoet is more or less behind her, but the lessons learned Milena is taking with her. Because her atelier was subsidized, she needed to give back to the community, so Milena started making sweets with local kids and bringing them with the children to elderly houses. She tells me that the kids learned about traditional values this way. It was a nice project that showed her the potential of social projects in general. Back in 2012 it gave Milena an idea and with a little bit of talking she got a response from 300 elementary school children that would want to participate in the project. Four years later the first goal is to have about 100 children from all walks of life to work together. “The intention is to let kids see through each other’s eyes. It’s important to start this project with children when they are still discovering themselves. These school kids work together with children from refugee camps and youth centers in the area of Poptahof. The children will get to visit homes and see how people live here and from this to figure out what kind of an environment and services the residents need”, Milena sums it up. In order to make it happen, the kids need to learn about teamwork, how to listen to each other, how their lives are different from each other, but most of all what they all have in common, which surely is more than most of us realize.

The project is called “Pay it Forward” and years of planning of redesigning Poptahof is culminating soon. On the 30th of April 2017 Milena is taking part in the first national Pay it Forward -day and she’s aiming to make it big: after the children are done with the design, Milena is going to be building a massive 2 x 3 meters replica of it – wait for it – in chocolate. This chocolate city will be presented on that April day. Taking part of this project each child is committing themselves to paying it forward by doing any random act of kindness.

You can see how Milena is bursting with ideas and she seems to be full of energy. I’m not surprised she already has so many successes behind her. There are more projects she would love to initiate, but she also knows her limits. Currently Pay it Forward is taking her attention, but in the future Milena is already planning to get all Delft MaMa businesses together and do a presentation day. “Delft has a very strong expat community and we can really help small businesses. A lot of our moms are doing something interesting. Why not just bring them together! There is so much potential around us”, Milena says.

Milena is an excellent talking partner. She’s straightforward, sincere and she sees tangible ideas all around her. She’s the type of a person who arrived to the Netherlands and spent the first six months just learning the language. She’s the type of a person who requested to meet with the Mayor of Delft, and is going to be cooking dinner for her next year. In the end I take one valuable lesson in my heart from this whole conversation today and that is the value of empathy. Milena knows how to bring that up in others and that, ladies and gents, is an incredible talent.

*VVE = Voor- en vroegschoolse education (early childhood education)

The next Mom of the Week will be featured on 9th of December.

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Delft Mama of the week: Eva

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As a child Eva never felt she fully fit in her native country of Portugal. Being half Dutch and half Portuguese, she spent a lot of time in the Netherlands on holidays where she felt a sense of belonging. She had a multicultural attitude and an appetite for an adventure as long as she can remember. As a teenager Eva won the title of the national champion of texting in Portugal and got to travel to Brazil for this. She studied psychology and worked in human resources. In England Eva boldly took a job as selling insulation materials door-to-door just to get acquainted better with the culture and locals. In her late twenties she lived in an American hotel with her husband, Ricardo, for a YEAR. Yes – you guessed it – she’s the good kind of crazy.

I ask Eva “Bina” Sabina, which name I should refer to in this piece. For anyone who has previously found themselves confused with the woman of many names, here’s the explanation: “I grew up people calling me Sabina, but in Portugal I often struggled introducing myself with that name. In the university I found it easier to go with my first name, Eva, but my closest friends call me Bina.” This reminds me of a saying in Finnish that goes “a beloved child has many names”, meaning that someone dear to many is often pampered with more than one name. I’m not the least surprised this applies to the wonder woman that is also known as Eva “Bina” Sabina.

Eva is a mom to a 2-year-old Nina, whose Dutch grandmother’s side comes from Delft, but moving to this area was a coincidence. Luck it wasn’t though, because persistently Eva turned over every stone, until the window of an opportunity to move to the Netherlands presented itself. “I started contacting every single agency before moving to the Netherlands. I was offered an opportunity on a Wednesday, by Friday I had my second interview and by Monday I was already working”, Eva says. Listening to Eva it’s clear you don’t talk about luck, but about hard work and a positive attitude. She has her values written anywhere she can put her hands on, and she reminds herself of them every day. “We all have those negative voices saying we aren’t capable enough. I shrink that voice and work to come up with something positive. I used to be a person who was always moaning about everything when I was young, and didn’t know how to deal with it”, she points out. Eva continues to explain she did what she does best when confronted with a challenge and started learning about it. She discovered NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and found out it was absolutely possible to reprogram one’s brain by words, actions and new behaviors. Change always starts from within: “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change”, she quotes.

When her daughter was seven months old Eva stopped working in order to wrap her head around what she wanted out of her career in the future. This is also the very moment Eva discovered Delft MaMa. “I found out about it through a dear friend; she invited me to playgroup. I had seen the website before, but I never felt like going. I didn’t dare for some reason”, she shares the common feeling a lot of first-time mothers have. Her friend’s encouraging words eventually pulled Eva into the group and after the first visit she simply never stopped going. She took the chance to volunteer, too, and started as a playgroup host. When Delft MaMa was going through structural changes, Eva took the chance to share the responsibility with another mom of being in charge of human resources: “Among other tasks, I’m responsible for the volunteer recruitment activities and everything that that entails.”

Eva studied psychology and after working in forensics psychology for a while, she figured out she wanted to work with people on the development side. Back in the day Eva took a postgraduate course of human resources and landed a work in the field. “With human resources you can do so many things. My passion for developing people was already there”, she says. Through her previous boss she found out about coaching and the idea stayed in the back of her mind for years. Last year Eva took a workshop organized by two Delft Mamas and that reignited the spark of pursuing her dream of coaching. After the workshop Eva signed up for the course she needed to attend in order to take the next step in professional growth. Two months after the workshop Eva opened up her own company called Multipaths.

She is a certified Master NLP Practitioner and Life Coach, but she is continuously educating herself. Her aim is to focus on parents, having learned through her own experience of all the changes parenthood brings along. In her words the playgroups are amazing to share experiences, to feel normal again, “but there’s always something missing and I want to help people to tackle that part. After you become a parent, you need to reorganize your entire life, not only physically but mentally as well. You are suddenly responsible for this tiny human being and, many times, you find yourself reassessing your values. You need to redefine your goals, relationships, career and it’s a tough deal. I basically help parents to explore and overcome their own insecurities, to gain insight on their values and goals, so they can achieve more balanced, fulfilling lives. This, consequently, leads to the ability of raising their children also in a happy and emotionally safe environment”, Eva sums up her philosophy.

Eva is constantly pushing herself to become better at being herself. She has no taboos, so people tend to feel that they can talk to her about anything and feel at ease around her. At the end of our interview she asks me if I have some time. I agree and half an hour later she has managed to help me put in writing a big personal goal. I leave the interview completely uplifted and full of promise of my own future. “She’s good, really good”, I think to myself peddling home in the crispy, beautiful autumn air.


Mom of the week is published every second Friday on the Delft MaMa blog. The next one is coming up on November 25.

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Delft Mama of the week: Shadi

Having lived in Delft only for a few months makes our mom of the week, Shadi, one of our newest members. She’s a mother of two boys: Parsa who is 12 and a 6-year-old Samia. Funnily enough, having been a part of an expat family ever since he was only a few months old makes the youngest member of the family also the most experienced. Read more

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Delft Mama of the week: Oriana

After the fall of the Berlin wall at the brink of her teenage years, Oriana and her parents moved to the Netherlands. Things weren’t changing in their native land of Romania as much as they had hoped and the family decided to look to the west for future. Before settling in Delft Oriana moved around the country from Drenthe to Limburg and from Nijmegen to Amsterdam. Now Oriana lives in the center with her husband Wim and their 12-year-old daughter Maud. Read more

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Delft Mama of the week: Maya

Ten years ago our mom of the week, Maya, met her Dutch husband Erwin. Now they are parents of a six-year-old Naama and Boaz who just turned four. Maya grew up in Israel, studied and did the obligatory military service there before moving abroad. She was familiar with the Netherlands before meeting her husband, but never thought she’d be living in Holland – but as faith would often have it, it’s exactly where she ended up. Just like most expats, being far from extended family has taught Maya other ways of having a safety net around her, and she feels Delft MaMa is now her family, too. “For me Delft MaMa is one of the strongest attraction points of Delft. For all of us who don’t have a family here, this group of wonderful people is it”, Maya declares. Read more

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Delft MaMa of the week, Sandra

Delft Mama of the week: Sandra

Sandra and her husband Nicola met over seven years ago when they were both fresh international students at the TU Delft. With a background in Computer Science, she made her masters in Management of Technology and is currently fully embracing motherhood with their three-year-old son Gerardo and a nine-month-old daughter Minerva. Sandra joined the Delft MaMa community when Gerardo was about half a year old but she wishes she had joined earlier. “The first few months of being a mom were really overwhelming. All the time I saw mothers on the streets with ‘omas’ around and thought I couldn’t have that being away from both families. When I joined Delft MaMa it made things easier”, Sandra says. The community made her feel welcome, but it also helped to get to know individual mothers who previously had been in the same exact position. Once she met with mothers who have gone through different phases with their children, it dissipated Sandra’s fears. She tells how her sister is about to become a mother for the second time in a city of five million people, but hasn’t managed to find a community of mothers where she would feel like home. “With DMM community you are sure you share the fact that you are an expat and you are raising children here, or maybe you are Dutch, but you are raising your children in an international way. It makes it easier for you to find people with the same ideals and goals”, Sandra joyfully says. Read more

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