World Voice: Akka – A Visionary Who Won the Hearts of Little Ones #WorldDayAgainstChildLabour

World Voice: Akka – A Visionary Who Won the Hearts of Little Ones #WorldDayAgainstChildLabour

The International Labour Organization (ILO) launched the World Day Against Child Labour in 2002 to focus attention on the global extent of child labor and the action and efforts needed to eliminate it. Each year on 12 June, the World Day brings together governments, employers and workers organizations, civil society, as well as millions of people from around the world to highlight the plight of child laborers and what can be done to help them. Today, on World Moms Network, we commemorate this day by writing a tribute to Mathioli R. Saraswathy, a philantrophist who dedicated her life for the betterment of the lives of children.

Mathioli R. Saraswathy, the founder of Nandalala Seva Samithi

Mathioli R. Saraswathy, the founder of Nandalala Seva Samithi

Mathioli R. Saraswathy, the founder of Nandalala Seva Samithi, who passed away on May 9, 2018, was fondly called as ‘Akka’  by her loved ones all over the world. She was a legend who not only looked beyond the ambiguity and challenges of every day but also foresaw the empowering picture of tomorrow for them.

‘Akka’ is an endearing word that defines a close relationship. In the Tamil language, it refers to one’s elder sister, who is supposed to be a step above the rest. True to this word, she who was held in high esteem, was actually an exception to this rule as she mingled freely them.

Akka established Nandalala Mission, a non-profit organization, in the early 90s in Chennai to nurture the fullest potential of children through educational, cultural, physical and service-oriented activities.

Age was no barrier for this 78-year-old enigmatic personality who was always befriending little ones all over the world. She believed that every child is bestowed with creativity and encouraged their latent talents.  She had no linguistic barriers and made them understand her love for them and they too reciprocated their abiding love for their dear ‘Akka’.

She loved being with them, conversing with them, playing with them and elaborating about this beautiful world around them. She could talk with ease about flowers, trees, birds, animal, sea, and stars. In her eyes, children reflected the finest blend of grace, charm, and beauty of the world. Just like the child in ‘Akka’ was alive until her last moments, she will continue to live in the hearts of the little ones all around the world.

Though this charismatic personality disappeared from their lives forever, the little ones still look forward to her visit at the Nandalala Temple, part of the Mission, located in Chennai, the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu in India.

The little ones are not alone. Their mothers, older sisters, and even grandmothers miss the frail figure who was more than a mother to every one of them. “She was our ‘Amma’ (meaning mother in Tamil) and will always be, they say.  On the day her soul left her body, one could see that it was a big blow to the women who were involved in various activities of the Samithi with their ‘Amma’.  “We do not know to live without her guidance. She was always there whenever we faced any problem, official or personal. Whom do we turn to now,” they wailed.

Mathioli R. Saraswathy

Mathioli R. Saraswathy

Mercifully, this image is sustained from anecdotes drawn from their lives. Anecdotes that prove that Mathioli Saraswathy was their mother in all ways throughout their lives.

For Vidya, who was plagued with a number of personal problems Akka was a good mother who internalized her. For more than a decade now, she has always helped her to tide over innumerable problems. She has counseled her like a mother and helped her to unleash her potential and become independent.

Says Vidya: Akka was of the view that external parenting always made a child dependent on its mother. But if you internalize and facilitate the child to be aware of its potential, the child will achieve greater heights. More than that it will not mirror its patent’s potential and this alone will help it to achieve its goal in life.

Mathioli R. Saraswathy

Mathioli R. Saraswathy

“Mathioli Saraswathy always believed that good daughters can become an effective mother,” said Seetha Nagarajan, who is a globetrotter and who has been associated with her for nearly four decades now.  She goes on to explain that it was because of this the Chennai chapter of Nandalala Seva Samithi began an activity called ‘Mathruseva’ (meaning service to mother) through which the underprivileged were given free food.

Seetha Nagarajan saw Akka open chapters in San Francisco, New Jersey, and Los Angeles. “They were all begun one after the year between 1997 and 1998,” explained Seetha.

She goes on to explain some of the activities in these places. In the early years, volunteers of the Mission took children to local museums, volunteering at local homeless shelters, talent shows, and quiz competitions.  As ‘Akka’ always believed in feeding the poor and needy, volunteers focused on services on a larger scale. They distribute sandwich bags, provide meal services at community shelters and soup kitchens. Children too are involved to make them undergo the joy of giving and bliss of social services.

The Mission also provides a platform for children to showcase their talent. “A youth concert series was begun to give a home-concert environment for budding artists. This has not only encouraged children to perform before an august audience but has also been well received by the residents. A concert is organized every month,” said Seetha.

“The Mission also distributes scholarships to well-deserving under-privileged students from India and also reaches out to children on a broader international scale. “Also, on an ongoing basis, the Mission has been donating books to school libraries in Australia, Canada, and India.

Philanthropic personality
Mathioli R. Saraswathy with children

Mathioli R. Saraswathy with children

Life of ‘Akka’ who was born in Puducherry on October 9, 1940, was entirely dedicated to philanthropy. With the aim of serving the needy, she began numerous trusts such as Nandalala Seva Samithi, Sri Nandalala Religious Trust, Nandalala Medical Foundation and Yogasaras Educational Academy in Bengaluru, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Tiruchy, and Tiruvananthapuram, in India.

She was always of the view that the trusts helped children not only tread the path of love but also instilled values-based systems and made them imbibe Indian culture.

Apart from the trusts, ‘Akka’ provided financial assistance for the underprivileged in India too. Economically-deserving students were not only given financial assistance to pursue their higher studies, but also uniforms and food. The summer camps held exclusively for children at various places in the city helped them to hone their creativity and learning skills.

Managed under the banner of Nandalala Medical Foundation, she had set up a low-cost dialysis center, clinics for ENT care, eye care, physiotherapy, and acupressure.

Lucid writer

‘Akka’ was also a prolific writer. She has penned innumerable poems, songs, prayers and stories for children and philosophical commentaries in Tamil. Some of her works have been translated into English as well. Art was an integral feature in all her books.

In 1998 and 1999, she was awarded the national NCERT award by the Indian Government for her work for children. She was awarded a gold medal in 1991 for her book on science “Vinnilirundhu mann varai” by the Children’s Writers’ Association.

Apart from this, she had the habit of releasing books on Christmas every year and has been doing so for more than three decades.  These books were published by Akka to showcase her love for children.

Yes, passing away of this legend has not dimmed her appeal. She still remains a friendly spirit, hovering around.

This is an original post for World Moms Network written by guest poster, Lalitha Sai, in India, as a tribute to ‘akka’. 

Lalitha Sai, Journalist, India

Lalitha Sai, Journalist, India

Lalitha Sai, is a writer based in Chennai, India. She is happily married to a police officer. Her son is an engineer in Europe, and her daughter is a doctor in Chennai. She has 25 years of experience in journalism and has held posts of senior editor in the leading news dailies of India, “The Hindu” and “DT NEXT”. She focused on women empowerment in her articles.

She is now working as the head of operations of content releases in a private company.

World Moms Network

World Moms Network is an award winning website whose mission statement is "Connecting mothers; empowering women around the globe." With over 70 contributors who write from over 30 countries, the site covered the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. Most recently, our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan was awarded "Best Reporting on the UN" form the UNCA. The site has also been named a "Top Website for Women" by FORBES Woman and recommended by the NY Times Motherlode and the Times of India. Follow our hashtags: #worldmom and #worldmoms Formerly, our site was known as World Moms Blog.

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Guest Post: Life of a Mother, Married to a Cop

Guest Post: Life of a Mother, Married to a Cop

Three Decades With a Cop
Lalitha Sai and her Husband- Just Married

Lalitha Sai and her Husband- Just Married

Life was not easy,

Life was also not bad,

Life had everything,

Life did lack something,

Yes, this is the life of a cop’s wife!

Our marriage is close to three decades now. Back in 1990, (June 13) I did not know what I was getting myself into. All I knew was I had to be patient and have a lot of understanding with a grumpy police officer. He too warned me that life would not be a bed of roses.

Lalitha Sai and her family after 25 years of marriage

Lalitha Sai and her family after 25 years of marriage

But was he actually grumpy? Were there thorns? No, his heart was one that would melt with the warmth that glowed from within me. His spells of anger would fizzle when his eyes meets mine, full of fear of having incurred his wrath.

Beneath his hardcore exterior were streams of love in which he still bathes me ceaselessly. I bore him two precious jewels which he cherishes from the bottom of his heart.

But his call of duty was his priority. He was married to his job. There have been many a celebrations (marriages, birthdays and outings) without him. His absence has made us wince with pain, cringe with shame, and cry out loud for want of love. But, his duty had always been his priority.

Still, the man did turn the family livelier.

There were difficult times, best moments, lovable minutes and tearful seconds. But in all we were united as a family. To the best of my effort I tried to steer him clear of any family problems and tried to give him peace. But, he would not move away.

He has held our hands,

…in times of need,

…in times of physical pain,

…in times of mental stress,

…in times of illness,

…in times of delusions,

…in times of joy,

…in times of pleasure!

He molded every one of us to be independent and a leader too. He gave us all the space whenever we needed it. He taught us to focus on the good and not the bad.

Though there were times of regret about marrying a cop, I still think it is the best decision I have ever taken in life. For, he has been a real inspiration to his engineer son, doctor daughter and journalist wife.

In my view, I also think that though he had misdirected his official stress on his loved ones at times, he has always made it up with all of them.

I would be thankful if he can, to all his intimate relationships, give more patience and diligence and make them his priority. I thank God for making us a family and giving him to me.

If not for him I would not have known love, affection, compassion, interactions, build communication skills, leadership qualities and interpersonal skills. May God bless him with good health and mental stamina to take care of all us for many more years to come.

My wish, as always: Whenever Nature thinks it is time, let me be the first to leave so that I can welcome all of them one by one till they reach the feet of the Almighty. For I know not how to live without even one of them.

How has your married life made you feel, after all those years of togetherness?

This is an original post for World Moms Network written by guest poster, Lalitha Sai, in India. 

Lalitha Sai, Journalist, India

Lalitha Sai, Journalist, India

Lalitha Sai, is a writer based in Chennai, India. She is happily married to a police officer. Her son is an engineer in Europe, and her daughter is a doctor in Chennai. She has 25 years of experience in journalism and has held posts of senior editor in the leading news dailies of India, “The Hindu” and “DT NEXT”. She focused on women empowerment in her articles.

She is now working as the head of operations of content releases in a private company.

World Moms Network

World Moms Network is an award winning website whose mission statement is "Connecting mothers; empowering women around the globe." With over 70 contributors who write from over 30 countries, the site covered the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. Most recently, our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan was awarded "Best Reporting on the UN" form the UNCA. The site has also been named a "Top Website for Women" by FORBES Woman and recommended by the NY Times Motherlode and the Times of India. Follow our hashtags: #worldmom and #worldmoms Formerly, our site was known as World Moms Blog.

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USA: Scissors, Gun Control, and My Suicidal Daughter

My teenager has had a rough few months. She came to me with the information that she felt suicidal and had a plan to end her own life.

I brought her to our local emergency room, where my baby girl had her clothes taken away, an alarm strapped to her wrist, and a room right across from the nurses’ station where she could be constantly monitored. After a long day of evaluations, testing, and phone calls, my child was transferred to another hospital that had a juvenile psychiatric ward.

After her stay in the psychiatric ward, my daughter enrolled in a partial hospitalization program.

Her clinician there told me I needed to lock up all of our household medication and anything sharp. Knives in the kitchen, razors in the bathroom, and even child safety scissors that couldn’t cut hair all had to be locked up in a metal container, not plastic, as plastic could be broken fairly quickly. I asked the woman telling me all of this whether this level of action was necessary for a teenager who had only had thoughts of hurting herself without acting on any of those ideas.

My daughter’s clinician told me that nothing would really, truly keep my child safe if she was determined to hurt herself. The goal in locking up those medications and sharp objects was to make it more difficult for her to act impulsively if she felt the urge to self-harm. I have thought about those words frequently these past few days. We live in a society where weapons are easily obtainable. Somehow, our society has not yet realized that legally allowing such free access to semi-automatic weapons is allowing people like my daughter, whose mental states are not where they should be, to be able to make spontaneous decisions to harm themselves or others.

Let me be clear: I am not talking about criminals here. People who want to break the law will find ways to do so, and I will not waste my words bickering over why changing the laws won’t do anything to stop lawbreakers. I am talking about people who are mostly law-abiding but are struggling with serious mental health issues or going through extremely emotionally charged situations, such as a horrific divorce. I am also not talking about infringing on anyone’s Second Amendment rights. I’m not arguing that US citizens shouldn’t be allowed to own guns.

I am, however, stating that any random U.S. citizen should not be able to obtain whatever kind of weapon they desire whenever they want it. No one told me I couldn’t keep scissors in my house while my daughter struggles with depression and anxiety. Her doctors and therapists realized that scissors would be present, much like guns will always be present in our country. Instead, her doctors told me how to prevent my child from using those scissors to hurt herself on an impulse while she battles depression. When my daughter needs to use scissors for a project, I’m going to give her the child safety scissors instead of something sharp enough to cut or stab herself. Our country should likewise exercise caution.

The Second Amendment was written long before the invention of today’s weaponry. We should update our gun laws. Horrible impulses to hurt other people with semi-automatic weapons should not be able to be planned and performed as easily as they are today.

Knowing my daughter’s current battles with anxiety and depression, I am concerned about the day she is old enough to legally obtain a gun. She is medicated and receiving treatment at the moment, but I will not always be around to watch out for her mental state. God willing, my child will fully recover and live a long and healthy, happy life. Regardless, I want our country to come together and make it more difficult for my child to obtain a gun, so if she does ever again have that impulsive thought to end her own life, it will be harder for her to do so.

This is an original post submitted to World Moms Network. The author has been verified by our editing team, but has requested to remain anonymous. 

For more on gun control in the USA and how you can help, see “World Voice: Parkland Students Leading the Way for Gun Reform.” 

Photo credit to Kevin Doncaster. This photo has a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License. 

World Moms Network

World Moms Network is an award winning website whose mission statement is "Connecting mothers; empowering women around the globe." With over 70 contributors who write from over 30 countries, the site covered the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. Most recently, our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan was awarded "Best Reporting on the UN" form the UNCA. The site has also been named a "Top Website for Women" by FORBES Woman and recommended by the NY Times Motherlode and the Times of India. Follow our hashtags: #worldmom and #worldmoms Formerly, our site was known as World Moms Blog.

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GUEST POST: On Leaving Zambia to Give Birth Abroad

Zambia

I’m 36 + weeks pregnant, so last week I packed my hospital bags, checked them in at the airport, and hopped on an international flight. Destination: Cape Town, South Africa, where sunshine, ocean waves, beaches, mouthwatering fresh seafood, mountains, and stretches of vineyards await. My new life rule is that I only have babies near sunshine and oceans.

When you’re an expat about to give birth, and you reside in Lusaka, Zambia, you hightail it out of Zambia to welcome baby into the world. Some of us head to the U.S., and others to places like the U.K., and a few of us to South Africa. South Africa has some of the most top-notch medical care on the African continent. Did I mention the oceans and beaches? Plus penguins. Babies love penguins.

A few of us expats decide to go ahead and give birth in Zambia. Of course, I have friends, both local and expat, who have given birth to healthy babies in Zambia without incident. Lots of babies are born there, with a fertility rate of nearly six children per woman.

Since this is my fourth birth, I seriously contemplated staying in Zambia to give birth. With three natural and uncomplicated births under my belt (except that pesky postpartum hemorrhage thing that plagues me each time), it’s been pretty straightforward so far.

A birth in Zambia would be less complicated logistically. My husband can’t be gone from work for the whole one month before and one month after the birth. My four-year old can probably afford to miss pre-school without risking failing to get into college, but my six-year old is learning how to read and write – in a second language (French) – this year, so it’s not really fair to her to pull her out for two whole months, either. I suppose, with the support of Google Translate, I could make some attempts at homeschooling….no. Just no. Plus, there’s the familiarity, the friends, the easiness in Lusaka. Planning a birth in a different country requires more paperwork, emails, phone calls, and really savvy packing skills.

I put out some feelers and asked people’s opinions about giving birth in Lusaka. I got many stories of uneventful births that resulted in a happy baby and mother, and some recommendations for good OBs. I see a lovely OB who has the most caring bedside manner, and is available to instantly answer questions by text message (that does NOT happen in the U.S.), but unfortunately she doesn’t deliver babies anymore.

Others graced my ears with stories about the mother who needed an emergency C-section, but the medical team couldn’t get a hold of the anesthesiologist, so she had a C-section without medication. Then there was the woman who had her arms and legs strapped down during a normal vaginal childbirth, and the one who lost her baby during child birth due to poor management and care—at a private hospital in Lusaka. My doctor friends in Zambia asked me if I was crazy—one directly, and one indirectly. My lovely OB providing prenatal care for me in Lusaka laughed.

The reason for these responses is because babies die in Zambia, and mothers do too. According to UNICEF, the maternal mortality rate in Zambia is 591 deaths per 100,000 live births, the neonatal mortality rate is 34 per 1,000 live births, and the infant mortality rate is 70 per 1,000 live births. Even for those who can afford private care in the capital, Lusaka, being pregnant and giving birth is risky business. Simple complications—including postpartum hemorrhage—can go from bad to worse because of poor infrastructure, care, and a slew of other issues. (For more information about maternal health care in Zambia, check out the trailer for this fascinating documentary.)

The message was loud and clear—most likely, if I gave birth in Lusaka, everything would be fine. But, if I have the choice and the means, why would I take the risk of that small chance of something going wrong and me or my baby suffering serious health complications or worse?

So, around 20 weeks pregnant I began to plan an international babycation. I did this once before, less than two years ago. My last baby was born in Cape Town, so that helped quite a bit, especially because I used the same midwives, know the area, etc. Another bonus is that water birth is an option here in Cape Town, similar to an alternative birthing center option within a hospital that I used to deliver my first two in Chicago. There were less unknowns this time around with planning babycation round #2.

Everything is relative. Buying plane tickets for a family of five, plus a nanny, renting a house for two months, as well as a car, and paying for private health care in South Africa adds up. This is clearly cost prohibitive to most people, and I understand this inherent privilege of choice for my ocean-side babycation.

But, if I compare this Cape Town babycation cost to the cost of giving birth in the U.S., it’s at worst equal, and at best a cost-savings. For what I will pay for all my private health care, including an at-home post-natal visit and a couple nights in the hospital, combined with the cost of my two month “babycation” in South Africa…I’ll end up paying about the same or less than what I’d pay for the cost of childbirth alone in the U.S. I can pay $12,000 minimum, out-of-pocket in the US to push a baby out of me (without any medical intervention), or I can pay about $2,000 for the exact same quality of care and facility standards in Cape Town…along with all the perks of glorious sunshine and ocean views. I’ll take the penguins, thank you very much.

Our family of five, plus our nanny from Zambia, packed up with three suitcases and a boatload of car seats, and my husband helped me settle into the lovely house we rented on AirBnB in Kalk Bay, overlooking the ocean. But, my husband returned this past weekend to Lusaka with my six- and four-year old children to resume school and work.

So, here I sit with an 18-month old, nanny, and loads of sunshine and water at nearly 37 weeks pregnant. The baby is measuring at a beautiful 3kg already, and I’m having some super maddening Braxton Hicks contractions. My husband is two flights away (Lusaka- Johannesburg- Cape Town), and can get on a flight from Lusaka at 9am and rock-up into Cape Town by 3:30pm.

If baby decides to make a quick, slippery exit, Papa might miss the birth of his baby – which would be sad. He was pretty helpful the last three times – except when he told me during difficult push during crowning, “It’s just like doing back squats.” No, it’s really not like that at all. But, I’d kind of like him to be with me for the birth. So, I have the calming effect of going to sleep to the sound of ocean waves obliterated by the anxiety of my husband missing the birth. This is not a, “Will my husband make it from the office on time?” worry. It’s a, “Will my husband, with two tiny humans in tow, be able to get on the first flight out of Lusaka and make it through immigration, out of the airport, and to the hospital?”

My husband and two oldest kids plan on returning to Cape Town on April 1, 10 days before this bad boy’s due date. In the meantime, I have some amazing mama friends coming in (one from Kenya, one from Zambia) to keep me company before the crew returns, mostly to have fun and to stand-in for my husband— just in case. The next two weeks will be filled with botanical gardens, delicious food, and sea breezes. Not too shabby a way to waddle through these last few pregnancy weeks.

The next question is—will I be able to make this my last babycation? Those penguins!

This is an original guest post for World Moms Network from Jessica Menon of Gypsy Momma. Jess is a mom with three children under the age of six, with her fourth baby on the way. Jess and her family are currently based in Lusaka, Zambia. 

Photos courtesy of Alda Smith. Photo of penguins and Jess and her youngest daughter at the beach courtesy of the author. 

World Moms Network

World Moms Network is an award winning website whose mission statement is "Connecting mothers; empowering women around the globe." With over 70 contributors who write from over 30 countries, the site covered the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. Most recently, our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan was awarded "Best Reporting on the UN" form the UNCA. The site has also been named a "Top Website for Women" by FORBES Woman and recommended by the NY Times Motherlode and the Times of India. Follow our hashtags: #worldmom and #worldmoms Formerly, our site was known as World Moms Blog.

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GUEST POST from PORTUGAL: A Foreigner in my own Country

GUEST POST from PORTUGAL: A Foreigner in my own Country

sofiaI am Portuguese. My parents and grandparents are Portuguese. My partner is Portuguese and his parents and grandparents are Portuguese. Both my children are Portuguese. Yet, I do not fit in my own country, Portugal, especially as a mother.

Despite being Portuguese, my childhood years were spent abroad and at international schools. I celebrated Halloween when it wasn’t popular here yet, and I loved Thanksgiving dinners. My views of the world have always been interwoven with different cultures and customs. I expected to fall in love with a foreigner and have a multicultural family and lifestyle. Fate gifted me instead with a Portuguese man with a huge heart and an incredible open-mindedness. That combination steers me away even further from the traditional mindset of the Portuguese. Being 100% Portuguese, I am somewhat labelled “alternative” or “hippie”.

To start with, my children have unusual names – Giani and Noah. My partner and I had to browse a 400-page list of authorised names until we found Giani. In Portugal, names have to be authorised by the state, so you either pick one from the list or you submit a request. We did not opt for a traditional Portuguese name like Martim or Francisco or a trendier one like Benjamim. When asked about my children’s names, the second question is “So, your husband is… Italian? British, perhaps?”. No, my partner is Portuguese and we just decided on a different name. That’s a strange concept in this country, so I am automatically labelled as an “alternative mother”. In fact, names represent the social or economic status of the parents.

When my son was six months old and started eating solid food, I went the usual, traditional route recommended by the paediatrician: pureed fruits and veggies. My super calm and laid-back child turned into a monster as soon as he would see the spoon approaching his mouth. I dreaded mealtimes. The paediatrician’s suggestion was to force it in him because he needed the nutrients. That did not sit well with me so I stopped feeding him, offering him breastmilk exclusively while searching online for an answer. Baby-led weaning was the answer and it seemed very natural to me. My son soon began to devour steamed broccoli, potatoes and carrots. I also began potty training him at eight months old. These options were completely frowned upon by the paediatrician and my more traditional friends thought it was strange. Some thought I was endangering my child. Some thought I was crazy. At the time, I didn’t have so-called hippie friends so I really had no one other than my partner to truly support me.

Until my son was about six months old, I felt insanely lonely. All my friends were either single or had no children. By chance I ran into a friend from one of the international schools I attended in Lisbon and she introduced me to a weekly playgroup organised by international, expat mothers. I started attending with my son and it was delightful to be around so many different mothers who were all naturally open to different views towards child-rearing.

Socialising in Portugal the standard way is extremely hard and frustrating for me. Most of our couple friends with children have a very busy schedule during the weekend, shuffling between in-laws. We see them at birthday parties. If the couple has one child, we will socialize with them once a year, if they have two, we will socialize twice and so forth. I miss the spontaneity and openness of my international friends when I lived abroad. I miss sharing cultures (celebrating Thanksgiving, Halloween, Easter, etc.) and creating a community with friends.

I feel this sense of being foreign in my own country almost on a daily basis. I leave the park when the Portuguese mothers arrive, my children’s mealtimes are almost at the same time as their afternoon snack, and my children go to bed much earlier than the standard time.

The more traditional friends find my views strange and consider me a hippie and I find the views of my “alternative” friends a bit too extreme for me. So, I sit in the middle, on a tiny island. Fortunately, I found a group of international mothers and fathers, all with different backgrounds and origins, where I fit in perfectly. I am able to enjoy my “Portuguese-ness” subtly without any pressure. I take comfort in knowing that I am now part of a community, a small family. We meet up regularly and I am accepted without labels. I am not a hippie, I am not Portuguese – I am just the mother of two sons with non-Portuguese names who speaks Portuguese perfectly.

If you’re an expat, have you ever felt this way when coming home? 

This is an original post for World Moms Network written by guest poster, Sofia Caessa, in Portugal.
Sofia Caessa grew up by the canals of Overschie, the Netherlands, the skyscrapers of São Paulo, Brazil and the beachs of Cascais, Portugal. Her love for Theatre took her to New York City, where she intended to pursue a career in Theatre. Instead, she became involved in Film and writing. After a few years in the USA, Sofia decided to move back to Europe. In Brussels she worked for Violeta Lab, a cultural organisation she founded, and in film production.  There, she founded the Little Film Academy. Now living in Portugal, Sofia is the mother of two boys and works at Lêleh Land, a creative space that fosters imagination, free play, exploration and discovery. She also has a blog, Mami Coração, where she shares homemade activities for children, and homemade natural products.

juliegd

Julie, her husband and baby boy are currently living in Portugal, having spent the previous three years in the southeast of Brazil. She considers herself a bit of an obsessive reader, and even more so since discovering she was pregnant. All that information has to go somewhere, which is why Julie started her blog, happy mama = happy baby, where she documents all the quirky parenting ideas she has collected so far.

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UK: Q&A on Brexit with “Good With Money”

UK: Q&A on Brexit with “Good With Money”

WMN Feature Brexit Big Ben

Brexit. The news is everywhere. How does this affect families in the UK and around the world? We called on our friends (literally, they are friends with Jen Burden’s sister-­in-­law!), “Good with Money” in Great Britain, a site launched by two moms who provide financial information and inspiration for families, to get their perspective from inside the UK!

What is Brexit (the short version!)?

Brexit. A week or so before the EU referendum I was in the playground with my youngest son. An elderly Chinese man looking after his grandson started up a conversation. I could just about understand his English. His comment was, basically,

“What on earth are you doing, Britain, holding a referendum on whether to leave the EU or not? Are you mad?’” Well, clearly, we are.

The UK woke up on the morning of 24 June, many of us in utter disbelief on realising 52 per cent of the country had voted to isolate our tiny island kingdom and leave the European Union. The EU currently has 28 member states, a combined population of more than 500 million, a combined GDP of more than US$18bn and an internal single market governed by its own laws. The UK joined the precursor of the EU, the European Economic Community, in 1973. So to answer the Chinese grandad, yes, we are mad, we held the referendum, and (gulp) we voted leave.

And, if that was not enough madness in itself, we’ve since seen the Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron (Remain), who called the Referendum somewhat as an election winner, resign. The two main Leave campaigners, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, also resign (from the resulting Conservative Party leader election race and as leader of the UK Independence Party respectively). The other key UK political party, Labour, remains in turmoil with a leader, Jeremy Corbyn, refusing to step down despite more than half of his ministers resigning just after the vote. AND…we’ve still not really heard a peep from the Greens or the Liberal Democrats (who led our coalition government between 2010 and 2015). The only person with any sense saying anything with any sense is the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, who is Canadian!! (Read our latest on that here.) And current Prime Minister Theresa May, who voted Remain, vows to follow the will of the people after the vote to Leave.

Leave or Remain, there is no averting the harsh lesson we are now getting in how that abstract and amorphous “economy” deeply affects our personal lives and society both close to home and further afield.

They say nothing is certain in life except death and taxes. Well, in the two weeks after the vote, I’d say that’s been proven, and one million times over. Previous certainties about jobs and the employment market, freedom of movement, house prices, household bills to loan rates and other personal finances have all been thrown upside down, topsy­turvy.

And one of the worst things is that some of those who are most likely to have voted Leave – the disaffected and disenfranchised – will now be among those most negatively affected by the country’s decision.

We will ALL be affected, and in far more subtle and profound ways than just how much our mortgage bill or rent goes up, as the impact of the financial crisis proved. Following the shock of 2008, higher house prices resulted in an increase in the age at which people get married and have children; the huge public deficit resulted in more people working into retirement and young people who can’t get jobs have to live with their parents for longer. More of the same again cannot be ruled out.

Despite the crazy turmoil at Westminster and in the City of London, a lot of clever people are working out how to protect us from Brexit’s illest effects. Lower interest rates and money printing are on the cards. These strategies might be a recipe for ever­living debts and poor retirements, but they will buy us time.

What are the top 3 effects on the world economy after the Brexit vote to leave the EU?

The effect on the UK economy has been, understandably, pretty pronounced. There are apparently 700,000 fewer jobs advertised in Britain since the Leave vote. Across the globe, too, markets were rocked and currencies in freefall, although they have since recovered.

Almost two weeks after the vote, the British Pound had hit another 31 year low, and it still remains well below its pre-Brexit value over one month later. There is talk of it reaching parity with the US Dollar before the end of the year. Good news for tourists visiting the UK, but not, generally, for many others.

Meanwhile, inflation, made worse by the falling Pound making imports more pricey, looks set to increase. But by how much? A few spikes notwithstanding, inflation has been fairly low for a number of years. Now, economists predict it could more than double before the end of the year, rising to as much as 4 per cent next year.

In the UK we import 60 per cent of our goods ­- that’s a lot, hey? So what do we do if our EU or even global trade agreements are not (re)negotiated fairly? That’s a lot of stuff to miss if our friends in Europe no longer choose to sell it to us ­ at favourable rates. Say au revoir to affordable Mozzarella, Balsamic vinegar, Feta cheese… blimey, this could even spell the death of our beloved Prosecco habit!

The GBP has seen a devaluation. What are some of the challenges this presents for families in the UK and abroad?

As soon as the Leave vote was announced, the British Pound slumped to its lowest level against the US dollar in 31 years. Almost two weeks later, it fell yet further, to new 31 year lows. It has also tumbled against the Euro. Despite a growing chorus of positive voices, this still makes for pretty hard reading.

It means British families with holidays booked to Europe, the US, or even elsewhere, are going to find it pretty tough going, financially.

With the Pound worth less than it was a month ago, everything is going to seem almost unstomachably expensive. So, those Brits who’ve yet to book a holiday will most likely see the summer of 2016 as their Staycation year, keeping the money closer to home. UK resorts should do well from British travellers, and they should also do well from an influx of visitors from around the world making the most of a cheap Pound.

More worryingly, perhaps, the 4.5m British families living and working overseas (with 1.4m in the EU according to the UN) are in limbo, wondering for how long they will be able to stay, and suddenly finding everything significantly more pricey.

While some in the Leave camp argued prior to the vote that Britain would be able to carve out a fuller role in foreign aid outside of the EU and would be able to develop broader international political alliances, such as with former Commonwealth countries, there’s still scant evidence emerging that this will be the case. (Frankly, there’s little evidence of anything emerging, on any future matters at all, eeek!) In fact, a number of leading names in international aid such as Oxfam, WWF, Christian Aid, ActionAid and Save the Children, signed a letter pre Brexit stating their view that only by remaining in the EU can Britain extend its reach and influence when tackling global humanitarian crises such as Syria, Middle East and north Africa.

Britain currently spends 0.7 per cent of gross national income on foreign aid, with the official budget rising to £12.2bn. The signatories of the letter said: “Every pound of aid the UK spends through EU institutions is matched by £6 from other member states. This larger pool delivers better lives for the poorest people. It also helps tackle problems in areas where the UK has no large presence. EU aid complements activities that other aid agencies cannot undertake, like police and security missions in fragile hotspots.”

So, much as those Brits living and working abroad are likely to suffer, people from developing countries who work in the UK will also be hit, as the value of what they have to send home falls further.

Will the UK’s exit from the UK make it more difficult for EU members to work in Britain and vice versa?

The jury’s still out on whether it will be more difficult for people from EU member states to work in Britain and Brits to continue working across the EU. Although I am very happy in Britain (even if it still feels a bit like a rather rudderless, possibly sinking, ship at the minute). I did find myself embracing my Irish roots (my mother is Irish) when I woke up on 24 June, the thought of wanting my kids to have the same European freedom of movement I’ve been lucky enough to have, if they so wish. I heard a rumour they’ve shut the Irish passport office though, so too late for me!

What is your top practical financial advice for families everywhere?

If like many of us in the UK ­ British, European, African, American, Asian, etc., ­you find yourself wondering w h a t   t h e   h e c k   t o  d o  n o w , we’ve come up with a few post ­ Brexit ‘keep calm and collected’ financial tips:

  • ­Consider switching your energy supplier. ­Homegrown renewable energy is less sensitive to price volatility and kinder to the planet.
  • ­Check your savings balances. ­ Up to £75,000 deposits are covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme; the EU deposit guarantee limit is Euro 100,000.
  • ­Analyse your everyday spending to guard against too much vulnerability to further falls in the Pound.
  • ­Hold off buying foreign currency. (Or see it as a chance to change all those Dollars and Euros hiding in drawers and down the back of the sofa back into Pounds!)
  • ­Consider fixing your mortgage. ­ Yes, rates are tipped to fall, but there may be short term volatility and fixed rates are super­low at the moment
  • ­Go local, buy local. Support the local economy, it’s going to need it.
  • ­But go global, too. ­ Investors should ensure their portfolios are globally diversified and denominated in several currencies, not only the Pound.

You could also check out our Positive, Practical and Principles Good with Money tips to get your family finances back on track post­-Brexit.

For more on the financial effects of Brexit and more, Lisa and Becky can be found providing financial tips for families in the UK at Good with Money.

This is a guest post to World Moms Network by Lisa Stanley in the UK of Good with Money. (Thank you, Lisa!)
Photo credit to Jennifer Burden.

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